I had always assumed that Chinese cooking was beyond difficult. It’s not.
It seems like every city and town, whether large or small has a Chinese carryout restaurant. Even if there is no sizable Asian population. Americans love their Chinese carryout. And, I’m no exception.
When I lived in Chicago I had my favorite, The Dragon Inn. As far as places like this go it was pretty swanky. A nicely appointed dining room with heavy red drapes and chairs to match. It was dimly lit with Chinese screens separating parts of the room. There was a small cocktail lounge off the waiting room. An old television behind the bar showed game shows or sports depending on the time of day. But, most importantly, they served great Chinese food.
Or, at least that was my considered opinion. Granted, I had a pretty limited frame of reference. I had never been to a country where this type of food was considered home cooking. And, there were only two other Chinese places in town. It tasted delicious, so, that was my criterion.
I also had a favorite dish (and still do). Shrimp with Lobster Sauce. This was the dish that all the other Chinese restaurants of my future would be measured by. I have consumed a LOT of different versions of this dish (probably too many). So far, not one has come close to the gold standard. It’s just possible that my bar might be a little high.
I love the cuisine, but, never dared to try my hand at it. I figured the “exotic” ingredients and prep methods would do me in. But, as I have just discovered, this couldn’t be farther from reality. It seems I’ve been cooking lots of other types of dishes at home just because I assumed they would be easier. They’re not.
How could this lifetime illusion of difficulty be shattered in one moment? The answer, Ching. More specifically Ching-He Huang. It seems that all of the magic that happened back in the kitchen of the Dragon Inn wasn’t really magic at all. Ching’s Everyday Easy Chinese: More Than 100 Quick & Healthy Chinese Recipes, lifts the curtain to reveal just how easy it is to make your own Chinese carryout. And, trust me, it’s a snap.
After paging through the entire book looking for something that a beginner Chinese chef could make, I was struck by one thing. ALL of these recipes can be easily executed by a beginner Chinese chef. The word easy in the title wasn’t a come on. There being no Shrimp with Lobster Sauce (I was only mildly disappointed). I opted for the Beef with bean sprouts and scallions.
All of the ingredients are easy to gather from your local supermarket. No real super specialty items here. They had some great looking spouts the day I shopped.
Here’s How To Do It
9 oz. beef sirloin, fat removed and cut into ½ inch slices
1 Tbsp. peanut oil
5 oz. bean sprouts
1 tsp. cornstarch mixed with 1 Tbsp. of water
2 scallions, chopped fine
Ingredients – Marinade
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp. ginger, peeled and grated
2 Tbsp. light soy sauce
1 tsp. dark soy sauce
1 tsp. light brown sugar
2 Tbsp. Mirin
Mix all of the marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Add the sliced beef and mix well to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it marinate for about 20 minutes.
Heat a wok (or large skillet) over high heat just until it starts to smoke. Add peanut oil. Remove beef from bowl and reserve the marinade. Cook beef in wok for about 2 minutes.
Add the bean sprouts, reserved marinade and the cornstarch mixture. Toss together and cook for an additional minute. Stir in the chopped scallions. Transfer to a serving plate and serve immediately.
The recipe suggest serving this with jasmine rice. But, as long as I was going this far, it was impossible to pass on a little homemade fried rice. I made Ching’s recipe for Egg and asparagus fried rice. It was unbelievably easy and amazingly light and delicious.
Not bad for a rank amateur! If I could have scooped my finished product into a couple of cardboard cartons. Stapled them inside of a brown paper bag with a few packets of soy sauce and mustard and added two fortune cookies, you would never be able to tell the difference between me and the now defunct Dragon Inn. I’m not joking.
The bottom line. Now that the secret is out and I know how easy and delicious my own homemade Chinese food is I have mixed feelings. One part of me wants to go back to believing that my Shrimp with Lobster Sauce was created using some ancient, eastern culinary techniques and obscure, nearly impossible to find ingredients. The other side of me is happy that I can now have my Sunday Chinese carryout and not have to miss part of the football game to pick it up. Thank you Ching.
Author: Ching-He Huang
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Cookbooks