From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Back to the Basics

What defines your idea of Chinese cooking?  If your idea of Chinese cooking includes egg rolls, fortune cookies and lemon chicken, you hopefully have received quite a wake up call.

The key to understanding the myriad of options when discovering and trying Chinese, or any Asian cuisine is flexibility.  Understanding that there exists an underlying simplicity behind each dish will help as well.  Because we do not have the rules that require strict adherence to measurements or exacting quantities, you will find that having an open mind will help you learn the magic behind the meal.

Creativity and openness to invention will allow you to create your own version of a delicious meal, and it may even help you to sharpen your cooking instinct to be reflective of the great Chinese masters.  Does what you see on Iron Chef intrigue you?  Do you enjoy the show that Martin Yan puts on?  Such authentic yet original cuisine does not come easily yet with a little effort, even the novice can create something close.  Do you need to be well versed in the fancy cooking techniques? No.  Do you need to buy or have readily available a ton of new, fancy cooking equipment?  Also, no.  Are you willing to follow a few basic guidelines that outline the basic principles behind Chinese cooking?  If your response is in the affirmative, then you are the perfect audience for my diatribe.

The beauty behind the foods is that you do not have to redefine the type of food, or the experience.  Often times, the best way to discover the best recipe is to dissect or deconstruct the food that you may be eating at that moment.  The question that nags lovers of Chinese food is: "Can I create some of these tasty, savory dishes at home?" The answer is: "Very easily, with a little practice." Once your kitchen has been stocked with the key ingredients that I have touched on before, a few basic utensils and an apprentice cook's enthusiasm, it can produce a multi-course meal for half-a-dozen guests at 30 minutes' notice.

The goal in starting out is to try to create the correct balance of flavors and textures in each platter, and throughout the whole meal. Practice definitely makes for Chinese culinary perfection. Start out simply, one course at a time, using any of the better-known Chinese cookery books designed for non-Chinese readers. Most of them are meant to be simple, and thus more easily created. 

All home-style dishes were meant to be quickly whipped up in a wok.  When ordering in a restaurant, most standard a la carte restaurant dishes are also created in a speedy, simple manner. That is partly because freshness and natural tastes are considered fundamental to Chinese cooking.

Nevertheless, it must be conceded that the time a traditional Chinese cook saves on cooking processes is more often than not devoted to the preparation of ingredients, but no more so than in a traditional American kitchen. Convenience in cooking is simply not a form that has been readily adopted by the Chinese. 

However, now, due to the higher percentage of dual income families, many have had to accept convenience. Tins of curried beef, marinated pork trotters, preserved vegetables and other "emergency" rations are standbys. Refrigerated and deep-frozen meals and shellfish are commonly used. For most Asians, however, the "real thing" is still preferred, especially for special family or festival meals. That means the cook must buy the best available market produce.

So, what does one really need to start cooking a Chinese meal? Very little, apart form top-class ingredients.

The "seven essentials" in a traditional Chinese kitchen were firewood, rice, oil, salt, sauce (soy), vinegar and tea. Everything else was bought fresh, twice or three times a daily.

Nowadays, of course, refrigeration means that shopping need not be done so frequently! Although today's cooks tend to stock many more ingredients, those seven essentials of a "well-kept house" indicate the simple style of Chinese cooking.

The "fire" is still the first priority. As so many Chinese, especially Cantonese, dishes depend on super-fast stir-frying and instantaneous heat control, a gas cooker is undoubtedly the best equipment. Use of an electric cooker necessitates a lot of practice in gauging when to adjust the heat level, and an electric place cannot caress a round-bottomed wok in the way that gas flames can. Yet, with practice, an electric cooker and flat-bottomed frying pan can turn out very passable Chinese dishes.

One round-bottomed wok is the only "special" utensil that is needed. Woks designed for electric ranges are available in stores. Be sure to buy a metal wok lid. Purists prefer cast-iron woks, for their fast conduction of heat, but stainless steel woks are just as acceptable. A 14-inch wok is adequate for home cooking.

A long-handled shovel-like metal spatula (wok sang) is more useful than a standard spatula for turning and tossing food. A small wooden-handled sieve is needed for moving deep-fried food to the walls of the wok for draining. The other basic utensil is a steaming stand (which also allows one to cook two dishes simultaneously). Additionally, wooden cooking chopsticks are recommenced cooking tools. (It is assumed most non-Chinese households already possess an electric rice cooker).

None of the utensils is expensive, including the key utensil, the chopper, or cleaver. It should be so sharp that one could shape or even cut one's nails with it (as is done by "pedicurists" in old-fashioned Chinese bath-houses!). The chopper is handled with great care by Chinese cooks, only raised high above the chopping block when one's second hand is well clear, and is never allowed to come near one's fingers. Instead, one should only present knuckles towards the blade's side when chopping or dicing food.

Wooden chopping blocks (usually cross-sections of soap wood tree trunks) are favored by most people because they do not blunt the chopper as quickly as other types. Modern considerations for hygiene have led to the widespread use of special plastic boards. However, as plastic boards can easily slip, the good heavy wooden blocks are still recommended, for safety's sake. Be sure to scrub and rinse (never soak) the board after every use.

Additional Chinese kitchen utensils such as bamboo steamers and earthenware cooking pots can be purchased when the apprentice cook moves onto more complex dishes. These items are well worth considering, once the basic techniques have been mastered, for bamboo steamers allow excess liquids to drain away from a steaming dish, and earthenware pots add an indefinable richness of flavor to soups and hot pots. There is one more thing that is essential, as you will soon discover, and that is an efficient exhaust fan to extract the steam!

When working with vegetables, a couple of quick lessons will have you cooking a dish of which the flavor, vitamin content and very color will amaze any guest used to old-fashioned over-boiled vegetables! The following basic steps are suitable for any cabbage, spinach, kale or other green vegetable, and will introduce the apprentice cook to the fundamental Cantonese cooking technique of stir-frying.

Wash and drain the vegetable leaves, chopping them into manageable lengths of about four inches. Chop the stalks too, if necessary. Then, thoroughly heat the wok.

Pour a little cooking oil into the pan. The amount will depend on how much and what type of vegetable leaves you are cooking. The idea is to have the vegetables lightly coated with the oil, with no excess oil lying in the pan, so a practice run or two will soon give you an eye for the appropriate amount.

You will only need to wait a moment until the oil is hot and starting to steam at the edges, then swirl it up the walls of the wok with the wok sang. Make sure that all the vegetables are coated. You will see them starting to cook, the inner core of the stems will change color, and an inviting aroma will rise from the wok.  A quick glance and sniff is enough to tell when the vegetables are ready for seasoning. Add a seasoning such as salt, sugar or chicken stock, and then a little water or stock. The liquid produces the steam in which the final cooking process is carried out. After quickly agitating the wok's contents with the wok sang, place the lid on the wok and wait a few minutes until there is only a little liquid left in the wok (experience will tell you precisely when).

Lift the lid and, presto! You have vibrant green fresh vegetables. The hot oil has sealed in all their natural juices, yet the steaming will have ensured that the vegetables are not oily. At this point, turn the heat down and taste the vegetables to see whether extra salt should be added. You can also add a sauce now, such as oyster sauce, sesame oil or wine, depending on the vegetable.

The same stir-frying techniques are applied to meat, and to such other vegetables as eggplant. If you plan to add a garlic, ginger or other garnish to the dish, add it in the initial stage, after the oil has been heated. Just remember the 18th c. counsel of Yuan Mei: "The eyes and the nose are neighbors to the mouth and act as middlemen. A good dish strikes the nose and eyes first.

With practice, you will discover how variations in this basic cooking technique can change the texture and taste of foods. In general, good quality cuts of meat warrant cooking in hot oil that has not started to smoke, while seafood and battered foods should be fried in a very hot pan in oil that has started to smoke, and larger pieces of meat or whole meats are best immersed in oil that has started to smoke at a lower temperature.

Shallow frying, say for fish, should be done over high heat until the fish has begun to brown, when the heat should be reduced to a minimum. You will know you judged it correctly when the fish does not stick to the wok or pan!

There are possibly a hundred more Chinese methods of "applying heat to food," as cooking has been described. Every region of China has its special cooking techniques, and the adventurous cook will enjoy discovering the variety of methods used for boiling, simmering, stewing, frying, smoking, marinating, etc.

Simplicity is the key to Chinese cuisine, despite the apparent complexities of Chinese restaurant menus. Maintaining and enhancing an ingredient's natural flavor is the name of the game. The game's second rule is that foods deserve to be flattered by complementary tastes and textures. Thus, one can create a personalized Chinese "nouvelle cuisine" by combining meats and vegetables in new ways, in a stir-fried dish, a soup or some other appetizing way.

So do take a small pad and pen with you when you dine in Hong Kong's fine Chinese restaurants so that you can take down the English names of dishes that were particularly pleasing, find the names in your cookery books at home, and get ready for fun in the kitchen.

Until then, Good Eating, Friends…

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Iced Tea Party Patriot

It has been said that in China, tea plays an important, indispensable role in daily life.  Indeed, there is a saying that confirms this: “Firewood, rice, oil, salt, sauce, vinegar and tea are the seven necessities to begin the day.”

Tea does not just carry with it a symbol of excellence; its consumption is compared to personal character. The fragrance of tea is not aggressive; it is pleasant, low-keyed and lasting. A friendship between gentlemen is also like a cup of tea. With a cup of tea in hand, enjoying the green leaves in a white porcelain cup, you will feel peace. Fame, wealth and other earthly concerns melt away.

As I have sworn off sodas and *gasp* beer to try to regain my guy-ish figure, (I got tired of lugging around a spare tire…very bad for the back…) I have gone to drinking tea, both hot, with a meal, or iced, when not eating.  Water? Nah, that’s for swimming or fishing in. (Yeah, I bathe in milk. 2%)

Sadly, here in Texas, where capitalism reigns supreme, and excess is the norm, the flavor of choice is not green tea, nor is it chrysanthemum tea.  The masses swarm to any location that carries a good recipe for sweet tea.  Tea, with sugar.  Lots of it.  Texans love their sweet tea.  Its popularity has created such a following that it has been dubbed the “Champagne of the South.”  Really.  Just like Coca-Cola.  It is such a staple of restaurants and homes here in Texas that one has to specifically ask for unsweetened tea.

It is ridiculously easy to make.  Simply add tea bags into boiling water, allow it to steep, then add tons of sugar to the warm pitcher.  I am talking about enough sugar to send you into diabetic shock.  I am talking about so much sugar that mosquitoes will be attracted to your sweat.  Then, refrigerate it and let it cool.  It is a sin to add lemon to sweet tea.  It is also a sin to allow sweet tea to warm again in the sun.

Sweet tea is to be served with lunch, dinner or when unwinding from a rough day.  As a social drink, it is best with friends.  When welcoming someone into your house, you are to do so with a glass of… you guessed it: sweet tea.

Okay, so I may be exaggerating just a teeny bit, but in reality, there are plenty of Texans out there who will agree with me when I say that sweet tea has gained prominence on the standard drink menu.  (It should probably be on the dessert side of the menu…)
I warned you all before that there might be a test, so let’s see just how many of you were paying attention. 
1. When, where, and by whom was tea first discovered:a. In 1603 in England by Sir Thomas Lipton
b. By Japanese emperor Hirohito in 1492
c. In A.D.80 by a Buddhist priest named Darma in
d. By Chinese emperor Shen Nung in 2737 B.C.

2. How many types of tea are there:
a. There are over 3,000 types of tea derived from many different plants
b. Counting herbal tea there are five basic types
c. There are three basic types of tea, all derived from the same plant, called Camellia sinensis
d. There are dozens of teas available, depending upon what country the tea is produced in

3. Next to water, tea is the most popular beverage in the world:a. True
b. False

4. In the
U.S., tea is the 3rd most popular beverage:
a. True
b. False

5. In what country and when was iced tea invented:
a. In the United States in 1904
b. In
Great Britain in 1650
c. In
Egypt during the great drought of 1894
d. In
Iceland in 1894

6. Who invented the tea bag, and when was that:
a. Samuel Twining, a British tea packer, in 1864
b. The Tetley Company in 1902
c. John Sullivan, an American tea importer, in 1904
d. The Dexter Company in 1899

7. What is the predominate form of tea used in the
a. The tea bag
b. Loose tea
c. Instant tea
d. Iced tea mix

8. What country drinks the most tea per capita:
United States
Great Britain

9. What three countries produce most tea per capita:
India, China, Sri Lanka
Kenya, Indonesia, Australia
Argentina, China, Indonesia
Sri Lanka, Malawi, Japan

10. What primary processes, in order of occurrence, does tea undergoes after harvesting:
a. It is rolled, graded, and packed
b. After plucking, it is fermented, sorted, and heated
c. Tea is fermented, rolled, fired, graded, and packed
d. After plucking, it is withered, rolled, oxidized, fired, graded, and packed

11. What are the ideal growing conditions for tea: a. At sea level in temperate climates
b. In well-drained, sandy soils with minimal rainfall
c. In jungle like conditions, with heavy rainfall, well-drained soils, at high elevations
d. In cool, dry climates

12. Does tea have more or less caffeine than coffee:
a. More
b. Less
c. Same
d. Both more and less

13. What are the ideal conditions for storing tea:
a. In a refrigerator at 45 degrees F or lower
b. In a plastic airtight container in areas of relatively high humidity
c. In a closed container in a dark, cool, dry area away from strong odors
d. In an airtight area at temperature above 75 degrees F

14. What is the proper temperature to brew both hot and iced tea:
a. With water that is nearly to the boiling point
b. With hot tap water
c. With water that has boiled for at least a minute
d. With water that has just started to boil

15. How long should tea brew:
a. At least one minute
b. Between three and five minutes to develop full flavor
c. Between three and five minutes for hot tea and at least five minutes for iced tea
d. Both b and c

16. What is the ideal way to serve hot tea:
a. In a ceramic (or ceramic-like) teapot
b. With the hot water already poured in a teacup with the tea bag and a slice of lemon on the side
c. In a metal teapot
d. Pre-brewed and served out of an insulated container

17. What country produces the most tea in the world:
Sri Lanka

18. What country exports the most tea in the world:
Sri Lanka

19. What has more caffeine, green tea or black: a. Green tea
b. Black tea
c. Both the same

20. What health benefits have been attributed to tea consumption:
a. Reduction of dental caries and plaque formation
b. Antioxidant and antimutagenic effects
c. Helps maintain fluid balance and proper hydration.
d. All of the above

Answers Tomorrow.
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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Chinese Rice Wino

It never fails… We go to Sushi Zushi for lunch, I look at the menu and I see sake.  Or I look at a recipe wondering what to make next week and I see rice wine.  And after poring over all of the details, I see that I really cannot omit that one little ingredient from my meal or my recipe.  Rice wine… such a special ingredient, yet such a strange addition.  I have rows of sake and rice wine on top of the cabinets in the kitchen, yet strangely, I feel no urge to use them up.  But when I do crack open a bottle, the smells that mingle with the taste of the food are wonderful.

The Chinese believe that certain foods will give strength and heat and rice wine chicken is one of those dishes. The rice wine runs the blood that courses through your body, the chicken nourishes the body and the ginger that keeps you warm.

Rice wine, called Geo Niang, is a very popular drink in China. Most of the people from southern China and the warmer provinces know how to prepare it for their own enjoyment and for major festivals.
Rice wine is often served warm, roughly 95-130 degrees.  Warming it allows the aromas of the rice wine to be better appreciated without losing too much of the alcohol. 

Rice wine was first discovered when a selected strain of yeast reacted with the water-soluble starch of glutinous rice to form sugar. After further fermentation, this yielded a very fragrant sweet alcoholic brew. Thereafter, it became known as sweet rice wine.

My Great-Aunt, while she lived in Hong Kong, loved to make rice wine for special occasions; she always shared it with her friends and relatives. I had an opportunity to witness the fermentation process about 28 years ago, and while I don’t remember too much about the details, some it the images of the procedure are burned indelibly in my mind.  She would use large-mouthed crockery jars as the fermentation vessels. After a few days of fermentation, her house would be filled with a very fragrant and delicious aroma. Before World War II, polished glutinous rice was not readily available in Hong Kong, so she would use the unpolished red glutinous rice instead. The resulting brew would have a lovely red color. When the brew settled, the clear effluent was the rice wine and the residue was used in desserts and other cooking (this is called wine lees). To stop the fermentation at the rice wine stage, the jars would need refrigeration in their closed containers, without that, the liquid would eventually turn to rice wine vinegar.

While I was strolling through Tim’s Oriental Market a few months ago, I was greeted by a whiff of the unforgettable rice wine and I felt strangely nostalgic. I walked into the store and pots of the aromatic amber liquids fermenting on a shelf and THEN I remembered what the aroma was from… memories and images from long ago…

While drinking rice wine is part of the culture and daily tradition of Chinese cuisine, it is important to know how certain wines behave with particular foods.  It is important to not consume rice wine with your meal just for the simple sake of pairing a Chinese beverage with Chinese food. 

Flavor matching is one of the biggest principles that needs to be taken into account when drinking with your meal.  Focus on the dominant flavor, say, in the sauce.  If you want to mirror the flavor of the dish, then choose a wine that is somewhat similar which will then add depth to your meal.  Or, if you want to blast the senses, you can pick a contrasting flavor that will enhance and change your perception of the dish.

Pay close attention to the intensity of the dish that you are eating.  A fish course, with its light sauce and delicate flavors will be lost if paired with a bold red wine (a Cabernet Sauvignon), or even a strong white, such as a Chardonnay.
Comparatively speaking, you would not want to enjoy a hearty beef stew paired with a light Gamay, or a white Chenin Blanc… You will end up tasting more stew than wine. 

Match cooking methods to tastes.  A lighter steamed poultry will call for a lighter, more delicate white wine, whereas a roast duck dish will scream to be paired with a bolder Syrah or Merlot.

Use the acidity or sweetness to your benefit.  A Riesling’s dry body will pair well with the greasiness of fried foods, as the bubbles will tend to break the greasiness up.  Sweeter wines, and sparkling wines will cool the heat of spicy foods.

It is critically important to use the right kind of wine to cook with. If you do not have rice wine readily available, it is acceptable to substitute a dry sherry instead of sake, as the sherry has a sweeter flavor.  Try to avoid the standard, generic “cooking wine” that is available on your local supermarket shelves as they have a lower alcohol content and do not have as much flavor as rice wine.

Rice wine is perfect to use when deglazing the wok after cooking your stir fry.  The flavors that the rice wine imparts on the wok as it sizzles away on the bottom of the wok add a new dimension of taste to the dish.  

There is a local brew-master’s joint here in town that will make a custom wine for/with you at your leisure.  Another sells all the supplies necessary to brew your own beer.  I wonder if they offer a course in making your own rice wine… Can I convert the house bathtub into a still and make my own moonshine?

Brewing Chinese Rice Wine

4 cups glutinous rice
1/4 piece Chinese yeast ball
1 teaspoon all purpose flour
1. Soak the rice in hot water for one hour.
2. Drain water and steam the rice over boiling water for twenty-five minutes then rinse with warm water until the rice is cooled to about 95 degrees F.
3. Crush the yeast into a powder; mix it with the flour.
4. Put the rice in a warmed three-quart saucepan. Add yeast mixture and mix by hand. Use your fingers to push the rice against the side of the pan evenly then make a well in the middle. Cover with plastic wrap and then the cover of the pan. Leave this in a warm place or wrap the pan with one or more heavy towels and keep it in a warm place. After four or five days, uncover the mixture, transfer to a jar with a lid, and refrigerate. This can keep about two years.
Note: The clear liquid is the sweet rice wine, the remaining mash, called wine lees can be used as a condiment.

Rice Wine Chicken Stir Fry
  • 30 ounces chicken, wash and cut into pieces
  • 6 ounces ginger, shredded
  • 6 ounces wood ear fungus, finely shredded
  • 6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 T garlic, chopped
  • 1-1.5 liter Chinese rice wine
  • 2 T sesame oil
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  1. Heat the sesame oil in a claypot (or wok) to sauté the ginger, garlic, shiitake mushroom and wood ear fungus until fragrant.
  2. Add the chicken and wine and stew over a medium flame until chicken in tender yet firm, about 20 to 30 minutes in a claypot, longer in other pots.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Asian Festival 2010

Every year the Institute of Texan Cultures, located here in San Antonio puts together an Asian Festival.  The Asian Festival brings together organizations rich in Eastern culture, showcasing their respective cultures with an educational and entertaining approach. The event includes martial arts demonstrations, botanicals and mouthwatering cuisine from more than a dozen Far Eastern countries – such as Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Pakistani, Filipino, and Polynesian. Dance groups perform to entertain visitors, while cooking demonstrations tease your taste buds. Activities for the younger visitors include making paper lanterns, origami, and a beginner’s course to martial arts. From songs and dances to bonsai and Ikebana, from jujitsu and tai chi to chopsticks and origami, visitors have a special opportunity to learn the "how and why" of many age-old customs, and thus gain a greater appreciation of them and of those who practice them.

Kim first turned me on to the idea of going the the festival a couple of weeks ago, and even though the girls were a little dubious as to what their level of enjoyment would be, I drove us there, and in we went. 

Entering through the back entrance, we saw many tables and booths offering many different foods, from egg rolls, to curry rice, pancit with meat and vegetables, and chicken adobo with rice, even fortune cookies.  The girls were really only interested in getting their faces painted, which was funny to see, but the end result was not that bad.

I enjoyed a Samosa made by the Pakistani delegation, and the girls tried a Chicken bowl and a Beef bowl served by the San Antonio Lion Dancers.  While everyone else was trying their bowls, I went off in search of something different, and after making the circuit of booths and finding a bubble tea, I ended up following my nose and finding some yakisoba being cooked and served by the Japan America Society of San Antonio.  I was glad to have found it, as I was actually leaning towards getting some sushi from the Sushi Zushi stand.  Note to selves: Don’t go for the food, unless you are willing to go out for lunch afterwards.  While some of it was good, much of it was not.  It was fun watching the groups work with their outdoor wok set-ups, and their cooking assemblies had me wishing I had something that cool for my back yard.  The girls were really only interested in getting their faces painted, which was funny to see, but the end result was not that bad.  

We got to see (and hear) the San Antonio Chinese Alliance Chinese Chorus and Orchestra perform traditional folk tunes, as well as enjoy the Natyanjali Dances of India.  There was also a demonstration of the Polynesian drums and Fire Dancing, which the girls got a kick out of.

After eating, we decided to explore the grounds and we saw booths with people hawking their wares, and there were some really cool traditional outfits with striking colors that were being sold.  (We were waylaid by a young lady who wanted to know what Madi’s age was, because she had a niece about the same age, and she wanted to make sure that the kimono she picked out would be the right size.  I have to say that if we had purchased the kimono for Madi, she would have looked ADORABLE in it.)  My favorite was a black jacket that was made of real silk, with a Blue Dragon embroidered on it. 

It was a fun event, and we strolled out just as it got cold.  I am not sure if it is an event that we would go to every year, but it is definitely worthwhile if we want the kids to have more of an exposure to the Asian culture. 

From a personal standpoint, I enjoyed the simple fact that there were so many other people here in San Antonio that wanted the same exposure to the cultures of Asia that I wanted our kids to have.  The ode to the Tiger, given the particular zodiac symbol, was apparent, as there were inflatable tigers’ heads, tiger face painting, and tiger hats aplenty.  Kids were walking around dressed in the same patterned blouses, or in the same Cheongsam dress, and men were walking around in their dragon jackets and long gowns.  One could only wish that this type of culture was more prevalent, and that it didn’t take a huge ado of creating a festival to bring all of this together.

I am curious to see what the next year’s festival brings…

Until then, Good Eating, Friends…

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Friday, February 19, 2010

McFish Vs. Wen-Fish


Give me a fish, I eat for a day. Teach me to fish, I eat for a lifetime.
- Robert Louis Stevenson

As I was driving past one of the big fast food restaurants today, I saw that underneath the huge arches, they had signage featuring their fried fish filet sandwich.  It cracked me up to see that even large corporate entities are finding a way to capitalize on a religious season of sacrifice.  The company is going so far as to advertise its availability as a double sandwich offering. 

Having become a less frequent patron (I have lost my distinction as a “Super Heavy User” in the fast food vernacular) I do make a point of trying different foods when I do go in.  I used to eat lots of hamburgers, fries, you name it.  Every once in a while, I would develop a hankering for a fish sandwich of some sort. 

There are many different kinds of fish sandwiches out there to be devoured by people buzzing through a drive-thru.  What I did notice was that the sandwich served by the company with the red head in pigtails was a little more than an ounce bigger than the one served by a clown.  However, her sandwich had a more significant texture, offering a more substantial bite.  Her  sandwich, as opposed to the clown’s sandwich, is also served with lettuce. 

Her  Premium Fish Fillet sandwich contains 470 calories, with 210 calories from fat, 24.0 grams of total fat, 4.0 grams saturated fat and 0 grams trans fat. It contains 30 mg cholesterol, 930 mg sodium, 300 mg potassium, 47 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 5 grams of sugars and 17 grams of protein.

Clown Man’s  Fish sandwich contains 380 calories, with 170 calories from fat, 18 grams of total fat, 3.5 saturated fat and 0 grams trans fat. It contains 40 mg cholesterol, 640 mg cholesterol, 38 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 5 grams of sugars and 15 grams of protein.

Both sandwiches could be considered tasty, flavorful, high-quality foods, but how does a breaded, fried fish fit into the Asian cuisine?

Not well.  Frying fish can be a messy proposition, and many native Asians prefer to find the tiny fish that can be deep fried whole and eaten, bones and all.  (My dad did that for me once, when a fellow fisher gave us a bucket of smelt.  He gutted the fish, breaded them lightly and into the pan they went, tasty treat and all.)  However, it is not an impossible task.

Fish is considered a delicacy, more so than beef and chicken in Chinese cuisine.  The simple task of cooking it is a more delicate matter as well, and a good chef’s skill and ability in cooking fish often set the standard for the restaurant where the chef worked.

The greatest charm in cooking fish in Chinese food is the incorporation of vegetables with the dish that make more of the fish than the fish itself.  While the fish could stand alone without the vegetables, and vice versa, the excellence of the dish is determined by the combination of the two.   

A best practice when selecting a fish to fry is to make sure that it is a firmer variety of meat that will not flake up or break apart.  Bluefish, flounder, cod, bass and sardines are favorites in the cuisine, while shad is a true delicacy.

The two basic ways of cooking fish in China are steaming and simmering.  Both forms of cooking are preferred as they do not raise the fat content of the dish.  Steaming is popular because it allows the sweet juices to seep out.  Simmering is great because you only have to use a small amount of liquid seasoning.  Most importantly when simmering is to make sure that you never let your liquid boil hard or it will ruin the fish.

Remember that fish, like most other foods, continues to cook even when removed from the heat, so try to stop cooking just before the dish is considered done.

Personally, my favorite part about fish is the adventure and excitement that comes with catching it myself.  For now, I will settle on the best that the local grocery stores have.  Later, catch as catch can.

Until then, Good Eating, Friends…

Braised Fish with Light Lemon Sauce
1 whole fish, about 2 pounds, cleaned with scales removed
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 Tablespoon all purpose flour
4 Tablespoons peanut oil
1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon minced fresh garlic
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup chicken stock
2 Tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil

1. Rinse fish in cold water and pat dry, then rub the salt on the inside and outside of it and then dredge it in the flour.
2. Heat peanut oil until it is very hot; then gently slide the fish into a skillet or wok and fry three minutes on each side, Remove the fish to a warmed platter and keep it warm.
3. Reheat the remaining oil in that same pan and add ginger root and garlic and toss for about fifteen seconds then add the fish back into the wok, lemon juice, stock, soy sauce, and the sesame oil and simmer it covered for twelve minutes turning the fish once.
4. Carefully remove to a platter and serve on a bed of baby bok choy leaves, with steamed rice.  If desired, garnish with strips of ginger and scallions.



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