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Chinese Cuisine

by: Susanna Foo

Shelbourne VT: Chapters Publishing 1995, $35.00, Hardbound
ISBN: 1-881527-94-8

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M Newman
Winter Volume: 1995 Issue: 2(4) page(s): 15 and 20

A top prize winner among Philadelphia's best chefs, Susanna Foo wins my award for a first-rate book. The fabulous flavors and innovative recipes are mixed with specialities of northern China, lots of noodle, dumplings, and other dim sum type foods. Also included are lots of menus, descriptions of ingredients, childhood memories, impressions, and color photographs--thirty by count.

Foo owns what I believe to be Philadelphia's most outstanding Chinese restaurant. I've eaten there three times and would that I lived closer. But now I don't need to, I can try my hand at her delicate flavorful and fascinating food, traditional in taste, modern in approach.

Amy Tan, in the foreword advises that "Chinese food is a feast for all senses." I sense that we all will be enjoying lots of it from the super--you can make it in advance--Spiced Shiitake Mushrooms heady with their sesame oil and made piquant by added jalapeno pepper. Foo advises to save any oil left in the pan for salad dressing; it is great in rice, too.

Zagat called her restaurant third best in three different years, I call her book ten times top, just for the Salmon Congee, the Mandarin Pork with Brandy-Infused Hoisin Sauce, the Squid Salad with Five-Flavor Vinaigrette, The Honey-Grilled Lamb, the Crispy Duck with Star Anise Sauce, the Pears with Ginger, the Pan-Seared Tofu with Scallions and Ginger, the Veal Chops with Mushrooms, those fantastic Aromatic Ginger-flavored Sweetbreads, and the Braised Pork Shoulder with Chestnuts.

Were I a fan of sun-dried tomatoes, I'd add, as a dear friend recommended when reading a draft of this review, the Orange Beef with Sun-Dried Tomatoes. Truthfully, if I were adding anything, it would be some of those homey items of gossip that fill pages when a recipe does not. There is also information tucked in about ingredients rarely offered, such as the differences in Chinese chives (three kinds, for those uninitiated). I like that and the colored drawings and those in black and white that illustrate and illuminate everywhere. Foo tells her readers what can be prepared ahead. That is a real blessing to those of us who want to work and eat well at home. Useful items in the dessert chapter alone can keep grandchildren and guests dazzled and the cook defrazzeled.

Mrs. Foo says that you can keep Caramelized Kumquat Sauce for two weeks in the refrigerator, let me add two or more months in the freezer works, too. One dessert recipe I particularly liked, an item of true comfort food, is a Warm Rice Pudding with Coconut Cream Sauce. I made it with pine nuts, her second choice, and used a chestnut paste (had no red bean paste on hand, as recommended), and I'll be eternally indebted to this author for a moment's return to early childhood. This recipe has the layered look I love to serve and one of my favorite fruits--the mango. Mrs. Foo and all readers, do take note of this recipe's do ahead potential. I froze then reheated my rice ramekins steaming them while dinner was being consumed. With guests health in mind, I made the sauce with only one egg yolk instead of two. My guests thought me fantastic, the credit however belongs elsewhere.

When in Western China, I tasted cat's ear pasta for the first time and loved it. Foo's father preferred noodle dishes and her Cat's Ear Pasta with Chicken and Portobello Mushrooms, made as she suggested with cavatelli pasta and not the homemade thing, was an improved version of a dish I still recall with delight.

Note: This review appeared in the column: Book Shelf.

Cat's Ear Pasta with Chicken
1/2 pound boneless and skinless chicken breast
3 Tablespoons gin
2 Tablespoons light soy sauce 1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon cornstarch
5 Tablespoons oil
3/4 pound cavetelli shaped pasta
1 pound green cabbage, shredded
3 shallots, thinly sliced
1 large Portobello mushroom, stem removed, the cap halved and thinly sliced
1 cup chicken stock
1 large ripe tomato, peeled and diced
3 scallions, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1-inch pieces
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1. Freeze chicken for twenty minutes, then slice thinly into one-eighth inch julienned pieces.
2. Mix chicken with gin, soy sauce, egg white, and cornstarch and mix well. Add one Tablespoon of the oil and mix again then set aside for half an hour.
3. Cook pasta about ten plus minutes until half done. Drain and set aside reserving the water.
4. Cook cabbage in the boiling water for about three minutes to soften, drain well, saving the boiling water once again.
5. Heat remaining oil in a large pot or wok, then add shallots and cook until lightly browned.
6. Add the chicken and all the marinade and the stock and cook about three minutes.
7. Next add mushrooms and cook another three minutes.
8. Now mix pasta into the hot water, drain again, and add to the wok or pan and cook for another three to five minutes until all liquid is absorbed.
9. Add cabbage, tomato, scallions, and salt and pepper and toss/cook another minute or two until the pasta is al dente, then serve it to six to eight persons.

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