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Homestyle Chinese Cooking

by: Yan-Kit So

Freedom CA: Crossing Press 1977, $16.95, Paperback
ISBN: 0-89594-883-4

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Fall Volume: 1998 Issue: 5(3) page(s): 18

Cookbooks these days are more than recipes, this one no exception. It begins, thanks to help from the Hong Kong based Chinese food historian T.C. Lai. He discusses the history of China's cooking vessels. The wok or guo and the cauldron or pot or fre are detailed as the two most important cast iron pans of early Chinese culinaria; they were used before the Common Era. Also mentioned are the six-handle pot, the three-legged pan, and various other protobations and transformations preceding the present day wok, lid, ring, and spatula-like scoop.

After a wonderful historical overview complete with illustrations and a short preface, four special techniques and twenty-one ingredients are discussed. The recipes are in chapters titled: Soups, Steaming, Stir-frying, Sauteing and Pan-frying, and Braising; all are ways to maximize techniques in the all purpose cooking pan called 'The Wok.' In keeping with the historical introduction, several good references are given, for those so inclined, they are excellent resources. A recipe index completes this Chinese cookery volume in the 'Homestyle Cooking Series.' There are other books already in the series for Mexican, Middle Eastern, Thai and Indonesian, and Italian cookery.

The recipes are sandwiched around eight color photographs bound into the center of the book. There is one page before each chapter elucidating the technique, and a few black and white computer-type illustrations and line drawings that provide pictorial decor. The recipes are clear, most are easy, a few exotic. Some are questionably Chinese in the traditional sense; they range from a Ham Chow Mein to Stir Fried Creamed Cauliflower, and to Lamb Kidneys in Marsala Sauce.

I am partial to the recipes for braised dishes as they are most valuable when preparing a many-course Chinese meal. The Eggplant and Bacon does not taste too Chinese as is, but adding a barbeque sauce as one reviewed in the March 1998 issue does change that. Barbeque sauce was also a welcome addition to the Braised Beef Steaks. Two or three tablespoons in each recipe or one tablespoon of Chili Sauce with Garlic works wonders.

In the soup chapter, the Mussels in Soup and its recommended ginger and cilantro did make it jump from France to China. Among other recipe sets, the Steamed Beef with Bamboo Shoots is a gem, and the Slippery Eggs and Shrimp a fascinating omelet already adapted for western ease as it uses frozen shrimp. Though no match for its real Chinese counterpart, none-the-less it wins points for simplicity and ease of preparation. Many of my guests did not know the difference even though I had it in two bowls that came as first's and second's that most indulged in.

Knowledgeable readers will note the author's Cantonese roots when perusing the Steamed Rice recipe, among others. It starts with the phrase 'Rice is the staple...' ignoring the large northern half of China where they use more millet wheat, corn, sorghum, and grains rather than rice.

Most recipes have southern roots, some have British overtones. They are good and the author entices the reader to make them international. Any or all of them add to a flavorful culinary repertoire, no matter where one lives. Family and guests can be impressed when you prepare more than just stir-fried Chinese dishes.
Braised Beef Steaks
2 Tablespoons oil
2 large cloves of garlic, smashed and kept whole
1 or 2 whole star anise (more, if desired)
1 inch stick of cinnamon, crushed
6 beef shanks, each about six ounces
2 Tablespoons Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup chicken broth (or beef broth)
3 Tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in four tablespoons of cold water
1. Heat wok then add oil around the edges of it. Next add the garlic and cook it half minute. Reduce the heat part way and add the star anise and cinnamon and stir once.
2. Add the steaks and brown well on both sides, then add the wine and cook until the liquid is reduced by half.
3. Reduce the heat again and add the soy sauces, sugar, salt, and the broth and simmer turning the shanks every half hour for two or two and a half hours. There should be about one cup of liquid left and the shanks should remain whole; if the liquid evaporates too quickly, add water or broth as needed.
4. Remove the meat to a serving platter and keep warm. Strain the liquid and discard the solids. Mix cornstarch and water mixture and stir it in a small pot until the sauce thickens. Pour it over the meat or serve separately, as desired.

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