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Potsticker Chronicles

by: Stuart Chang Berman

New York NY: John Wiley & Sons 2004, $27.50, Hardbound
ISBN: 0-471-25028-7

Summer Volume: 2004 Issue: 11(2) page(s): 17

The author calls his book a celebration of family and subtitles it: America’s Favorite Chinese Recipes. We call it a must for your culinary bookshelf if you like good stories, chef recipes, and lovely Chinese brush paintings.

Berman intersperses family stories with recipes, some his, others those of his mother. She owned the Court of the Mandarin’s restaurant in this nation’s capital, a place vsited by many on many occasions. Due to her illness, son joins mom, learns back of the house, dining room, and all facets of running a restaurant. He hires an elder chef from Shanghai and requires that he teach him all he knows. A good student he was, and he learned a lot spending days in the kitchen and nights in the dining room. Was not easy to please Mom and her customers. So he learned tact, tales, and how to showcase talent.

The tales Berman spins intersperse with recipes; both are terrific. The tale about the castle and visiting his friend Siegfried, who claimed Ezra Pound as a grandfather, is one of many great ones. And, no tall tale that one. He cooked a fantastic meal at a moment’s notice for a slew of this family’s friends including ambassadors and ordinary folk like himself and Siegfried’s lady friend.

Beyond the tales you can garner loads of learning. One such item is how to make unbelievably hot chili sauce. Others include buying the best brand of rice (a Japanaese one called Kokuho), top notch oyster sauce (Hip Sing Lung), super sesame oil (Kadoya), and much much more.

Best of all are the recipes. The Squirrel Fish in Garlic Sauce is a winner. A friend we stayed with in Los Angeles wanted to know how to make this fish. Now he can just do so reading this article. Start practicing Amnon, it is a wonderful recipe, and we want to try yours. Hunan Beef in this Potstickers is a beauty, too. So are the Barbequed Short Ribs. They and other recipes thrill as do the the lovely brush paintings by Dora F. Lee.

The potstickers are unusual and unusually good. Try them all. We vote for those with lobster and scallops within. Berman calls them delicate and delicious. What an understatement! His Lamb and Squash Potstickers were devised to use up a garden’s prolific crop of zucchini. No garden, no worry, just run out and fill your larder. Making them and serving them to your guests is a sure way to influence them.

Recipes and stories are enchanting. This chef, restaurant owner, and now a cooking instructor will instruct you well, feed you well, too. Many recipes are easy to make, all are clearly written, and even the ones that sound troublesome to make are worth the effort. The Braised Venison with Quail Eggs and Bamboo Shoots might be a challenge, but one worth the effort. Eating any or all of the one hundred sixty recipes is its own just reward. What a sumptuous banquet reading and eating from this Potsticker Chronicles.
Crispy Squirrel Fish in Garlic Sauce
1 and 1/2 to 2 pounds fish, left whole but gutted, the fish one such as sea bass
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 cups vegetable oil
1/4 cup chicken broth
8 cloves garlic, peeled, and minced
1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup black or mushroom soy sauce
2 Tablespoons dry sherry
5 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon chili paste
1 Tablespoon cornstarch mixed with three tablespoons cold water
1/2 bunch scallions, washed and trimmed, and sliced on the diagonal
1. Scale, gut, and remove the gills of the fish. Be sure to cut it open straight up the middle to the gills. Then wash and dry it.
2. Next ‘squirrel’ the fish as follows: Using knife and pliers, first cut both sides of each back fin, then pull them out. Cut either side of the tail fin, and remove it the same way. Do likewise to the anal fin. Do not remove the two small fins just below the gills. Now make a slit at the top center of the fish. Cut to where the fins have been removed separating flesh from spine on both sides. Use a scissor, cut the backbone just above the tail and make another cut below the head, then remove the skeleton. What is left is a whole boneless fish that needs its head flattened and splayed out so it looks flounder-like.
3. Flour the fish and shake off any excess. Mix cornstarch with like amount of water, and dip the fish in this batter coating it thoroughly.
4. Heat oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and fry the fish in this flattened position (it looks like a flying squirrel) about five minutes sliding head and tail sections under the oil until all is golden and crisp.
5. Mix broth, garlic, ginger, ketchup, soy sauce, sherry, vinegar, sugar, and chili paste in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the cornstarch mixture and keep stirring until thickened, then pour over the fish. Toss most of the scallions into the sauce just before pouring it, use the rest as decor on top of the fish. Serve.
Note: Before flouring the fish, one can cut the flesh but do be careful not to cut all the way through. Do so into one inch squares, then put it in the cornstarch batter and fry.

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