So why did I stop eating Chinese food? It fell victim to my college education. I took another course on nutrition, this time the Biology and Chemistry of Food and learned that Chinese food is full of MSG, flavor enhancer that is commonly deemed “as safe.” To my mind if the question of something being “safe” arises in the first place, I cannot bring myself to ingest it. Why do it when there are so many other options available?
Here is a full list of ingredients for Chinese Chicken Soup: chicken breast, coconuts, chicken stock, ginger, goji berries, salt and pepper. I’m sold! I make my own chicken stock, but if you need to buy one just watch out and buy chicken stock that is labeled “MSG free” or “no added MSG,” if it doesn’t say that specifically you can be sure you stock will contain some kind of nasty additive.
The most commonly used thickening agent in the book is tapioca flour/starch, which is gluten-free and available everywhere. It was especially happy about this because I have five bags of tapioca in my pantry. Why? I keep thinking that I’m running out and keep buying more. I realize it provides groundwork for a new age syndrome The-fear-of-being-out-of-tapioca.
After you read up on Basic Ingredients preparation and how to prepare Chinese stocks, which are basis of many Chinese dishes, you get to the twelve recipes chapters divided by cooking techniques. I didn’t realize there was so many – roasting, boiling, stir-frying, steaming, flash-pouching, oil-steeping, and braising – just to name a few.
If you like Stir-Fry then let me tell you that Chapter 6 called Harnessing the Breath of Wok consists of 5 subdivisions: simple stir-fry, dry stir-fry, moist stir-fry, dry-fry, and scramble stir-fry. I will never think of stir-fry the same way again. The chapter on boiling is divided into four different kinds of boiling: boiling, steeping, blanching, and hot pot. Quite frankly it’s much more than I imagined.
If you think, why in the world would I want a whole fish when I can buy a fillet and skip the messy work, think again! Fillet doesn’t come close to the taste of fish prepared whole. I grew up with eager fishermen and ate lots of freshly caught fish of all sizes and varieties prepared at home whole and in parts. My taste buds are finely tuned to the nuances of fish flavor and no matter how skillfully I prepare fish fillets they never are as flavorful and complete as they should be.
Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees is a wonderful cookbook that inspires to cook. The pages are extra thick and pleasure to handle. The beautiful photographs, all 240 of them, are really a work of art. I especially enjoyed the step-by-step photos. It’s as close as you can get to taking an actual cooking class. I like how the book breaks down classical Chinese cuisine into logical sequence of steps: aromatics, knife techniques, stocks… by the time we get to the actual cooking recipes make sense. The book truly educates. It doesn’t simply catalog the recipes. There are complex and poetic descriptions of cooking techniques and detailed information on how and why it works and where the flavor is coming from. The Chinese way of cooking differs from many other countries. I felt positively extravagant standing in my kitchen with a star anise in hand. I am confident that with a bit of effort the recipes in the book can be mastered by anyone, even a beginner cook. And using this book will definitely increase your culinary repertoire.