With the launch of Phaidon's China: The Cookbook, the secrets of Chinese cooking have been demystified by authors Diora Fong Chan and Kei Lum Chan. Besides the encyclopedic list of dishes ranging from Sichuan-style wontons in red oil to shrimp in a nest to char kway teow, the book includes a selection of recipes shared by celebrity chefs of Chinese restaurants around the world.
We approached a few of the contributors, which include Hong Kong's Chan Yan Tak from Lung King Heen and Kathy Fang from House of Nanking in San Francisco, delving into the stories behind their dishes and gleaning tips on how to make them.
Tony Lu, Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai
Rice with soy-braised pork belly, abalone, and morel mushrooms in a black truffle sauce, page 672
I often hear people label a dish as Western or Chinese simply by judging the ingredients. But, in my mind, ingredients are universal, and belong to the earth. I like to use typical ingredients from Western world in my Chinese style of cooking. What could be better than putting luxurious truffle into a very common rice dish? I like to see how guests are amazed by such combinations in a Chinese restaurant. Our minds are easily influenced by our culture and habits. Breaking traditions is a fun part of being a chef. And when the resulting taste is good, then I am pleased.
Mok Kit Keung, Shang Palace, Hong Kong
Stewed Iberico spare ribs with Japanese plum wine, page 678
Last year, my friend brought me plum wine from Japan, and I shared this with my family over dinner at home. The wine smelled so nice and rich, and tasted exceptionally sweet due to the plum ripeness. Its beautiful after-taste lingered on my palate for so long that I decided to create a dish to highlight this plum wine. I think it would go well with meat, so I picked spare ribs – not regular spare ribs, but Iberico pork for its tenderness! Black Iberian pigs feed on acorns, so their meat is full of acorn fruitiness, and the Japanese plum wine can bring out its distinctive flavours.
Anthony Lui, Flower Drum, Melbourne
Steamed silken tofu with crab meat, page 673
This dish is has a very special place in my heart. Growing up in Foshan, Guangzhou, we didn't have much, and food was scarce. We had to make every little bit of food go a little bit further, especially when trying to feed my parents and my four brothers. This dish was born from experiences and techniques from those days, albeit with more luxe ingredients that are available for us today. This particular one, with crab, would have used just prawns or Chinese Pork sausage in its place, bolstered by shiitake mushrooms and spring onions while utilizing a soy-based tofu rather than the silken egg variety. This variation gives results a more silkier and richer flavor than that of what is considered to be the traditional recipe.
Kathy Fang, House of Nanking, San Francisco
Hot and sour potato threads, page 667
“I remember the first time my grandmother made hot and sour potato threads. I was sitting in the living room watching television as a kid. All of a sudden, this pungent but delightful smell of vinegar and spice wafted through the room. I peeked into the kitchen to see her stir-frying what looked like thin noodles. That night, I fell in love with the dish. To think that something as simple as just white vinegar, chili, potato, and oil, alone can create such a flavorful and satisfying dish, makes me appreciate the art of simplicity. I salivate overtime I cook this dish in at our restaurant. That smell is unforgettable.”
Chan Yan Tak, Lung King Heen, Hong Kong
Daxian black garlic chicken, page 660
When I was 12, my father passed. So once I graduated, I came out to work. Back in the day, there was no such thing as "choosing your career". There was a job available in the kitchen, so I took it on a whim. I also chose the recipes for the cookbook on a whim, but they're based on what I thought would be easiest for people without experience to make. But no matter what you're cooking, if you're frying, like for the chicken dish, the number-one requirement is to have a very hot wok. Realistically speaking, most gas stoves you use at home don't have enough heat to get the wok to the temperature we have in the kitchen – even at my home, I use a typical gas stove. The best you can do is keep the stove on and take your time until you see smoke coming from the wok, then you add the oil and begin to cook.
China: The Cookbook can be purchased via Phaidon.