By Eileen Yin-Fei Lo
When Eileen Yin-Fei Lo was growing up in Sun Tak, a suburb of Canton, her attitude toward cooking was shaped by a family that was passionate about food. She remembers her father saying, only partly joking, that "fine vegetables should be chosen with as much care as one would a son-in-law." An aunt with whom she went marketing would bring along an empty pail, the better with which to carry home a live fish. ("For her only that could be considered fresh.")
Ah Paw, Eileen's beloved grandmother, quoted Confucius on cooking techniques and food philosophy. "Confucius," she said, "desired rice to be at its whitest and meat to be finely chopped, but when food was overcooked he would not eat. He insisted that the food he ate be in season, and he would have no meal that did not have some ginger."
This degree of preoccupation with food is not an eccentricity of Eileen Yin-Fei Lo's family but a characteristic intrinsic to the culture of the world's most populous nation and captured in Yin-Fei Lo's comprehensive new cookbook, The Chinese Kitchen: Recipes, Techniques, Ingredients, History, and Memories from America's Leading Authority on Chinese Cooking . "Nowhere else in the world," the author notes, "is the daily table so entwined with, so much a part of, a people's national fabric. The food of the vast country of my birth has a long, complex, exceedingly rich documented history, one that reaches further back than any other food tradition."
In this destined-to-be-classic volume, Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, author, menu developer, and cooking teacher, presents more than 250 classic recipes interwoven with extensive notes on the historical and cultural context in which the recipes were developed; touching personal family recollections; tips on shopping, preparation, and presentation; and dozens of full-color photographs. Much of what Eileen talks about in this book has never before appeared in print in English, and many of the banquet-style dishes are presented for the first time in their authentic traditional manner.
The Chinese Kitchen's chapter on regional cooking includes such classics as Peking Duck (with directions for traditional service in three separate courses—duck soup, pancakes with duck skin folded in, and stir-fried duck meat), the Tea Smoked Duck of Shanghai, and Beggar's Chicken, from Beijing. Perfumed Chicken from Sichuan is flavored with cinnamon and anise; Barbecued Pork from Canton is what you see hanging in the windows of restaurants. Beef has never been as prevalent as pork in Chinese cooking, but there are some dishes, such as Orange Beef from Hunan. Steamed Sea Bass epitomizes the essence of Cantonese cooking—simplicity, freshness, and honesty of flavor; Buddha's Delight is a classic vegetarian preparation known all across China.
Buddha Jumps over the Wall, perhaps the ultimate feast in a land of feasts, has been described as a giant pot-au-feu, though it is infinitely more complex. It includes shark's fin, abalone, dried scallops, quail eggs, chicken, duck, lamb, pork, and Smithfield ham (which resembles the traditional Yunnan and Jinhua hams of the Chinese kitchen), in addition to myriad vegetables and seasonings. Yin-Fei Lo includes as well the recipes for the dish's classic accompaniments—Snow Pea Shoots with Steamed Mushrooms, Choi Sum with Yunnan Ham (a leafy green vegetable, made here with Smithfield ham), Mustard Green Stems in Sweet Mustard Sauce, and Lotus Root with Pickled Peach Sauce.
Eileen's selection of meat dishes ranges from Shredded Pork with Sweet Bean Sauce to the Steamed Spareribs with Preserved Plums that is a staple of the dim sum kitchen, from the Five-Spice Beef of Beijing to Sichuan Dry Shredded Beef, from Steamed Brisket with Cinnamon Roasted Rice to Stir-Fried Lamb with Leeks. Poultry dishes include the Boneless Stuffed Chicken that was served at holiday feasts in Sun Tak, Braised Duck with Chestnuts, Curried Duck, and Crisp Fried Squab.
"Gifts from the Water" include Poached Lake Fish, Drunken Shrimp, Lobster Steamed with Lemon, Crabs with Black Beans, and Shanghai Chili Clams, while "Gifts from the Land" range from Chinese Broccoli Poached in Chicken Stock to Braised Tianjin Bok Choy, Snow Pea Shoots with Crabmeat to Bean Curd with Poached Asparagus.The Chinese Kitchen is exhaustive in research and extensive in content. It features sections on rice dishes, teas, wines, stocks, oils, and condiments, as well as detailed information on stocking your pantry. Of interest to anyone who has ever been curious about the cultural and culinary roots of a favorite Chinese meal and essential for cooks who are serious about mastering the art of Chinese cooking, The Chinese Kitchen is the most comprehensive tome yet from the lady who taught America how to cook Chinese.
About the Author
Eileen Yin-Fei Lo was born in Sun Tak in Canton, China, and moved to the United States in 1959. An author of award-winning cookbooks, menu developer for top Asian restaurants, and cooking teacher, she lives with her husband, Gourmet columnist Fred Feretti, in Montclair, New Jersey.
The Chinese Kitchen
Recipes, Techniques, and Ingredients
from America's Leading Authority on Chinese Cooking
By Eileen Yin-Fei Lo
William Morrow, December 1999
Information provided by the publisher.
This page created February 2000
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