Asian Food

Why Chinese Cuisine?

Mom needed to be especially prudent how she spent her limited discretionary money. When she did, imagine how special what she spent it on must have been.

On occasion, mom would pull out the menu from her favorite restaurant in Boston’s Chinatown. It was loaded with notes reminding her which Chinese items we liked best; Chinese spare ribs always topped the list.

Mom would call in her take out order and a taxi delivered our Chinese food. I remember looking out of our first-floor apartment window on Cleveland Place waiting for the first glimpse of headlights on Snow Hill Street perpendicular to our narrow alleyway. I’d wave to let him know which was our doorway. I remember that paper bag stapled shut, those white food boxes, bag of crispy noodles, condiments, and fortune cookies.

Mom and I talked mostly about our entertaining family and laughed while appreciating our special treat. Il meglio dei ricord; Dio vi benedica mama.

Learning to Cook Chinese

I began learning about unique Chinese ingredients like fermented black beans, many great recipes, and the nuances of cooking authentic Chinese at least 35 years ago after purchasing Irene Kuo’s time tested book “The Keys to Chinese Cooking”. I believe it’s still the most definitive cookbook on Chinese cuisine. I’ve certainly never found one better!

Her book alerted me to techniques like “velveting”. Ever wonder why chicken cooked in Asian dishes is always tender and juicy? Velveting is a coating and sealing technique that keeps chicken, shrimp, fish, and beef moist during stir frying. Once velveting ingredients are systematically applied, it's sealed either in hot oil or water.

Slippery coating is similar and helps tenderize economical cuts of meat.

Anyone that wants to learn how to cook authentic Chinese, purchase “The Keys to Chinese Cooking”.

Thoughts on some commonly used ingredients in Chinese recipes

Mincing Ginger…brings out the intensity of ginger’s flavors. I use a meat pounder. Place quarter size slices on a cutting board. Cover with plastic or wax paper and pound. Finish briefly with a chopping knife.

Soy sauce, traditional verses less sodium…Commercial brewed soy sauce is made with fermented soy bean paste and may contain grains, salt brine, cultures, water, etc. Knowing the origin of soy sauce helps understand its saltiness. Salt was expensive in ancient China. Soy sauce was a way to economically stretch salt.

Saltiness can be cumulative when adding ingredients like fermented black beans, oyster, and fish sauce. Lower salt soy appears to have slightly less flavor intensity (I’ve taste tested both using the same well-known brand), remember you can add more salt but can’t take it away. You can only dilute salt by adding water and thickener; not a great alternative. I now lean towards low salt soy unless I'm sure the dish won't be over salted.

Scallions...I buy scallions in 5.5-ounce sealed cellophane packages. Perhaps because they are protected, they always seem to be noticeably fresher. Freshness will determine if the outermost layer needs to be removed.

Fermented black beans…are black soy beans that are fermented and salted. Additional ingredients like ginger, orange peel, soy sauce might also be added. Whole beans are imported in cellophane bags and sold in some Asian grocery stores. Several brands are also available on Amazon. Some grocery stores carry black bean paste in jars and added ingredients like garlic. Unlike paste, whole beans can be rinsed to remove excess salt; paste can’t. Use paste in moderation.

Origin appears to be Cantonese. Their bold flavors pair exceptionally well with other hardy flavors like ginger and garlic. I love the sauces they help create. Some of my favorite recipes are Shrimp, Beef, and Flounder with Lobster Sauces.

Boston Style Lobster Sauce and Shrimp with Lobster Sauce

These popular favorites were available throughout Boston and much of New England and usually made there with ground pork, fermented black beans, minced garlic and ginger, scallions, sherry, soy, and more options in a rich dark sauce that includes sherry and soy. Although classically finished with scrambled egg, optional for others. Neither contain lobster but “featured” in Lobster Cantonese.

This incredible bold sauce can accompany poultry, seafood, vegetables, shrimp, rice, soft or crispy Chinese noodles.

Outside New England, Chinese restaurants mostly offered bland Lobster Sauce with a delicate clear broth. My favorite dark and bold versions are rarely found. When we relocated, I went on a mission to learn how to cook “Boston” style Lobster Sauce.

See below for my results. Enjoy.