Phil's Cookbook Reads of 2021

phatch

Moderator
Staff member
9,307
931
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Today's entry is Gok Cooks Chinese by Gok Wan.

I thought this was a pretty good Chinese cookbook. It has a distinctly modern slant drifting into fusion. So instead of salt and pepper pork, you get salt and pepper pork chops. And while I know the Chinese do use fish sauce, I've never seen it show up so often, even in the mapo tofu and also some ostensibly vegetarian dishes as well.

The Garlic Chicken and Sichuan Chicken both struck me as simple and worthwhile approaches to those flavors.

There are odd things like 4 chicken breasts that manage to only weigh 500 grams total for Dad's Drunken Chicken. His hot and sour soup is unlike most anything else of that name. Happiness in a Bowl is just shrimp wonton soup but that naming needlessly complicates finding what is otherwise a common recipe. And bonus points for making shrimp shell stock for that soup.

Organizational choices mean all categories of cooking are scattered throughout the book. I did enjoy the one-pot chapter as that's a different but useful way for a westerner to think about a Chinese meal for simple cooking.

There are some occurrences of sexual language and ethnic perjoratives that strike me wrongly for a cookbook. Perhaps that's part of his public UK persona but it was in poor form I thought.
 

phatch

Moderator
Staff member
9,307
931
Joined Mar 29, 2002
I forgot to mention two other recipes i wanted to call out, both steamed eggs. He does a regular version of steamed eggs with shrimp. It's good to see this dish cropping up more frequently.

The other was eggs cracked into a bowl, not mixed or whisked, topped with meatballs and steamed. This was a new variation for me and I look forward to trying it.
 
Last edited:

phatch

Moderator
Staff member
9,307
931
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Been out sick. Covid test was negative. Hope to get back to my reading again soon. Still caught workingin my backlog of life that builds up while sick.

Xi'an Famous Foods is almost done. It was on many best of 2020 cookbook lists last year.
 

phatch

Moderator
Staff member
9,307
931
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Xi'an Famous Foods by Jason Wang (and others).

The food of Xi'an has become more mainstream in the last 5 or so years. Probably more than that, but I live in a culinary backwater. Sure, we have a disproportionate representation of cuisines for our size -- I credit the Mormon Missionary program for people bringing back a love of a foreign cuisine and some related immigration as well. But hand pulled noodles have penetrated America's Test Kitchen so it must be more mainstream.

The organization of the content is fairly biographical. They start in Xi-an, move to America, move around a bit while Dad works the Chinese restaurant circuit. You can read about this circuit in Jennifer 8 Lee's Fortune Cookie Chronicles. They start a food cart, They grow. The author returns to Xi-an and realizes they're cooking a snapshot in time as Xi'an cuisine has evolved as Xi'an has grown and become important.

In the middle, he gives recipes and directions for a number of popular dishes they serve at the restaurant. A lot of this relies on some seasonings they make in bulk and dole out in various amounts to other recipes. Chili oil, XFF Noodle Sauce, XFF Liang Pi Sauce, XFF Dumpling Sauce. These mostly riff on black vinegar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, star anise, bay leaves, sugar and so on in different proportion to each other. This makes a lot of sense for restaurant production. It makes a lot less sense for a home cook making a single recipe here or there.

As to Liang Pi, knowing how to make my own gluten is interesting. You do use the starch water leftover from making the gluten for making the noodles. And I've watched Souped Up Recipes do it on Youtube a few years back. But I can buy gluten/seitan. I can buy wheat starch, how about some simplification here? https://misschinesefood.com/the-wheat-starch-cold-noodle/ for example. But as I've not eaten Liang Pi from scratch, maybe the difference is worth the extra work. I respect preserving the traditional knowledge. But some modernization options would have been appreciated by me at least.

When Jason returns to Xi'an, the cooking simplifies to more approachable home cooking levels and the is the part of the book that most interested me. Soup, hash, a sort of spaetzle noodle I'd never seen in Chinese cooking before. This Liang Pi skips washing out the gluten and just steams the batter directly and is dressed in sesame sauce. I'm not chasing down lamb heads or spines...

I do think this is an important cookbook. Both for capturing that snapshot of what Xi'an cuisine was and the core techniques, but also for recognizing that things change. Both are good. There's not a lot here that I've seen in elsewhere in print. What I've seen of this regional cuisine is mostly Youtube cooks. I don't know for sure what to try out. It's all quite new and the flavors and unclear to me in many ways. I should Mix up some core sauces and try out some hand pulled noodles and cold skin noodles it seems.
 

phatch

Moderator
Staff member
9,307
931
Joined Mar 29, 2002
# 14: Chinatown Kitchen: From Noodles to Nuoc Cham - Delicious Dishes from Southeast Asian Ingredients by Lizzie Mabbott.

The subtitle has more to do with this cookbook than the main title. Except that you go shopping in Chinatown to find the ingredients. This is a pan-Asian cookbook with a bit more focus on the spicy cuisines of Southeast Asia. Japan and Korea do make appearances. Further, this is highly modernized and adapted, and in a number of cases diverging sharply from what you might expect of a dish of a particular name.

Lizzie grew up eating primarily Chinese food in Hong Kong but didn't learn to cook it in her youth. She self-educated herself on the topic later while living in England. Her book is organized by ingredient category, but this sometimes creates an odd mishmash of dishes in a particular chapter with savory and desserty sweet type items side by side. I can respect the organizational approach though as the cuisines of Asia tend to mix sweet and savory in ways uncommon in the West.

Lizzie likes her spicy hot dishes more than I do and this can manifest in weird ways. She offers a Red-Braised Ox Cheek for example. Red-cooking is usually about a master stock heavy with spices, soy, sugar, rice wine and dried tangerine, a sweet-savory simmering technique where you re-use the stock over and over and develop an ever richer base. She offers up a recipe based in doubanjiang and yellow bean baste, a bit of rice wine and minimal star anise. And I think it would taste pretty good but I don't see the red-cooking connection really. It would certainly kick with heat and fermented bean taste in a way unlike red-cooking.

Where she got her Bo Kho idea is completely lost on me. Kho usually indicates a Vietnamese savory caramel cooking base, or at least a good dose of sugar. Here it become a beef curry based in curry powder and no sugar to be seen. Again, it seems a perfectly fine dish, but it's not what the name would indicate.

The book strikes me as highly personalized and adapted rather than representative of any particular cuisine or experience. I'm likely the wrong audience for this book as I'm more interested in tradition and practice than she is. If you want something pan-asian with fusion-ist ideas and a modern approach to the tastes, this seems pretty reasonable.
 
Last edited:

phatch

Moderator
Staff member
9,307
931
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Beans, Greens, & Sweet Georgia Peaches: The Souther Way of Cooking Fruits and Vegetables by Damon Lee Fowler.

Fowler is my preferred author for topics of Southern Cooking. Not that he has covered everything there is to cover or knows it all, but he digs pretty deeply into the past and has a good palate.

In this book he argues that produce is the backbone of southern cuisine rather than the meat the produce surrounds. And really any cuisine really. I was once taken to task for lamenting the sad sides at a particular barbecue restaurant. The people I was talking to said that you go to barbecue for the meat. In my mind, I went for the meal. Most meals are produce-centric for economics, optimal nutrition and yes, taste. Except for salt, our seasonings and aromatics are plants or parts of plants. Fowler doesn't have to convince me of the claim.

With produce as the topic, he logically organizes the book seasonally for when the food is in season. There are a few stretches to this concept. He gives some accompaniment such as corn bread and grits that aren't seasonal. And the South covers a broad geographic and climate range so there are things that struck me oddly because I sometimes don't think of Florida as the South, though it clearly is. That particular dish was Grapefruit and Avocado Salad. Something about that combination knocked me out of a Southern mindset entirely and that is my bias on display as they are grown in the south though not natively originally.

I was introduced to a broader range of cooking for many vegetables. The artichoke options included an interesting braise and an artichoke and oyster soup. That is not a combination I'd have come up with. I was surprised at the number of ways he offered for edible flowers. I wouldn't have thought that was particularly southern, but it seems to be practiced more than I knew.

A gumbo for Okra of course, but a few other stews and soups also. I struggled with its use in a salad. He points out you need young pods so that there is no goo/slime. I only ever see mature or frozen in my market so this option never occurred to me either.

Peanuts get some interesting entries, but again some require a fresh peanut I'll never see in my area. That's OK. It's good to know what's possible with optimal ingredients or what to look for if you're traveling in the right season.

I've made and enjoyed some fruit soups and salsa before. He calls out a particular Georgia Peach Soup in a more savory approach than I've ever seen before.

Georgia Peach Soup SERVES 8

Fruit soups are not intended to be sweet. They are served, not as a dessert, but as a first course in much the same way as a fruit salad. This particular one is popular in Georgia hotel dining rooms and in restaurants that cater to visitors. Though it is sometimes served warm, and I’ve given directions for serving it that way, it’s more usually served well chilled, and is best that way.

6 medium, ripe yellow peaches (about 2 pounds)

1 lemon, cut in half

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cup chopped shallot or yellow onion

2 cups Chicken Broth (page 21) or 1 cup canned broth mixed with 1 cup water

2½ cups heavy cream (minimum 36 percent milk fat)

Nutmeg in a grater

1 tablespoon bourbon

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

1. Put the peaches in a large heatproof bowl or a stockpot. Bring a large teakettle of water to a boil and pour it over the peaches. Let them stand in the hot water for 30 seconds and then drain. Rinse them with cold water, slip off the peelings, and then halve them and remove their pits. Cut into thin wedges and put them into a glass bowl. Squeeze the lemon juice over them, then toss to coat them well.

2. Put the butter and shallot or onion in a heavy-bottomed 3½- to 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Sauté, tossing often, until softened and transparent but not in the least colored, about 4 minutes. Add all but 1 cup of the peaches and stir until warmed through. Add the broth and let it come to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the peaches are tender, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat.

3. Puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor, and return it to the pot. Cut the remaining peaches into small chunks and add them to the puree. The soup can be made several days in advance up to this point. Let it cool uncovered, and then cover and refrigerate it until needed.

4. To serve it cold, stir in 2 cups of the cream and season to taste with a few generous gratings of nutmeg. Stir until smooth. To serve it warm, gently reheat it over medium-low heat, stir in the cream, and just let the cream heat through. If it’s too thick once it warms (which may happen because of the acid reacting with the cream), thin it with a little milk. Just before serving, stir in the bourbon.

5. If serving it cold, whip the remaining ½ cup cream until it forms soft peaks and garnish each serving with a spoonful. If serving it warm, don’t bother to whip the cream, but simply drizzle a spoonful into each serving. Top with a sprinkling of mint and freshly grated nutmeg.
He retreads a few ideas he's used before. He recycles mayo-based potato salads in a baked casserole. And that's not a bad dish, just one he's talked about in other books.

I think this book will introduce new ideas and treatments to most cooks. I fully recommend his other books, particularly Classical Southern Cooking, Essentials of Southern Cooking and New Southern Baking. He also wrote the Ham book in the ever-increasing topical set of books in the Savor the South series.
 
Last edited:
Top Bottom