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Shun Lee Cookbook, The

by: Michael Tong

New York NY: Harper Collins 2007, $29.95, Hardbound
ISBN: 979-0-06-085407-2

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Fall Volume: 2007 Issue: 14(3) page(s): 21 and 22

Shun Lee restaurants introduced New York and most of America to foods of the Sichuan and Hunan provinces, and they expanded this country's minimal knowledge, at that time, of tastes of Shanghai. Reading Michael Tong's cookbook one relives those heady times, circa the 1960's.

As a partner of Chef Wang in his Shun Lee restaurants, and through Grace Chu, Michael met Craig Claiborne, restaurant critic of the New York Times. They advanced knowledge of and delight in Chinese food that went well beyond what most people knew then which was only Cantonese food.

To understand the impact of upscale, carefully cooked, and delightfully seasoned, 'real Chinese food as served in China' is heightened by reading this book. Michael Tong says their two Shun Lee restaurants did just that as they served ten million Chinese meals that left their mark on Americans. They taught 'oil-blanching¬°' which they called 'pass-through-oil' cooking, and they expanded America's Chinese palate. Other eateries were forced to copy their dishes. At least, they tried to. Now Americans can try their hand at producing their foods.

This book discusses what Tong calls the 'Chinese pantry' but it is more than just a pantry. It includes produce, meats, fresh noodle foods, and refrigerated items. It explains equipment, cookery techniques, and of course its recipes. The latter are in nine chapters from appetizers--hot and cold, through desserts. Following them are acknowledgments, sources for foods and equipment, and a seven-page three-column cross-referenced index.

The recipes in every chapter are delicious. Selecting one that illustrates how good is difficult indeed. We recall eating what Tong advises was invented at their restaurant, Slippery Chicken. Cooking it and enjoying can provide the yummy memories we still recall.
Slippery Chicken
10 ounces boneless chicken breast, cut into one and one-half-inch-long julienne pieces
1 large egg white
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
5 cups and 3 Tablespoons chicken stock or water
2 Tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
2 Tablespoons sugar
pinch of ground white pepper
2 scallions, trimmed and minced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons hot bean paste
1 Tablespoon cornstarch mixed with one-third-cup cold water
1 teaspoon chili oil
1. Mix chicken, egg white, cornstarch, salt, and one tablespoon of the oil, and set aside in a medium bowl.
2. Bring five cups of stock to the boil, add one tablespoon of the oil, then the spinach, and cook for forty-five seconds until the spinach turns bright green, remove, drain, and put on a serving platter and cover with foil.
3. Heat wok or pan, add the remaining oil, and add the chicken pieces, a few at a time, stir them for about forty-five seconds, remove and drain; and repeat until all are oil-blanched.
4. Discard all but two tablespoons of oil from the wok or pan. In a bowl, mix the three tablespoons of stock, the rice wine, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and white pepper.
5. Heat wok with its oil, add scallions, garlic, and ginger, then add the chicken stock mixture, hot bean paste, and the recently stirred cornstarch-water mixture. Bring to the boil, return the chicken to the wok or pan, add the chili oil, and stir-fry for half minute until chicken is barely cooked (it will continue to cook until it is served). Remove foil from the spinach and, put this mixture on top of it and serve.

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