China: The Cookbook, written by Kei Lum Chan and Diora Fong Chan, features over 650 recipes that represent a cross-section of the many cuisines of China in 720 pages. Well-known favorites such Bang Bang Chicken, Deep-Fried Wontons, Hot and Sour Soup, General Tso’s Chicken, Sweet and Sour Shrimp, Lion’s Head Meatballs, Tomatoes with Scrambled Eggs, and Hong Kong-Style Egg Tarts can be found alongside the lesser-known but still delicious Eggplant Salad with Sesame Sauce, Patriotic Soup, Pan-Fried Fish in Wine, Spareribs in Tea, Stuffed Pumpkin Flowers, Honeymoon Fried Rice, and Fried Milk Custards.
Kei Lum Chan and Diora Fong Chan are a husband and wife team based in Hong Kong. They are best-selling authors and are regarded as top culinary authorities in China. Kei Lum Chan’s father, Mong Yan Chan, was the editor-in-chief and food critic for a Hong Kong newspaper and published “Food Classics” (often considered the Chinese food bible) in ten volumes in 1953. Diora Fong Chan’s family had members in the Qing Dynasty court and in high positions in the Republic of China government prior to 1949.
Chapters are divided based on food group: Introduction; Appetizers & Salads; Soups; Fish & Seafood; Poultry; Meat; Vegetables, Tofu, & Eggs; Rice, Congee, & Noodles; Desserts; and Guest Chefs.
China is made up of 34 provinces/regions and 56 indigenous nationalities, yet only 11 percent of China’s landmass is suitable for agriculture. This has created a variety of cuisines featuring notable flavors, ingredients, and cooking methods with highs like the evolution of the culinary arts and lows, particularly the great famines in the middle of the 20th century. The book begins with a background describing this food culture with the eight great cuisines, use of food as a medicine, food in religion, street food, globalization, and mealtime rituals. For those new to Chinese cooking, there is also a detailed section with important cooking techniques such as baking (ju), blanching (cuan), boiling (bao), braising (hui), deep-frying (zha), and steeping (jin zi) along with cooking equipment. The glossary lists some of the most popular ingredients with the name in English and its original language, descriptions, preparation tips, where to locate them, and substitutions when available.
Following the main collection of recipes, there is also a Chef Guest chapter with recipes from Chan Yan Tak (Lung King Heen in Hong Kong), Thomas Chen (Tuome in New York City), Kathy Fang (House of Nanking in San Francisco), Kong Khai Meng (La Chine in New York City), Tony Lu (Mandarin Oriental Pudong in Shanghai), Anthony Lui (The Flower Drum in Melbourne), Mok Kit Keung (Shang Palace in Hong Kong), Tong Chee Hwee (Hakkasan in London), and Joel Watanabe (Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie in Vancouver).
Each dish is listed in English and its original language (hànzì). The headnote also includes the region, preparation time, cook time, and serving size. Measurements are provided in US Customary and Metric. The recipe photographs are by DL Acken. Many of the recipes have a full-page photo of the finished dish. There are also beautiful photos of China’s scenery, food, and people.
This book is a great pick for those wanting to learn more about Chinese cuisine and culture. The book is massive with over 720 pages and has a great variety of recipes (no beverages though). The dishes were narrowed down and selected with the home cook in mind and to share with the family. Most come together quickly and range in difficulty from beginner to advanced. Having a seafood market and specialty store featuring Chinese ingredients will be helpful. A few of the more difficult to find products include Shaoxing wine, Chinese cured bacon, dried black mushrooms, red distilled grain sauce, eel, fermented black beans, mung bean vermicelli, shrimp paste, Shajiang powder, Sichuan peppercorns, Tianjin preserved cabbage, Puning bean paste, rice paper, bamboo shoots, and more.
Chicken with Cashew Nuts comes from the Guangdong region in China. It is perfect for weeknights as a quick and easy meal incorporating a variety of textures. Pieces of chicken are lightly marinated in garlic and Shaoxing wine. It is tossed over high heat with shallots, bell peppers, scallions, and crisp cashew nuts, then served with steamed rice.
Shaoxing Wine is a fermented rice wine originally from Shaoxing in the Zhejiang province in eastern China. I have been able to find it at larger grocery stores with a sizeable wine selection, such as Wegmans. It is also available in Asian food markets specializing in Chinese ingredients. Sherry can be used as a substitution.
I also made Egg Rolls, Egg Flower Soup, Egg and Beef Rice Casserole, and Walnut Cookies.
Egg Rolls have always been a favorite of mine and these from Henan did not disappoint. Each roll is filled simply with slices of pork tenderloin and chives, then fried until crisp. It is a great accompaniment to a multi coarse meal.
The Egg Flower Soup was Evan’s favorite. This soup from Guangdong is made by boiling chicken stock (a recipe is included), then quickly stirring in the falling beaten eggs to create silky strands. It is seasoned with salt and chopped green onions.
The Egg and Beef Rice Casserole from Hong Kong was perfect as a weeknight meal. Ground beef is marinated in a mixture of soy and oyster sauces, then formed into a patty. The patty is baked over a layer of rice, then when nearly finished, an egg is cracked on top to cook lightly in the residual heat. The dish is finished with a drizzle of a sweet soy sauce before serving.
The Walnut Cookies from Hong Kong are a nice snack or ending to the meal. A basic shortbread-like cookie dough is combined with broken pieces of walnuts, then baked until golden. For an extra touch, garnish each cookie with a walnut piece. This was a fun recipe to make with Claire, especially during the holiday baking season.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Phaidon in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. As a note- I received a digital copy so cannot comment on the physical presentation of the book.
Chicken with Cashew Nuts
Adapted from China: The Cookbook
5 boneless chicken thighs, cut into 3/4 inch (2 cm) cubes
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
1 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch, divided
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus extra for deep frying
3/4 cup (3 1/2 ounces, 100 grams) cashew nuts
6 shallots, quartered
1 red bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
2 scallions, green parts only, cut into 2 inch (5 cm) lengths
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
Coarsely chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
In a large bowl, toss together the chicken, garlic, salt, Shaoxing wine, and 1 teaspoon of the cornstarch. Add the 1 tablespoon oil and set aside for 10 minutes.
In a wok, add the cashew nuts and enough oil to cover. Place over medium heat, to 285 degrees F (140 C), and cook until golden and crisp, 2-3 minutes. Remove the cashews to a towel-lined plate using a slotted spoon.
Remove most of the oil from the pan, leaving behind 1 tablespoon and place over medium heat. Once heated, add the shallots and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Stir in the chicken and increase heat to high. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until browned. Toss in the bell pepper and soy sauce. Cook for another minute, then toss in the scallions.
In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch with 1 teaspoon of water. Add to the chicken and bring to a boil briefly to thicken the sauce. Remove from heat and add the sesame oil. Top with cilantro and serve immediately with steamed rice.