Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees: Essential Techniques of Authentic Chinese Cooking, written by Kian Lam Kho, is a detailed guide for the home cook into the fundamental techniques surrounding Chinese cuisine with 158 recipes. A few highlights include Steamed Sticky Rice with Seafood, Garlic Stir-Fried Greens, Marbled Tea Egg, Red-Cooked Pork, and Eight Treasures Winter Melon Soup. I will also be featuring his recipe for Sugar-Coated Cashew Nuts following the review.
Disclosure: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Kian Lam Kho
Kian Lam Kho is a food writer, private chef, and teacher. Before starting his culinary career, he was an aerospace engineer and developed software for Wall Street.
He is now the writer behind the James Beard Foundation Award-nominated food blog, Red Cook. He also teaches Chinese cooking classes at the Institute of Culinary Education, Brooklyn Kitchen, and Haven’s Kitchen along with working as a guest chef at various restaurants and as a caterer for special Chinese banquets in New York.
Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees
Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees begins with a highly detailed introduction of Chinese cuisine and cooking styles. The history behind the prominent culinary regions (Guangdong/Yue, Fujian/Min, Sichuan/Chuan, Hunan/Xiang, Jiangsu/Su, Zhejiang/Zhe, Anhui/Hui, Shandong/Lu, Beijing/Jing, Shanghai/Hu, Hainan/Qiong, Yunnan/Dian, and Xinjian and Western Regions are included with a historical timeline and regional map of China.
Minus the delicious food, this may be my favorite section. I love when cookbooks include background of the dishes and traditions surrounding particular mealtime customs such as banquets (the Man Han Quan Xi/Manchu Han Imperial Feast was the most luxurious one ever recorded with six meals over three days- each meal had thirty-six courses!).
The section on the Chinese Kitchen describes the tools and utensils needed to carry out the recipes: types of cleavers, cutting board, woks, wok lid, steamers, and clay pots. The Chinese Pantry describes many of the aromatics, herbs, spices, starches, sauces, condiments, wines and vinegars, fats, oils, and dried delicacies used in the recipes. Novice cooks will benefit from the section on knife techniques and other preparation steps. There are even step-by-step photos on how to butterfly a fish.
Chapters are divided based on technique: Harnessing the Breath of a Wok, Explosion in the Wok, Dipping in Oil, Flavoring with Sauces, The Virtue of Slow Cooking, The Intricacy of Boiling, The Power of Steam, The Making of Hearty Soups, Playing with Fire, Enriching with Smoke, Appetizing Cold Dishes, and Sweet but Not Dessert.
Many of the dishes use stock as a foundation. Following a little extra effort, I now have a few quart size bags in my freezer filled with beef and chicken stock for future use (and just as easy as grabbing a carton from the shelf).
The names of the dishes are provided in English and Hanzi (Chinese characters). I particularly appreciate that the region of origin is also listed under the title. Every recipe has a headnote that includes background information and helpful tips. Measurements are provided in US Customary.
The over 200 photos were taken by Jody Horton with food styling by Suzanne Lenzer and prop styling by Johanna Lowe. Many of the recipes (but not all) include a full page photo of the finished product. A few step-by steps are included as well, such as knife skills and how to prepare Peking Duck and Flash-Fried Fresh Squid. There are also photographs of some of the herbs, aromatics, and spices in the pantry section.
Sugar-Coated Cashew Nuts
Kian Lam Kho includes a sweets chapter, but specifies they are not desserts. Traditionally Chinese meals do not have a dessert course, though Western influences are starting to change that. Instead, sweetened dishes are served alongside the main meal.
He details the various sweetened coatings, finishing with the sugar coating and a recipe for Sugar-Coated Cashew Nuts (掛霜腰果). Through a technique that is also described as “snow coating”, whole cashew nuts are coated in a melted sugar coconut syrup, then tossed with confectioners’ sugar. Kian Lam Kho also adds that a little almond extract or milk powder would make good substitutions for the coconut.
Once the sugar has reached the right temperature, the trick is to move quickly as you add the coconut and cashews, toss, add sugar, and spread across the parchment paper. Allow to cool before serving.
I also made Stir-Fried Lo Mein with Barbecued Pork, Red-Cooked Beef, Fried Sesame Pork Tenderloin, and White Cooked Chicken.
For the Stir-Fried Lo Mein, I first made the recipe for Barbecued Pork and saved enough from dinner to for the lo mein the next night. The pork is incredibly easy to make and packed with flavor. It is first marinated in a hoisin-based sauce, then roasted until cooked through. The cooked pork is thinly sliced and tossed with garlic, ginger, carrots, bean sprouts, and fresh lo mein noodles.
Red-Cooked Beef was one of the many red-cooked options in The Virtues of Slow Cooking chapter. Cubes of stewing beef are first parboiled, then braised in a seasoned beef stock with star anise, cassia bark, tangerine peel, Sichuan peppercorns, fennel seeds, and red chiles. Towards the end of cooking, vegetables are added to round out the dish.
The Fried Sesame Pork Tenderloin is a Cantonese dish made by coating thinly sliced pieces of pork in a sesame seed batter and frying until golden and crunchy. Kian Lam Kho recommends serving it with the Sweet-and-Sour Dipping Sauce.
This White Cooked Chicken is served with a garlic ginger dipping sauce. A large pot of water is lightly seasoned with white rice wine, ginger, and scallions. It is brought to a boil, then the chicken is added whole. After coming back to a boil, the heat is turned off and the pot is covered to allow the chicken to steep until cooked through. The finished chicken is cut into serving pieces and drizzled with vegetable and sesame oil.
Looking for more Chinese recipes?
Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees is an excellent choice for home cooks wanting to learn more about Chinese cuisine and techniques. Novice cooks in particular will find the highly detailed methods of preparation incredibly helpful.
Most of the ingredients are available in larger grocery stores. A few notable spices, sauces, and vegetables will require a trip to a market specializing in Chinese cuisine or purchasing online.
Sugar-Coated Cashew Nuts Recipe
Sugar-Coated Cashew Nuts
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup desiccated coconut
- 2 cups unsalted dry-roasted cashews about 8 ounces
- 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set it aside.
- Put the granulated sugar and 3 tablespoons water in a wok and heat it over medium heat. As the sugar melts, large white bubbles will form. As the bubbles turn smaller, the temperature should reach about 250˚F.
- Add the desiccated coconut and the cashews to the syrup and stir to completely cover the nuts with the syrup. Turn the heat off and sprinkle the confectioners' sugar over the cashews.
- Remove the cashews from the wok and spread them out on the parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
- Let the nuts cool completely before serving them in a small bowl as a table snack before dinner.