Why Ambasador, with these Prawn Balls you are really spoiling us...
June 17, 2008 3:44 PM   Subscribe

How do I cook genuine 'posh' Chinese food?

Every weekend my grandfather and I take turns to cook a family dinner. I announced my plans to cook a Chinese meal next weekend.

Ever the master of the throw away line, my grandfather told me that he's always been disappointed by Chinese restaurant food because the first Chinese food he ever had was as guest of honour at the Chinese Embassy.

So, no pressure then.

Can you suggest Chinese meals that will target this kind of experience - a meal which is genuine Chinese rather than AngloAmerican Chinese, with that leaning towards rich man's banquet rather than everyday fare?

I'm not expecting this to be easy, so do your worst...

[I'm in the UK, with easy access to all four major supermarkets and a couple of Chinese supermarkets.]
posted by twine42 to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
He probably wants authentic chinese food, which you probably won't get from a Chinese restaurant unless you can read/speak Chinese.

If not, the only cookbooks that are in english and have semi authentic recipes that I know of are Pei Mei's cookbooks, (Amazon - no referrer)
posted by wongcorgi at 3:51 PM on June 17, 2008

I like the Sichuan cuisine in Land of Plenty.

One simple Sichuan(esque) recipe I mimic from a posh restaurant is something you can call Ma La Corn or Sicuhuan Succotash. The Sichuan peppercorns are a very unusual food sensation. Ma La means "numbing spicy" and they do produce a funny numbing feeling in the mouth, with a flavor something akin to spicy cardamom.

-Cube and fry firm tofu in vegetable oil till crispy
-Sautee a quarter cup of Sichuan peppercorns in oil for 20 minutes, remove corns from oil and discard. A few remaining corns are ok.
-Brown 1/2 cup pine nuts in oil
-Add diced red bell pepper, canned corn, and soybeans, a little sesame oil and dark soy sauce, sautee briskly and add tofu back in.
-Top with chopped shallots.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:02 PM on June 17, 2008

When I think of fancy Chinese food, I think of Eat Drink Man Woman.


Recipes for:
Shrimp and Water Chestnuts Croquettes
Hot and Sour soup
Baked Tilapia with Chili sauce
Shrimp with Spicy Sauce
San Pei Chicken
Pork Stir Fry with Chinese vegetables
Taiwan Fried Rice
posted by spec80 at 4:09 PM on June 17, 2008

Dried abalone is the way to go for a "rich man's banquet," but unless you're utterly loaded, probably not what you're going to make. The ones pictured are not even close to being the most expensive grade btw.
posted by juv3nal at 5:33 PM on June 17, 2008

with that leaning towards rich man's banquet rather than everyday fare
Well there's authentic Chinese food and then there's authentic expensive Chinese food. The latter is usually the result of using rare and expensive ingredients. In that respect, it's pretty much the same formula as the rich man's fare of any cuisine - going balls out with the freshest, prettiest, rarest stuff you can get and doing multiple courses.

Rare and expensive ingredients
- Seafood: whole fish, crab, lobster, scallop, sea urchin, giant prawns, shark's fin, abalone, geoduck clam, dried (concentrated) versions of shellfish
- Meat: duck, whole suckling pig
- Funky stuff: bird's nest, exotic mushrooms (matsutake, enoki)

In terms of stuff you could easily get or make, your best bets are doing steamed whole fish, steamed giant prawns (steam them whole with a bit of rice wine and fresh ginger and serve in the shell with premium soy sauce for dipping), and salt and pepper crab/lobster. In each case, get the biggest, freshest, most expensive versions of the seafood you can afford from the market.

You can also look up recipes for Peking duck or roasted pig. I wouldn't even know where to begin with those.

Skip the abalone, geoduck, shark's fin, bird's nest recipes - those require a level of cooking skill left to professionals.
posted by junesix at 5:58 PM on June 17, 2008

If you want suggestions on dishes to cook, last month's Vogue magazine (with Sarah Jessica Parker on the cover) had a really wonderful article about restaurants in Beijing by Jeffery Steingarten. He went to all the best restaurants and ate all the best special foods. The most special of all seemed to be Peking Duck.

I can't seem to find the article online, but if you could find it on a newsstand, his descriptions of authentic fancy Chinese food are fantastic.
posted by bluefly at 6:25 PM on June 17, 2008

There are lot of things that I would consider authentic and are very very simple to make - things that my Chinese parents make, if you need a pedigree.

I like Chinese broccoli. Wash the veggies (1 bundle) - it's up to you whether you want to trim it down to stems and leaves, some people leave it whole. Then slice some ginger root (2-3 slices, about 1.5 to 2 mm thick) and start heating some vegetable oil (1-2 tablespoons). When the vegetable oil gets hot, toss in the ginger root slices and toast them to light brown. Add in the veggies (watch for water spatter) and cook until they're bright green. Add a little salt and oyster sauce to taste (if you like that sort of thing) and you have a side dish of veggies.

You can season a pound of ground pork with 3-4 slices minced ginger, 2 tablespoons rice wine, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar +/- an egg and use it to stuff wontons, dumplings, cook +/- corn and served over a 4 egg omelet....

I've got a bunch of these kinds of things if down-home-style Chinese food is what you're looking for.

Now I'm hungry.

Drop me a MeMail (I'm off to set it up right now) if you want more recipes.
posted by oreonax at 6:42 PM on June 17, 2008

Sorry to post again - I guess I should qualify why I bothered to respond if you're looking for "rich man's banquet" and I'm offering down-home-style... The thing is that I learned later on that a bunch of things I think of as comfort food are fairly complex and fancy meals, my mom just happens to be an excellent cook (and my dad is a fabulous sous chef) and she liked making rather schmancy meals. And ultimately, I've always felt that a vegetable side dish is a vegetable side dish...

F'r instance, the ground pork on an omelet? Pretty plain fare. Stuff it in fried tofu that you've hollowed out with wood ear fungus and tiger lily flowers? Not so plain, but fairly common in my house growing up.
posted by oreonax at 6:45 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

seconding steamed whole fish - there's a sea bass recipe, with soy sauce, sliced ginger and sliced scallions, that always reminds me of visiting Shanghai. It's also probably not too bad of a dish to make, compared to something like peking duck.

Unfortunately, I don't have the details on the recipe, but it didn't seem like the precise amounts mattered terribly much. Lots of ginger and sliced scallion, some soy sauce...
posted by Lady Li at 8:54 PM on June 17, 2008

I'd second junesix's steamed whole fish idea. Your local Chinese supermarket should have a variety of ready-made sauces in stock. 李锦记 (Lee-Kum-Kee) is a popular brand, and they make a sauce especially for steamed fish called 蒸鱼豉油. (My bottle says 'seasoned soy sauce for seafood' on its label.)

Chinese food isn't big on dessert, but a nice bowl of 'silver ear soup' would give the meal an elegant finish. It's easy to get dried银耳from any Chinese supermarket. Soak it overnight to make it soft. Add even more water and stew it for hours until it's meltingly soft. Add sugar (better yet, rock candy) and dried longan and/or dried red dates and/or dried 枸杞子(wolfberry) for taste and color. Stew for half an hour or until the fruit pieces plump up.
posted by of strange foe at 9:10 PM on June 17, 2008

Oh, a caveat on the 'silver ear soup' - if you don't like slippery mouth feel, this is not for you.
posted by of strange foe at 9:27 PM on June 17, 2008

Cook La zi ji din. It's the only real deal.
posted by ChabonJabon at 10:28 PM on June 17, 2008

I'd wholeheartedly recommend Yan-Kit's Classic Chinese Cookbook, which features authentic recipes and was actually recommended to me by an amazing Chinese cook. It's been republished, so previous Amazon reviews are to be found here.

I'm not sure how posh they are really but some of the dishes I've made to great success from the recipe book are: clear steamed sea bass (impressive looking and so good it's one of my favourite foods, even though I don't like fish!), golden prawn balls (crunchy and unbelievably tasty), hot and sour soup (divine and better than any I've ever had in a restaurant!), stir-fried beef with mango (a dish my friend always begs me to make), wonton soup, kung pao chicken, and Singapore fried noodles (all amazing). There are also other more elaborate dishes in the book such as Lobster with ginger and spring onion, peking duck, or abalone with chinese mushrooms.

Real Chinese cooking can often be quite elaborate and even more standard recipes generally require an fair amount of preparation, so if you're cooking a number of dishes I'd recommend giving yourself lots of time.
posted by Kirjava at 3:12 AM on June 18, 2008

Kirjava, wonton soup, kung pao chicken and Singapore fried noodles are not what I'd consider posh Chinese food. I wouldn't even consider Singapore fried noodles a proper dish (it doesn't exist in Singapore!) but steamed fish is right on the mark, as many above have said. For steamed fish, the ingredients are simple, but the skill and timing required are what define truly top-class cooking.

I second everything that Junesix said.

Also, double-boiled soups - there's nothing like dried scallops, dried oysters and Yunnan ham to make a soup taste divine. Other common flavour enhancers include dried wolfberries and dried red dates.
posted by hellopanda at 5:37 AM on June 18, 2008

Great stuff here guys - cheers!

While I hate marking answers as best, I've marked oreonax's answer as best because it's a great point that simply hadn't occurred to me...
posted by twine42 at 5:57 AM on June 18, 2008

It's hard to say what your grandfather was served at the Chinese embassy, but one thing to keep in mind is that "posh" Chinese food is generally very bland because the flavors, textures and smells are subtle, and you don't want to wash out those flavors with a strong seasoning.

I actually don't like "posh" Chinese food because I grew up with Taishanese tastes, which tend toward liking the strong flavors/ingredients: garlic, ginger, dried shrimp, black bean, five spice, dried lily buds, Chinese sausage, pressed duck, etc.

If I were in your place, I would probably experiment with making genuine homestyle dishes with genuine ingredients and cookware.

But the other advice is equally valuable, I think.

Honestly, I think your grandfather may be bluffing to try to get you to work harder on it. :)
posted by kalessin at 9:37 AM on June 18, 2008

Oh, and unless the genuine recipe actually calls for it, avoid refined sugar like the plague. Similarly, unless you're sure it's right for the recipe or the cuisine, avoid breading and deep frying. Even the Hunanese don't do this as much as you'd think if you measured purely from normal American fare.
posted by kalessin at 9:39 AM on June 18, 2008

« Older Would you like to supersize that oil change?   |   I am 36 years old and I want a career change. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.