Sunday, May 26, 2013

General Tso's Chicken

Why would a blog dedicated to "Traditional Chinese Recipes" feature General Tao's Chicken, a dish virtually unknown in China?   For one thing, one of the minimal definitions of tradition is "an artistic or literary method or style established by an artist, writer, or movement, and subsequently followed by others." General Tso's certainly qualifies on that basis, since this dish is served everywhere in the world by Chinese chefs in Chinese restaurants--everywhere, in fact, except China, and with some surprising degree of consistency.  Further, if we think of the mainland as the "go to" authority, consider that General Tso's Chicken was invented in China, by a Chinese chef, and while it faded from view in Mainland China, it made its way from there to Taipei, to the United States, and evolved, as most traditions do, to become the famous dish we know today.   (I'd venture to say this may all be a moot point anyway, since the ever-wealthier China absorbs so many cultural trends of the West, so the worldwide popularity of General Tso's Chicken will someday make it as much a traditional dish in China as it is here.) 

The history of this dish has been thoroughly described by at least two authors.  Fuchsia Dunlop gives an excellent account, and a recipe for the unsweetened Hunanese version, originated by chef Peng Chang-kuei, in her excellent book, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook.  Similarly, Jennifer 8. Lee describes with delicious humor her search for the original General Tso's Chicken in The Fortune Cookie Chronicles.

The attraction of this dish is doubtless in its simplicity of flavor and texture-- the chicken is chewy/crisp on the outside, moist on the inside, all drenched in a dark, spicy, sweet and tangy sauce.  The secret to a chewy/crisp exterior is double frying, utilized by Chinese chefs in a number of dishes where crispness of an otherwise moist item is desired.

1 1/4 lb boneless chicken thigh
1 heap Tablespoon minced garlic 
1 Tablespoon minced ginger
2 Green onions
4 - 6 chilis, cut into 3/4" lengths (Optional)

Chicken Marinade:

1 tsp dark soy
1 Tab light soy
1 Tab Shao Xing wine or dry sherry
1 Tab cornstarch
 1 egg white

In a bowl, appx 2/3 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp baking soda. (The baking soda assists with the Maillard browning reaction which cornstarch is otherwise resistant to)

3/4 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 Tab sugar
1 heap tsp brown sugar
1 TAB rice vinegar
2 TAB light soy
1 tsp dark soy

1 Tab rice wine

Cornstarch slurry (see thickening sauces in Technique)

Sesame oil, slivered red pepper or carrot for garnish

The following can be done ahead of time: wash and trim out tendon and large fat deposits from chicken thigh pieces and cut into chunks approximately 2" square or so.   Dry the cut meat;  in a bowl, mix very thoroughly with the marinade to evenly coat. In another med large bowl, combine cornstarch and soda and set aside.

Preheat deep fryer to 375º to prepare for the first frying.

Dredge marinated chicken pieces in the cornstarch/soda mixture and shake off extra coating, setting aside these aside until all the chicken is battered.  Lower pieces carefully into the 375º oil.  Fry approximately 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove to a platter with paper towels or drain rack, separate, and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, mince garlic and ginger.  Mince the white portion of the green onion, and chop the green portion separately into 1/8" rings.   Prepare the sauce, set aside in a bowl, and prepare cornstarch slurry.  

When the fried chicken pieces are completely cool to the touch, you are ready for the 2nd frying, but first you'll make the sauce. As the deep fry oil heats to 375º,  heat a wok on med/high, swirl in 2 Tab of peanut oil, and when the oil is hot, add the minced ginger, garlic and onion and stir fry a few seconds.  Add the chilies, if using, and then splash in the tablespoon of wine.  Add the sauce mixture, and as soon as it begins to boil, slowly add cornstarch slurry while stirring ingredients until the sauce thickens to the desired consistency.  If using an electric stove, take the wok off the heat until the burner cools to low before returning; the sauce should remain in the wok on a very low heat while the chicken is fried a second time.

With the deep fry oil at 375º carefully lower the chicken into the oil and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes.  Remove with skimmer or bamboo strainer, gently shake off excess oil, and place directly into sauce.  This may require two or three dips into the oil.  Now toss the chicken in the hot sauce, remove to a serving platter and garnish with sesame oil, green onion shreds, or other garnish.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Chive and Prawn Dumpling

Here is another delicious mainstay of the tea ritual known as dim sum, and belongs to the class of dumplings enfolded with a wheat starch wrapper.  The name in Cantonese is Gao Choi Ha Gao 韭菜虾饺, or simply Gao Choi Gau (In Mandarin, Jiu Cai xia Bao).  You will find this steamed dumpling in almost every dim sum restaurant, although it will sometimes be formed into hockey-puck sized packets, and fried.  In either case you'll know it by the intensely green vegetable showing through the translucent wrapper.  

Like cilantro,  Chinese garlic chives,  jiu cai might strike some as an acquired taste.  Once accustomed to its sharp and fragrant flavor, however, it becomes an essential sensation for lovers of dim sum.


12 oz prawn, peeled and  deveined
12 oz garlic chives  
1 egg white
2 med clove garlic, minced 
1/4 rounded tsp white pepper
2 rounded tsp cornstarch
1 Tablespoon plus 1 tsp Shao Xing wine
1 tsp sesame oil
1 rounded tsp sugar
1 tsp salt


1       Cup      wheat starch
1/2    Cup      tapioca Starch
1       Tab       Peanut oil
1/4    tsp         salt
1       Cup       boiling water

Dice half the prawns fine (appx 1/8"), and the other half large (appx 1/2") and set aside in a mixing bowl.  Garlic chives are sold in bundles at Chinese groceries, and known by the names  jiu cai  (Mandarin),  and gao choi (Cantonese); cut off 1 or 2 inches of the thickest (root) end, then chop into 1/2" sections.  On med heat, Stir fry in a wok or sauté pan until wilted, about a minute.  Allow to cool before adding to the prawns.
After adding the cooled chives to prawn,  combine the remaining filling ingredients and mix very thoroughly with a rubber spatula.  Refrigerate.

Sift the starches and salt into a mixing bowl; form a well in the powders, then add the oil.  Pour the boiling water, measured with a pre-heated measuring cup, into the well and stir quickly but carefully with a rubber spatula.  Scrape the sides as you mix, to incorporate all the ingredients.  Form a ball of dough.  As soon as you can handle the dough, knead it vigorously for a full 3 minutes, occasionally compressing the ball forcefully as you knead.  (Wheat starch dough is firm to the gentle touch, but extremely malleable).  This enthusiastic kneading is to insure that the starches and water and oil are smoothly and completely incorporated.  Divide the dough into 3 pieces and let it rest in a plastic bag for 10 minutes or so.  All the foregoing steps can be done ahead of time.

When ready to make dumplings, prepare your steamer with a parchment paper liner for the steamer tray—punch or cut 1/4” holes randomly in the paper to allow steam to pass through.  Alternatively, liberally oil the steamer tray or use vegetable leaf to ensure the wheat starch wrapper does not stick after steaming.  Allow the steamer water to boil, with the basket separate, ready to load dumplings.

Compress each ball of starch into a smooth, round shape and then roll on a flat surface to make a 1” dia.   Rope.  Put two ropes back in the plastic bag and cut the remaining into 1” segments.  To make the skins: working on a high density polyethylene cutting board, place a piece of 4” square piece of parchment paper over the segment and flatten it one at a time with rolling pin, Chinese cleaver, or tortilla press (works great), making sure the skin is a uniform thickness of between 1/16” and 1/8".  This disk will be slightly irregular in shape; you can proceed with making the dumplings and trim the excess with scissors if necessary, or cut the skin now to appx. 3-3/4"diam. (Traditionally, Gao Choi Gau is much larger than Ha Gau, which uses a circle 3-1/4" or less--) Use a cookie cutter, empty tin can or similar round object .  You can make the skins all at once, if they are kept covered with plastic or damp cloth at room temperature.  

The procedure for stuffing the dumplings can be the same as for pot stickers, but note that wheat starch dough is very delicate, and care must be taken not to puncture or tear the skins while filling.  (Dim Sum chefs occasionally vary the pleat design of dumplings, and you may want to experiment with your own method).

Place the dumplings in the lined steamer tray, but do not allow them to touch each other.  Put over the steamer, and cook for 6 to 7 minutes.  Serve in the steamer or place on a serving dish when cool enough to handle.  An accompanying dipping sauce is a nice touch, as is tea.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Beef Chow Fun

Gōn cháau ngàuh hó (Cantonese) 干炒牛河 (Mandarin: Gān Chǎo Níu Hé)

Beef Chow Fun has appeared on Chinese menus here and on the mainland almost as long as there has been restaurants.  In spite of this, searching for consistent chow fun recipes is a daunting task.  On the internet, there are as many versions as there are sites, the best being Andrea Nguyen's.  Published cookbook literature by Chinese authors are nearly as varied.  The recipe presented here is the one you'll encounter most often in Hong Kong (a city that rules the roost for Southern Chinese cuisine), and at Dim Sum restaurants, either as "special" item on one of the roving carts, or a menu item traditionally ordered along with the small snacks of dim sum.

Dry rice noodle can be used with acceptable results, but it is highly recommended that you buy fresh rice noodles (Cantonese: ho fun; Mandarin: he fen)these should be available if you live in an area that has a sizable Asian community and grocery stores serving that community. But fresh rice noodles are literally a delicacy: make sure you can purchase them unrefrigerated, or fresh from a noodle maker.  Otherwise, the cold ho fun will often be so stiff and compact, you will not be able to separate the noodles.  Moreover, it's a good idea to use the noodles as soon as they are purchased.  I bought a few pounds of ho fun from a producer on Friday, and by Sunday they were beginning to break down.

Other than the challenges of the noodle, Beef Chow Fun is easy to make, and works well in a vegetarian version, omitting the beef.

1 lb Fresh rice noodles (ho fun, at least 1/2" wide
7 oz Beef Tri Tip, sliced 1/8" thick across the grain, appx 2" x 2 1/2"
1/2 Lb.  bean sprouts
2 tsp fermented black beans, minced
2 lg cloves garlic, minced
1" x 1" pc ginger, minced
3 - 4 green onion, cut into 2" sections, white portion split lengthwise
3/4  small or 1/2 med yellow onion
4 Tab peanut or cooking oil

Meat Marinade

1  Tab soy
2  Tab rice wine
1 round tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
2 tsp cornstarch


2 Tab Soy light
2 tsp dark soy
1 Tab Rice wine
1/2 rounded tsp salt (or to taste)
1 round tsp sugar

Sesame oil and a spring or two of cilantro for garnish

Marinate the meat for at least a few hours; overnight is even better.  Carefully separate the strands of ho fun and set them aside lightly covered with film or damp towel.

On high heat, with 2 Tablespoon of oil, add garlic, ginger, and both kinds of onion; toss a couple of times, then press onion to the wok to facilitate browning.  After half a minute or so, turn the onions and garlic/ginger over and press gently again.  As soon as you observe browning on the onion, move the mixture to the side of the wok.

Add a tablespoon more oil, allow to heat, then add the beef slices.  Separate the slices with a pair of chopsticks or with the wok shovel and press this gently to the bottom.  When the meat is browned, stir fry everything for a few seconds, until the meat is barely cooked.  Immediately remove to a platter. 

Wash wok, reheat on medium high, and swirl in the remaining tablespoon of cooking oil.  When the oil just begins to smoke,  add the rice noodles in a layer and gently press them to the wok.  In about a minute, when they begin to brown, flip the noodles over and repeat the procedure.  Add bean sprouts, gently stir fry for a few seconds, then add all other ingredients, including the sauce, and gently but quickly stir fry and mix the ingredients to combine and heat through.  

Pile on a serving platter and garnish with a little sesame oil, cilantro and slivers of red pepper

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hong Shao Rou

Hong Shao Rou Red Braised Pork

Little known outside the Asian Community, Hong Shao Rou, (红烧肉) literally, red braised pork, is succulent morsels of pork belly simmered in an aromatic, rich soy-based broth until tender.  I first experienced this dish in Macao, where the softened, anise-infused pork was nothing short of a revelation.  Hong Shao Rou belongs to a class of very traditional Asian dishes known as red cooking, which employs a range of ingredients, including beef, chicken, vegetables and dou fu (See Fuscia Dunlop's excellent red cooked recipes in her Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook).

Recently, the dish has gained some cache on the Mainland because it is known to be one of the late Chairman Mao's favorite dishes, and according to an article in the Xiaoxiang Morning Herald, he considered it "brainfood."  (see Malcom Moore's article), 

Since the unctuous pork belly has weaseled its way into the Western fine dining scene, Red Cooked Pork should find an enthusiastic audience in the U.S.; however, one will rarely see Hong Shao Rou offered at stateside Chinese restaurants.  This is a bit baffling, since it is very easy to make, and irresistibly tasty. 

2 lbs pork belly, lean and fat, skin on, cut into sections approx 4" x 4"

3 round Tab sugar
3 cups chicken stock, low sodium
2 - 2" x 1/4" pc cinnamon
2 star anise
2 cloves garlic, smashed
3 1" x 2" slices of ginger, skin on.
1/3 cup soy
1/4 cup Shao Xing wine or dry sherry
1 TAB dark soy

In enough water to just cover the pork, poach belly in simmering water (“cuan” 汆) for 4 minutes or so, then remove.  When the pork has cooled enough to handle, cut into cubes appx. 1 1/2" x 2" and in two batches, brown in a hot wok or cast iron skillet with 3 or 4 Tab peanut oil or lard.  Be careful, this entails lots of spattering…Remove and set aside.  In the same pan, on med heat, add the sugar and stir until melted and beginning to caramelize.  Add back in the pork belly pieces, and toss until coated and further browned with caramelized sugar.

Transfer the pork and residual oil/sugar mixture to a 3 -4 quart sand pot or sauce pan; add the chicken stock to cover pork pieces, cinnamon, star anise, garlic, ginger, light soy, wine, and dark soy.  Bring to a gentle boil, and simmer for approximately 1 hour, until pork lean layers are tender but still moist.   As soon as meat is done, remove meat and boil to reduce sauce.  When liquid has reduced to desired consistency, turn off heat.  Return pork belly to the pot and mix to coat; serve in sandpot or plate with garnish of cilantro and carrot or red pepper slivers

Monday, March 4, 2013

Suan La Tang

Suan La Tang (literally, "sour hot soup," but known in the West as Hot and Sour Soup)

A riot of flavor and texture, this is the soup your grandmother might make, if your grandmother was Chinese and lived in Northwestern China--the eastern equivalent to "vegetable soup."  And so, you will find a great deal of variation in the ingredients for this healthful dish.  Some published recipes will include such additions as duck blood and sea cucumber.  But, like General Tso's Chicken, which began in Asia as a very different animal, this dish has adapted to Western tastes, and has now evolved it's own traditional preparation in Western Chinese restaurants, especially those billing themselves as regional or Sichuan restaurants.

But even if one ignores the foregoing the sea cucumber and duck blood, Suan La Tang still has ingredients that are unfamiliar to most western cooks: "Cloud Ear Fungus" (云耳; yún'ěr,) and "Golden Needles." huang hua cai 黃花菜.  These inclusions have as much to do with texture as flavor, as you will see, but along with bamboo shoots and Chinese dried mushroom, they are essential to the character of Suan La Tang.

Finally, this recipe is not for the faint of heart.  Hot and Sour Soup is not technically difficult to make, but to be honest, it is time consuming.  Each of the eight main ingredients need at least two stages of prep; soaking, marinating, then carefully slicing and shredding.  But, as with most things in life, the difficulty pays off, and the results are far superior to anything you're likely to find in Western Chinese restuarants.

Prepare the following:

4 Chinese dried mushrooms-- soak in 180° hot water for 40 min; wring out moisture when cool, then julienne.
1/4 oz Cloud ears-- soak in 180° hot water for 40 min; wring out moisture when cool, then julienne.
3/4 oz golden needles, soak in 180° hot water for 40 min; wring out moisture when cool, then cut large pcs in half
1 - 2 oz bamboo shoots, blanched, drained and slivered

MARINATE the above in
1 TAB sweet black vinegar
1 TAB wine
1 TAB soy

2 scallions, diagonally sliced
1-2 tsp chopped dried chili or chili flake if desired
6 oz Pork, Partially frozen to stiffen then julienned; marinate in 1 TAB Light Soy, 1 Tab rice wine or sherry
8 oz firm fresh Doufu; Rinsed, matchstick

In a large sauce pan COMBINE stock:

3 cans low sodium chicken stock  (1 1/2 quarts--Homemade is best)
1 Heap TAB chx boullion paste or powder
12 oz water

In a bowl, COMBINE:

4 TAB rice vinegar
1 Heap tsp Sugar
1 TAB light Soy
1 TAB Black Soy
1/2 tsp coarse black pepper
1 tsp fine white pepper

In a bowl, COMBINE with whisk:

2 eggs + 2 tsp oil + pinch of salt


4- 5 TAB potato starch with 4 TAB water for slurry


1 cup cilantro leaves, no stems


A few cilantro leaves
Sesame oil

Once the preparation of the ingredients is complete, assemble the soup in the following order:   Bring the stock to a simmer with the Chinese mushrooms, Cloud ears, golden needles, and bamboo shoots;  Lower heat to barely a simmer; Add julienned PORK;  Add DOU FU; When the stock begins to simmer again, add potato starch slurry slowly until it thickens per your preference; pour in beaten EGG in a thin stream and do not stir for a half minute or so to set egg; add CILANTRO, then VINEGAR mixture and stir only enough to distribute ingredients.  Remove to a serving bowl.  Garnish w/ Sesame oil, few pieces of cilantro and chili

Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Babtism" by John Sinclair  2011 Pencil on paper, 15" x 19"
As we have recently returned from China and Vietnam, the long hiatus from contributing to this blog should soon be over.  For those who have visited this site over the past year hoping to find new recipes, I offer my humblest apologies!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hong Shao Shi Zi Tou (Red Braised Lion's Head)

Hong Shao Shi Zi Tou (Red Braised Lion's Head)

It is not often you'll find this very traditional dish in stateside Chinese restaurants, yet in China north and south, Shi Zi Tou (Lion's Head) is very common.  The poetic name of this dish results from its appearance: large meatballs in a bed of cooked cabbage suggests, with a little imagination, a lion's head surrounded by his mane.  Variaions exist, especially in southern China, where Shi Zi Tou may have a lighter broth or sauce,  and possibly cellophane noodles (fen si), in addition to the cabbage. The present recipe is a Shanghai version, utilizing the famous "red cooked" (hong shao) method of poaching in soy and stock; if you prefer a lighter, "Southern" variation, you can simply omit the two soy sauces and substitute 4 tablespoons more chicken broth.  This recipe also calls for water chestnuts, and it is highly recommended that you buy the fresh ones rather than canned, available at most Chinese groceries, even though it takes a few minutes to peel them.  Once you experience the sweet, tender fresh water chestnuts, you'll never go back.

  • 1 1/2 lbs                 Ground Pork
  • 4                              TABWater
  • 8                              Water Chestnuts, large mince
  • 3                              Scallions, minced
  • 3 tsp                       Ginger, minced
  • 2 tsp                       Sesame oil
  • 1 TAB                     Sherry
  • 1/2 tsp                    Salt
  • 2 - 3 TAB               Cornstarch for dredging pork balls
  • 3 or 4 TAB             Peanut oil
  • 2 TAB                     Dark Soy
  • 2 TAB                     Light Soy
  • 20 oz                      Napa Cabbage, root end trimmed, leaves separated
  • 2 tsp                       Brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup               Chicken stock (homemade is far superior, see Technique)
Make a potato flour slurry (equal parts water and starch, appx 2/3 tsp each; you can also use cornstarch, though it will not result in as gelatinous a sauce) 
Combine pork and water.  Mix meat in one direction, and keep mixing until it is somewhat fluffy and cohered, a few minutes; add  large mince chestnuts, minced scallion, minced ginger, sesame oil, sherry and salt; mix well and form into 5 large meat balls approx 6 oz each, 2 1/2"  to 3" diameter. 

Dust meatballs in cornstarch and remove excess--set aside. 

Heat wok with 3 TAB peanut oil over medium heat;  when wok oil is just barely smoking, add meat balls one at a time and fry, rolling and turning very gently, until slightly firm and browned.  Remove.  

Clean wok, heat to medium, add 6 Tablespoons of water, put in cabbage leaves, cover and steam 5 minutes or so until leaves are flexible.  Remove and allow to cool enough to handle.  

Line sand pot (sha guo) or small casserole with 2/3 of the cabbage; gently add the five meatballs, then pour in chicken stock, sugar, and soy sauces.  Lay remaining cabbage over meat, cover and braise balls for 1 1/2  hours on top of stove.  

When done and cool enough to handle, carefully remove Lion's heads to a plate.  On the service platter, arrange braised cabbage in a circular pattern; arrange meatballs in the center.  Reduce braising liquid to desired flavor intensity and add stream of slurry until liquid is thickened, coats spoon thickly, but still runs.  Pour over Lions head, garnish with slivered green onion or slivered carrot.