By Amanda Andrei
Katie Chin’s Everyday Chinese Cookbook: 101 Delicious Recipes from My Mother’s Kitchen hits the sweet spot for Chinese American cookbooks. Between the bright, gorgeous photography of succulent dishes and the easy-to-follow recipes and cooking tips, Chin’s cookbook delightfully shares the legacy of the Chin family with personal anecdotes of her friends, neighbors, children, and late mother, the legendary chef and restaurateur, Leeann Chin. The book has a few hiccups, but anyone with experience in the kitchen can modify the recipes and cooking processes to suit their needs.
I was drawn to the variety of recipes in the book. There’s the classic Chinese-American takeout and buffet recipe for General Tso’s chicken—but much lighter and without the chunky deep-fried batter that leads to the classic Chinese-American food coma. Same goes for recipes for Orange Chicken, Sichuan Beef, and Crispy Wontons—just as tasty, and much healthier. This is authentic Chinese American cuisine: that is, dishes that originated in China and adapted to the ingredients, flavors, and palates of America. Don’t expect white cloud fungus dessert soup with rock sugar—rather, go for the inventive Banana-Walnut Wontons or the decadent Five-Spice Chocolate Cake.
Chefs new to Asian or Chinese cuisine will find the cooking techniques and tips very helpful. I was pleased to learn that you can soak shrimp in salty water in order to eliminate any fishy tastes, thereby shrimp dishes that taste as fresh as the sea. Chin also concisely explains common Chinese ingredients and includes clear pictures with their flavor profiles—for instance, Five-Spice powder is described as “pungent, complex and spicy with a hint of sweetness.”
Having minimal experience cooking Chinese food (but certainly plenty of experience eating Chinese and Chinese American food!), I was eager to test several of these recipes in my kitchen that typically sees a mix of Filipino, American, and Mediterranean cuisines. I decided on a four-course meal: Egg Drop Soup, Walnut Shrimp, Stir-Fried Spinach with Garlic, and Quinoa (!) Fried Rice.
Here’s one tricky thing about Chin’s book: it can be hard to stagger the recipes so that you can eat each food while it’s still fresh and piping hot. Most of the recipes end with “Serve immediately”—which is difficult to do if you’re serving more than one course, have additional warming plates, or don’t have extra help in the kitchen. I made the Quinoa Fried Rice first—an innovative recipe that replaces the rice with quinoa for a protein-rich dish that tastes just as good as the original. I found that prep time took longer than what was stated in the book, if you count chopping the vegetables and aromatics as prep.
As I moved the dish to a serving bowl and lidded it tightly to keep it warm, my husband waited for the wok to cool down before scrubbing it clean. I started prepping the cornstarch batter for the Walnut Shrimp. Once the wok was clean, I filled it with vegetable oil for frying. I don’t often fry for my meals, but I was able to easily follow the instructions for Leeann Chin’s secret deep-frying technique, which Katie dubbed the “Chinese Two-Step.”
While the Walnut Shrimp bubbled in the wok, I quickly sautéed ginger and onion while adding spinach. Here’s the curious part—in the recipe for Stir-Fried Spinach with Garlic—there was no garlic listed. It was a quick and easy fix; I simply added two minced garlic cloves while the spinach wilted down, but it elicited a surprised double take when reading the recipe.
When the shrimp finished, my husband moved the wok full of hot oil away from our large burner while I put on a new pot for the Egg Drop Soup. This recipe was wonderfully simple and ready in about five minutes, almost making me wish I had made this dish first (although my small stove might have been too crowded at that point!). The whole cooking process for these four courses took a little over an hour, and when we sat down for lunch, the Quinoa Fried Rice wasn’t exactly piping hot, but still warm.
Despite these hiccups, I still very much like Katie Chin’s Everyday Chinese Cooking. The food was absolutely delicious, even if not served immediately, and I was able to use healthier ingredients and make appropriate substitutions as needed. Don’t get me wrong—this isn’t exactly diet food—but it’s much better health-wise than going to a Chinese American buffet or ordering takeout. I’m hoping to try more recipes soon; I’m thinking the next menu will feature General Tso’s, Sichuan Tofu with Broccoli, and Spicy-Garlicky Asian Eggplant next.
As Katie Chin says, “My mother taught hundreds of home cooks how to prepare Chinese food by making it relatable and accessible. Carrying her torch, my goal for this book is to demystify Chinese cooking and show people how simple it can be using their own pots and pans and ingredients that are widely available today.” Her book certainly accomplishes this—and what’s more, provides us with a slice of Chinese American cuisine and life.
Katie Chin’s newest cookbook, Katie Chin’s Everyday Chinese Cookbook: 101 Delicious Recipes from my Mother’s Kitchen, hits shelves on April 26—just in time for Mother’s Day!