Phil's Cookbook Reads of 2021

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Yep. Found it.
It is available in the UK already (and in continental Europe).
It looks interesting!
 

phatch

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That would explain why Uncle Roger has a copy. Give us a review with your early access if you can.
 

phatch

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The Joy of Chinese Cooking, by Doreen Yen Feng, Hippocrene Books, New York.

My copy is from 1992, but it seems it was first published in 1984, but by a different press.

The recipes themselves look pretty normal and straight forward, as far as I can understand them.

The problem comes down to what seems to me to be self-stylized pinyin and failure to use common words for things in English. This(1984) was a time when the earlier pinyin was still pretty common in US cookbooks, the switchover happening starting in 1978 or 79 from memory. This was when Peking became Beijing in the new preferred pinyin for example. If this is originally from 1992, the pinyin choice makes even less sense.

During the specialized ingredients description, there are a few stand out entries of HUH? The entries offer the pinyin and chinese characters, then the common english word. So Jook Sün are bamboo shoots. And the recipes generally follow along the same way, just skipping the chinese characters.

Tiem Jook / Fooh Jook get no English words. The description is "Products of the soya bean. The soya bean milk when boiled separates in to various layers. The rich cream that rises is called fooh jooks, and the settling sediment is called tiem jook. When dried they look like stiff boards glazed with enamel but after they have been cooked, they become creamy and gelatinous. Tiem jook is used in fish dishes; while fooh jook is usually cooked in soup."

I'm guessing this is dried tofu/bean curd skin. But the description provided matches nothing I've seen sold as a differentiator. And does that mean flat sheets or the crinkled sticks? And what about fresh bean curd skin?

Hoy Sien Jeung Another famous red sauce which delights the palate. It is often used in cooking shelffish and ducks. Many People remember it as the delicious sauce that is served iwth Peking Roast Duck.

That seems she's talking about Plum sauce or Duck sauce but I suspect it's really Hoisin based on the pinyin even if I wouldn't have called it red. But hoisin as a word seems to have been in common use at the time the book was written based on books I have from the 70s. And certainly by 1992.

Mei Jing, The Essence of Flavor is the english used for it. White powder in small quantities has no flavor of its own but helps to bring out the natural flavors of the cooking.

So probably MSG, and searching on Mei Jing does bring up MSG as a match. But at another point in the book, it gets parenthetically called "gourmet powder" In 1992, these descriptions are useless. There's also another for what seems to be Five Spice Powder.

Other ingredients are deemed not worthy of description as they're obvious. Maybe.
Plain flour seems pretty obvious. Yet when another recipe calls for wheat flour, that would seem to indicate to use whole wheat flour? But the recipe itself is for transparent dumpling skin, and that would seem to mean wheat starch based on my reading of other books.

Because of this sort of confusion throughout the book, unless you can read the chinese characters, you're likely to have real trouble with the recipes. And in the case of the wheat flour, no chinese characters were provided.

I don't feel right about donating this book for others to read or buy. The confusion is just too damaging. I'll be recycling my copy with other paper scrap.
 

phatch

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CHINESE FOOD: Adventures in the World of Eating by Lilu Junru

is not a cookbook. This is more a cultural overview of China via food. It reads a bit like propaganda or maybe travel hype, but it made me recognize a bias of mine. Just how do you write about a culture via food without judging against another and not sound strangely positivist? Nor is it particularly deep, but it covers territory I've not seen covered before.

I had certainly seen the issue of entertaining guests of different philosophical food limitations, particularly in books on Indian food. And while I had seen explanations of food restrictions various cultures within China may have, I had not seen them addressed together in the ways I have of Indian food.

Published in 2010 in English by a Chinese press, it speaks well of Uyghur people and a few other Muslim minorities. Xi doesn't take office until 2013 and it shows in the different portrayal than I guess I'd get if written today. The last section is on trends in current dining. While I'm not in China to judge, I suspect this is now outdated.

If you're looking for an overview, this is worthwhile. It wasn't what I was particularly thinking of at this time and I don't remember why I picked this up anymore. It wasn't especially impactful to me, but I don't think I have the right mindset right now to get the most out of this book.
 

phatch

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Wok On by Ching-He Huang

I read her debut book (I think it was her first) Ching's Fast Food about the time it came out in 2011. I recall liking it well enough. The dish that sticks out in my mind to this day was a Peking Duck "sushi" roll.

Since then, she seems have published a number of books based on BBC cooking programs including one traveling in China with Ken Hom. I've almost picked that one a up a few times, but glancing through it seemed repetitive to other content I've seen.

Her gimmick seems to be simplification towards fast and easy in a pan-Asian cuisine. This book strikes me as having a more health-oriented take but also with a Western approach to flavor in cooking.

So about the health orientation. Every recipe gets a cutting board icon with a number representing prep time. A wok or saute pan icon with a number for cooking time. And then round dots with VE for vegetarian, GF for Gluten Free and DF for I'm still not sure what. Searching brings up Dairy Free as the most likely candidate but that doesn't seem to fit. She usually lists hydration and marination times separately from prep. I can understand that. She makes this call out in big print by the other numbers so it's clear what your time commitment is.

She uses tamari over soy sauce even though you can see Kikkoman soy sauce bottles in a few of the pictures. As a substitute, she recommends low-sodium light soy which tastes nothing like tamari. And her explanation for soy sauce is that it is used instead of salt in Asian cuisines. Which she should know better than to say. Her recipes here do take that approach though so she's consistent. It seems she leans on tamari to hit the Gluten Free thing, but doesn't really call out that reason with her recommended substitution.

She happily uses dark soy which she says is aged a lot longer. Except that isn't factual in modern production. It's usually just light soy hit with molasses/caramel color and some other things varying from brand to brand. It seems historically, it was a sun dried version of light soy but that concentration would make it more salty, not less which it usually is in contemporary bottles. Still, I do see plenty of writers who say dark soy is more salty than light even when the labels don't bear this out generally.

Additionally, there is no sugar to be found though "runny honey" abounds.

Some quotes regarding the style of cooking and the recipes.
Balance the aromatics – the awesome foursome!

I like to use a combination of garlic, ginger and chillies – what I call The Holy Trinity – but now I sometimes add spring onions to the mix too. Holy Trinity was so last year – now it’s all about the Awesome Foursome! I have been accused of adding garlic, ginger and chillies in almost all my dishes, but this is because I try to inject their healthful, anti-bacterial properties into my cooking as much as possible, so that I am getting the maximum healthful nutrients in any one meal. But it is entirely up to you and you can vary what you add to suit your likes and mood, of course.

‘Compartment’ cooking

Compartmentalise your ingredients – group aromatics together, also the vegetables, and seasonings. Think of your protein and treat it separately – what flavours are you trying to achieve? Finally, think of your garnishes and ways to inject some freshness into the dish at the end. So, break the recipe down. Sometimes the dish looks like a long list of ingredients but actually most are store cupboard ingredients, and garnishes. So, the dishes are not as long or as difficult as they may first ‘appear’ – after all – appearances are deceptive!
To me, this strikes me as a Western approach. In more traditional approaches, the ginger, the garlic, the scallions, the chiles all serve to "correct" a perceived flaw in the flavor of the ingredient. Perhaps the gaminess of the meat, the grassiness of a vegetable and so on. The above approach seems more western in starting with "aromatics" as a flavor base and working through the recipe to the end. For her goals of quick and easy, this would diminish the in and out of the pan thing that can happen in some recipes.

Quick homemade sauces and seasonings

From sriracha and oyster to garlic hoisin, you can create sweet, sour and spicy sauces that will complement your dishes, whether you use them as cook-in sauces or dressings on the side. Think of your condiment cupboard like a bar, where you are the mixologist, creating your own sauces.
Again, this strikes me as a naive western approach to more stuff is better I often see among the casusal cooking of my friends. And I admit, that I have a few stand-by recipes in this genre so it's not all bad.

The first section of recipe is Vegan/Vegetarian. On it's own, its the largest chapter, thought the multiple chapters of meat and such do dwarf it. The Vegan Hot and Sour soup picks up some extra flavor from some Sichuan preserved vegetables which I can see working out. She's getting more heat from chiles than white/black pepper but the flavors look about right. I don't quite agree with her idea of making it a more substantial meal by adding noodles or pour onto steamed rice. Noodles yes, the rice, no.

In the seafood section, her Cod Laksa stuck out to me. I've never made Laksa from scratch and her approach is simplified compared to some others I've seen. I think she hits on the critical flavors though and do want to try it out.

For the most part, this just isn't so much in my style of cooking. I was interested in her Westernized approach to the cuisine, as a contrast to try and pick out what I might do differently. We don't think about the food from the same angles at all. She's had an opportunity to eat more widely than I have and so there are things I think I can learn from her. I prefer her simplifications over those from Bee Yin Low (Rasa Malaysio blog). They're more to my taste. I prefer her cooking when she's less "health" focused though so take a look at her earlier work over this one imho.
 

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Mr. Jiu's in Chinatown by Brandon Jew

In the same vein as Xi'an Famous Food and Rodney Scott's World of Barbecue, this book is about recreating restaurant dishes. And like the food of those other two, lots of the cooking is really project cooking, not daily kind of cooking. I get more personal use from a more daily oriented kind of cooking, but these project sorts are certainly interesting and educational in another way.

As with the other two books, there's a fair amount of family story about how the food came to be what it is and how it evolved from certain family practices. Jiu's food is certainly more involved than the others though. The lobster jook takes 4 days of fermenting barley and demonstrates the more fusion approach of the restaurant by adding cognac, tomato paste and Korean roasted barley tea. You will also deep fry some red vermillion rice. Don't forget the fermented Kohlrabi, which takes at least a week or up to a month of fermenting itself.

And I was excited to see a recipe for salted egg yolk, until I got to the part where he dehydrates them for 2 days. So the cooking is deeply involved in lots of techniques, age and time and even equipment. Project cooking.

So from my perspective as a daily home cook, what's good here. The sour dough green onion pancake is doable, but also on the complicated side.
The soups are simpler, except for the Hot and Sour that goes on a path of its own. He starts off with a sizzling rice soup and keeps it pretty straight. Corn and squash blossom is a bit more seasonal and simple. So let's look at that Hot and Sour Soup.
HOT AND SOUR SOUP

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Our version of this soup will taste familiar but new to anyone who has ever tasted Chinese sour-hot or Chinese American hot and sour soup. We use sharp and pungent white vinegar, as well as earthy black vinegar for its rich, deep molasses acidity. The only “hot” quality comes from white pepper for a slow warming heat. Grind the pepper super-finely so that it dissolves into the soup, then give it a few minutes to steep and bloom before you taste. Pepper and vinegar change as they infuse a hot broth. Keep tasting and adjusting until both the “sour” and the “hot” come through. You may need one last tweak with vinegar right before serving. It will all come together as a singular flavor and delicately punch you in the face. Garnish with cilantro and nasturtium leaves and flowers for a special touch.

Active Time — 1 hour

Plan Ahead — You’ll need overnight for soaking, and 2 hours for simmering

Makes 8 servings

Hot and Sour Broth
2½ lb / 1.1kg white-fish bones and heads
1 oz / 30g dried flounder
2 qt / 1.8L water
2 cups / 340g ice cubes
⅓ cup / 30g diced celery
¼ cup / 25g diced fennel
¼ cup / 40g thinly sliced leeks (white parts only)
4 oz / 115g ginger, peeled, sliced, and smashed
1½ tsp ground white pepper
1½ tsp toasted sesame oil
¼ cup / 60ml light soy sauce (生抽, sāng chāu)
½ tsp dark soy sauce (老抽, lóuh chāu)
Kosher salt
24 dried lily buds or flowers
2 Tbsp neutral oil
¼ tsp celery seeds
1 cup / 100g trimmed fresh nameko mushrooms
1 cup / 70g fresh wood ear mushrooms
Kosher salt
4 oz / 115g firm doufu, cut into ¾-inch cubes
½ cup / 80g cooked, shredded crab meat
¼ cup / 60ml distilled white vinegar
3 Tbsp Chinese black vinegar, plus more as needed
To make the broth: Trim away and discard any guts and large blood vessels from the fish bones and remove and discard the gills from the heads; rinse the bones. Place everything in a large bowl, cover with cold water, and let soak overnight in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 300°F

Place the dried flounder on an oven rack and toast until fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Drain the fish bones and then place them in a 6-quart or larger pot. Add the dried flounder, 2 qt / 1.8L water, and ice cubes and bring to a simmer over medium heat, skimming off any foam that floats to the top and never letting it come to a boil. Add the celery, fennel, leeks, and ginger; turn the heat to medium-low; and simmer, skimming occasionally as needed, until intensely flavored, about 2 hours.

Fit a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl and then strain the broth and discard the solids. Stir the pepper, sesame oil, and both types of soy sauce into the broth. Taste, season with salt, and let cool. (At this point, you can transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or in the freezer up to 1 month.)

Bring a kettle of water to a boil.

Place the lily buds in a heatproof bowl, cover with boiling water, and let soak for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large frying pan or wok over medium heat, warm the neutral oil for a few seconds. Add the celery seeds and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add all the mushrooms, season with salt, and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Drain the lily buds. Divide the sautéed mushrooms, lily buds, doufu, and crab among serving bowls. Bring the hot and sour broth back to a simmer. Add the white and black vinegars, then taste for balance and re-up the black vinegar as needed. Ladle the hot broth into each bowl (at the table, if you feel inspired) and serve immediately.

ON HOT AND SOUR
In 1945, Buwei Yang Chao wrote How to Cook and Eat in Chinese, a book introducing the diversity of regional Chinese cuisines to American home cooks. In it, she—with help from her daughter and husband—coined the terms “stir-fry” and “pot sticker” and described “sour-hot soup” (酸辣湯) as “a very famous soup that sometimes will help you get rid of leftovers.”
Most readers had never tasted anything such as sour-hot. Spicy Chinese food didn’t enter mainstream American consciousness until after 1965, when a critical mass of people with roots in Sichuan and Hunan, among other provinces, made this country home. In San Francisco, Cecilia Chiang served a version when she opened the Mandarin on the other side of the hill from Chinatown in 1961. Chiang's restaurant was among the first to introduce the crossroads cuisine of Beijing, with its pan-China, Muslim, and Mongolian influences, as well as the regional cuisines of Shandong, Zhejiang, and other northern provinces. “Mandarin” (until then, the term for the language of imperial court officials and a type of orange) became synonymous with northern Chinese cuisine, which essentially came to mean anything other than what the first wave of immigrants had been cooking in Chinatown. New restaurants capitalized on the perception that some cooking was more “authentic” than others.
In 1974, California Living magazine explained that this new regional cuisine tended to have “a dry texture” that required chewing long enough to “taste all the underlying explosions within it.” The primer suggested earning your server’s trust by not trying to order Cantonese-style food and promising not to send back dishes that were too spicy.
Sour-hot was one of the earliest of the so-called authentic, regional Chinese dishes to catch on in this country. At first, cooks made it as close as they could to what they knew, using available ingredients—numbing, lemony, green Sichuan peppercorns were technically banned from import by 1968 for more than four decades. The Sichuan version was a mix of white and red rice vinegars, white peppercorn, and smuggled Sichuan peppercorn, perhaps topped with fermented mustard greens and soft sheets of pork blood. Beijing-style included white pepper and black rice vinegar and bits of ham and seafood, with wontons or noodles. Soon it appeared, mellowed, alongside Cantonese staples in Chinatown—the gateway spicy dish.
As customers developed preferences, chefs edited and found flavor in new sources. But eventually, sour-hot’s American identity converged toward a standard—strips of pork and doufu, egg ribbons, mushrooms (usually mu’er, a black tree fungus), and dried lily buds in a broth of black peppercorn and white vinegar. It became “hot and sour,” not “sour-hot,” rebranded to emphasize what seemed to matter most. In the United States, with a new form and a new name, hot and sour came to represent a cuisine that didn’t exist before in the old country.
It sounds good, but its a bit much to put together for a quick dinner or lunch.

I like the vegetable section a lot. Good photographs of different things so you know what to look for. There are also some handy tables for light greens and another for hearty greens. each with name variations, what to look for, prep instructions and general seasoning guidelines. He offers some salads in the Western style with interesting fusion vinagrettes, a vegetarian Kung Pao and more. The Mapo variation happens to be in the Vegetable section. I think that is in error, but it might be because they make their own tofu from yellow soybeans?

The fish recipes strike me as perhaps too specific to a source of particular fish than is as adaptable as I would need some 1000 miles from the ocean. I'd have appreciated some generalization but then it wouldn't be a recipe from the restaurant I guess.

In the meats section, there are a number of really interesting dishes. The White Cut Chicken goes french fusion into a gallantine. Detailed instructions and photos for each step. It's a beauty.
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And to show you what's going on, here's step 14 where you've deboned and skinned your whole bird, created your farce, have various other cuts of the chicken in strips for the center texture while getting ready to roll.

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White Cut Chicken has never seemed as tempting. So White Cut Chicken is a classic I've not made as it sounds really bland normally. I've made Hainanese Chicken which shares a lot of methods and results, but with a punchier sauce. They use a similar sauce of green onion and ginger but without the chiles that often show up for the Hainanese Chicken.

I was again excited for a couple of short recipes in the Hot Pot topic. He offers an Herbal broth and a Spicy broth. The Herbal was more interesting to me as I've not seen one broken down before. There are a lot of spicy versions out there. He also gives a recipe for Sesame-Garlic sauce. The sesame sauce I've seen is clearly not just the sesame paste. it's thinner and has other flavors going on and now I know one approach to making it. He makes his own Shacha which is much like a shortcut XO sauce. Those two are the basis of most dipping sauces for hot pot, even in the Korean variations.

I liked this book. It's interesting. If you're not into project cooking, I don't think this is really the right book for you. It's not the right book for me to cook from generally either. But there was a lot of interesting things going on. Anything complicated is well documented. But read the instructions carefully. Special equipment or fermenting time may be lurking anywhere.
 
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