American Chinese Cooking

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Chinese Cook Books

Chinese Cook Books

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.]

4 Responses to “American Chinese Cooking”

  1. bryant Says:

    and I might add–this was delicious. Along with the spring rolls, who could ask for more.
    thank you Rebecca

  2. Lorrie Says:

    I have the Sunset Oriental Cook Book from 1978. I love the fried rice recipe and make it at least once a month to use up leftover meat. It’s quick, easy and my family loves it. I throw in some mixed vegetables and it’s a great one dish meal.

  3. lessisenough Says:

    I have a nice cookbook called How to Cook Without a Book that focuses on techniques rather than strict recipes, and talked it up to some friends, and one of them liked it and went out and got it for herself. We were talking about it recently and she said she loves the stir fry and fried rice and lo mein sections, because she always used to end up with small amounts of things that she didn’t quite know what to do with. She’s cooking for 4 people (two kids and her husband) so half a zucchini doesn’t do much for her … unless you throw it into a stir fry with a bunch of other stuff and then it’s just right.

    So, yes, everyone should look to stir frys and fried rice for a quick easy meal that uses up things you otherwise might end up throwing out.

    I have to say, though, that I clearly am doing something wrong when I try to make fried rice. It never works right. I was thinking maybe I wasn’t using enough oil, so the last time I made it, I used more oil but that was definitely way too much oil. Is there some trick to fried rice that I should know? Mine ends up either too dry to too oily/heavy and is just generally not good. Usually I’m using leftover rice that’s been in the freezer. Maybe it’s not thawed when I use it and that affects the heat of the oil and it doesn’t fry right? I should probably test some things and see if I can figure out, but I haven’t been that motivated.

  4. Lorrie Says:

    I haven’t seen that cookbook. Maybe I’ll check my library for it as I love to read cookbooks. It’s great to learn basic cooking techniques because then you can be creative with just about anything you have on hand. Recently I had about a cup of cooked carrots left, because my kids did not like frozen cooked carrots. I guess I have spoiled them with fresh. Using my universal muffin recipe that I have memorized, I pureed the carrots and made them into muffins. My muffin monster of a husband ate 3 of them almost immediately and the rest were gone within a day. We were all happy to eat leftover carrots in their reincarnated form! A little cinnamon and sugar makes a lot of things taste better!

    Anyway, have you tried microwaving your leftover frozen rice with a tablespoon or so of water? I find that doing this makes leftover rice almost as fluffy and tender as freshly made, whether brown or white rice. The recipe in my Sunset book for fried rice says to saute the rice for 15 minutes until golden brown. I never do this. For one thing, I can be impatient and 15 minutes is a long time to stand there sauteing rice. For another, no matter how long I saute it, or how much oil I use, it never actually gets golden. So I just briefly saute it in a small amount of oil before adding the eggs, followed by the meat and vegetables and then the green onion. Soy sauce, possibly salt and a tiny bit of sugar are the only other ingredients needed. The soy sauce makes it brown enough for me. I have never been able to figure out how Chinese restaurants get their fried rice so nice and brown but I have a feeling that it is something they put in it and not because they fry it for a long time. If the fried rice is getting too dry as I cook it I add a little water. I also use my nonstick electric skillet which makes it easy to use less oil. I’ll bet your Sunset books have the same or a similar recipe for fried rice. I can give you the exact proportions if you don’t find a good recipe in your books.


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