American Chinese Cooking
Saturday, April 3, 2010
I have some Asian cookbooks are more or less “authentic,” or try to be, at least — they don’t give recipes for chicken heads or suggest ants as a condiment (my friend Cathy was in China last year and was in a store that sold packages of dried ants, I told her she should have brought one back for me, I would have loved to see that) but they recommend specific Asian ingredients and things you probably need a specialty store for, black tree fungus and things like that.
But I also have some cookbooks that are older and don’t try at all, they just use basic American ingredients to make Chinese foods. I actually like these more, because they’re so much easier, and the food may or may not be quite as good, but it’s good enough.
I have two Sunset cookbooks from the late ’70s (though one of them says 16th printing 1997, so apparently the copy I have hasn’t been around as long as I thought), and I have no idea where I got them — probably my dad picked them up in a used book store and gave them to me — but they have some good Chinese food recipes that don’t require anything more exotic than soy sauce.
The Hot and Sour Shrimp I made for the little dinner party I had when my mom was in town came from the Sunset Chinese Cook Book and it’s one of my favorites.
I usually substitute green pepper for celery, because I don’t love celery and half the time I don’t manage to use it up before it goes bad, and I often don’t use the green onions because I can’t always talk myself into spending $1+ for something that seems to me to be completely optional. If I have something else I want to make with green onions or if they’re less than a dollar, I’ll go ahead and get them, otherwise I skip it.
But basically it’s a pretty straight-up stir fry and I think you could use pretty much any vegetables you want
Here’s the recipe, which, other than the aforementioned vegetable substitutions, I make as is:
Hot & Sour Shrimp
1 pound medium-size shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 Tablespoon dry sherry [or Chinese Shaoshing cooking wine]
Cooking Sauce (directions follow)
3 Tablespoons salad oil
3 cloves garlic
1-1/2 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 large stalks celery, cut in 1/2-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup sliced bamboo shoots
2 whole green onions, thinly sliced
Toss shrimp with sherry. Prepare cooking sauce and set aside.
Heat a wok or wide frying pan over high heat. When pan is hot, add 1-1/2 tablespoons of the oil. When oil begins to heat, add garlic, ginger, and red pepper. Stir once, add shrimp, and stir-fry until they turn pink (about 3 minutes). Remove from pan.
Heat the remaining 1-1/2 tablespoons oil. Add celery and bamboo shoots and stir-fry for 1 minute. Stir cooking sauce, then add to pan along with shrimp and green onion. Cook, stirring, until sauce bubbles and thickens.
Makes 3 or 4 servings.
Cooking sauce. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup vinegar, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 5 teaspoons sugar, and 2 teaspoons cornstarch.
It’s quick. It’s simple. It’s good. It uses things I nearly always have around (everything other than the vegetables are things that I consider freezer/pantry staples) so I can buy celery or a green pepper and be good to go.
Can’t beat it.
[Oh, and I am aware of the myriad issues surrounding the eating of shrimp — farm raised vs. wild caught vs. imported vs. local — but I've given up trying to untangle them. I buy Whole Catch at Whole Foods and pretend that that's okay even though I don't know if it is. For those of you interested in staying on top of sustainability issues with regards to seafood, please check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program.]