Category: Food and Wine
At breakfast, Michael Jordan ate only half of his pancakes.
I asked him why.
“If you want to fly,” he said, “you have to eat like a bird.”
Clear conclusion: Control portion size.
Now comes Michael Pollan, with even more explicit advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Clear conclusion: Meat, once the centerpiece of the dinner plate, is now to be regarded --- at least by eaters who want to live long and well --- as an accent. A condiment. A flavoring.
This is a much more challenging decree. It's one thing to say, as smart diet books have said for a decade, that your nightly serving of protein should be no larger than your fist. It's another to reduce that hunk of animal flesh to a mere afterthought. This is America, a meat-and-potatoes country. Salads are for women and dieters. A man's gotta eat. (And so, if truth be told, do women.)
And yet...Pollan's right. For health reasons. Ecological reasons (growing and processing 2.2 pounds of beef generates as much carbon dioxide as the average European car emits every 155 miles). And then there's the reason that will get everyone's attention: economics.
You've seen the headlines about contaminated beef, and you're dimly aware that this Administration wouldn't weep if it downsized every government meat inspector, but it's the economic argument that really hits home. More and more, corn that once fed farm animals (a bad idea) is being diverted to create ethanol (another bad idea). That drives corn prices up. And higher corn prices, in turn, drive up the price of hamburger at your local market.
At a certain point, beef will become a luxury item.
But what are you going to do --- live on junk food?
My solution: Chinese cooking.
Forget that nonsense about feeling hungry an hour after a Chinese dinner. Good Chinese cooking is as satisfying as it is healthful. It's ecologically correct: heavy on vegetables and proteins like tofu, skimpy on meat and fish. And, in those proportions, it's as kind to your wallet as it is to your heart and gut.
The thing is, we don't know how to cook it.
Three cheers, then, to Michael Tong, whose Shun Lee restaurants have delighted New Yorkers and the city's visitors for three decades. In his cookbook, he hasn't exactly reproduced the recipes he uses in his restaurants. He's done something more useful --- in modifying his recipes for home cooks, he's explained the basic principles of Chinese cooking. Because, as it turns out, Chinese cooking isn't just tossing ingredients into a hot wok and stir-frying.
In fact, as I read through Tong's cookbook, I realized that the biggest hurdle you face in becoming a decent Chinese home cook is... shopping. There are a dozen ingredients you need, and you're not likely to find them in your neighborhood megamarket. But once you stock your larder, you're set --- all you need for a given dish are the fresh ingredients.
So buy that wok and season it. Lay in sesame oil and tree ear. Make sure you always have ginger and tofu on hand. And then, for less money than a meal at Shun Lee, open a branch of that much-loved restaurant in your own home.
For starters, a recipe that you never imagined you could make at home. Now you can....
Hot and Sour Soup
1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) tree ears
1/4 cup (1 ounce) dried lily buds
4 Chinese dried black mushrooms (1 1/2 ounces)
2 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into thin 1-inch-long strips
1/4 cup canned bamboo shoots (1 1/2 ounces), rinsed, drained, and cut into 1-inch-long julienne
1/2 cake firm bean curd, cut in half horizontally, and then crosswise into thin 1-inch-long strips
1 large egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 cups chicken stock or canned chicken broth
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons ground white pepper, or more to taste
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 scallion, green part only, trimmed and minced
Place the tree ears, lily buds, and dried mushrooms in three separate bowls. Add hot water to cover to each bowl, and let stand until the vegetables have softened, about 30 minutes. Drain, and cut each vegetable into thin 1-inch-long strips. Set aside.
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add the chicken, bamboo shoots, bean curd, tree ears, lilies, and mushrooms, and cook until the chicken turns opaque, about 30 seconds. Drain in a colander. Clean the saucepan.
Beat the egg in a small bowl until frothy. Heat the oil in an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Drizzle in the beaten egg to make a thin, lacy crepe, and cook until set, about 1 minute. Slide the crepe gently out of the skillet onto a cutting board, and slice it into 1/4-inch thick shreds about 2 inches long.
Bring the stock, soy sauce, and white pepper to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the drained chicken mixture and return to a boil.
Dissolve the cornstarch in 1/2 cup cold water in a small bowl. Add to the saucepan, and stir gently until the soup thickens, about 30 seconds. Taste the soup, and add more white pepper if you wish. The soup should be spicy, but season it gradually or you may go too far. Transfer the soup to a large serving bowl, and stir in the vinegar and sesame oil. Garnish with the egg strips and scallion, and serve immediately.
To buy The Shun Lee Cookbook from Amazon.com, click here.
To buy a Joyce Chen 14-Inch Carbon Steel Wok Set from Amazon.com, click here.
For the Shun Lee recipe for Orange Beef, click here.
For the Shun Lee recipe for Shredded Pork with Garlic Sauce, click here.
For the Shun Lee recipe for Hot Pepper Prawns, click here.
For the Shun Lee Palace web site, click here.
For the Shun Lee West web site, click here.