Ask most Americans about Chinese food and they 'll bring up General Tso's chicken or Happy Family. Some of the more sophisticated may mention Szechuan or Chengdu. They're all right - in a way. However there is more to the cuisine than just that and luckily there is a new generation of Chinese chefs that are showing us these different and tantalizing recipes.
Food section doyenne Julia Moskin wrote about this brave new set of chefs in today's New York Times issue. What most Americans have been used to for more than a century is banquet Cantonese that is full of overly sweet and even battered meats. Even Chinese Americans think these dishes are traditional, that's how long they've been ingrained in the US culinary psyche. It is much more ,and now with this cuisine a fusion of old and new. Many of the new dishes reflect farm to table cuisine, however that was cooking from the very beginning. A new book "Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees"is taking ancient recipes and bringing them to the masses. The author,Kian Lam Kho, originally a software engineer , and now chef, has used these texts to show the underlying concepts that have been the perennial building blocks of not only the region but most of East Asian cooking.It will also teach ABCs American born Chinese true , traditional recipes and cooking methods instead of Western influenced ones.It will involve dealing with certain ways of trimming onions or boiling vegetables.
However there is another influence driving chefs too to go back. It is American foods, ones that many grew up on . There's an entire generation who grew up on Dinty Moore stews, made Asian with soy sauce and hot chili paste or stir fries with Romaine lettuce instead of bok choy.Kids are rediscovering an ancient muse so to speak. They are creating their own five spice powder along with hand cutting noodles/ Home brewing methods, that their great great grandparents used are now being done in modern kitchens across America, and no doubt, the world. Mustard greens, chile bean paste and fermented black beans are being whipped up for a second generation of ABCs. Restaurants are following these trends as well. Expect to see wood roasted chicken wings as opposed to the usual deep fried ones.Diners will be treated to homemade versions of the fiery and funky Shanghai originated XO sauce , like the one chef Cara Stadler makes in her restaurant Tao Yuan in Brunswick, Maine. Chef Stadler is a bit unusual, in the sense that she studied and worked with Gordon Ramsey and lived in China, working odd jobs at various restaurants to gain experience. She is also from Shanghai as well, growing up and cooking with her mom, Cecile. There is also Sheridan Su's Haiwanese chicken rice that is a traditional congee with fried free range chicken, poached organic eggs and homemade pickles.
Chinese food is about to get a tremendous makeover in this country. It's a refreshing turn to the traditional where cooking methods and spicing reign over anything General Tso's. Be prepared!