Amanda here sounding off on what is one of my biggest comfort foods and one of my favorite things to cook at home: Chinese food. Now I love Chinese food all from the gourmet type at upscale restaurants to the greasy MSG-heavy deep-fried orgy that lines each shopping center and mall in America. But what is it about Chinese food that has become such an important part of the American vernacular? I think it stems from comfort. To the mall-centric generation that I grew up in there was no better afternoon spent that going to Panda Express for their candy-coated orange chicken that we admit to being oh so bad but oh so good. Fumbling with the chopsticks and the cryptic and nearly psychic fortunes from the cookie chambers that held them in.
It’s taken a few years and my love of Chinese food hasn’t change. I’ve mastered the chopsticks, collaged the fortunes and do my best to recognize the kanji of each dish. Americanization? Forget about it! I’m not one to be bothered by the fact that I have no idea who General Tso is or why we eat his chicken (but the real story is pretty interesting) and why those candy-like sauces that cling so desperately to meat just seems to make my heart sing. What is it about fried rice that just seems to make any meal better? Why does adding a little sriracha and soy sauce make almost any flavor pop? I’ve spent my life searching for umami, the elusive epitome of flavor, and I found it within Chinese food.
When it comes down to it, unlike every other culture of food within the states Chinese food and the other tastes of Asia brings with it mystery, spice and wonder that we can’t find in our usual bag of tricks. With its strong flavors, rich traditions and exotic spices and ingredients there’s a stigma that it’s nearly impossible to create good Chinese food at home without shelling out lots of money on expensive equipment and special ingredients only to be used once.
The truth is that you don’t need a bunch of one time ingredients and a new stockpile of what will prove to be useless equipment one must simply master the Asian trinity (garlic, ginger, chili) and gain a deep appreciation for soy sauce.
One of my favorite Chinese recipes is for a simple beef stir-fry. Marinate beef in mirin( sweet cooking sake’) , soy sauce, honey, chili flake, ginger and garlic for no more than an hour. Blanch baby bok choy in heavily salted water and shock in an ice bath. Add a sesame and canola oil blend to a hot sauté pan and add chili flake, ginger and garlic, let blend with the oil add the veggies of your delight in addition to the baby bok choy, add marinated beef with the marinate to create the sauce. Let the beef cook and it creates the perfect well-done stir-fry.
So I encourage you all to try something new, something exotic, add some temari to your life. Purchase a wok. Buy a few new cookbooks and add some Asian flare to the average meal. It’s well worth it!