Phil's Cookbook Reads of 2021

phatch

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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

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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.
 
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phatch

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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

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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

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# 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.
 
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