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The Chinese Chicken Cookbook 100 Easy-to-Prepare, Authentic Recipes for the American Table

by ;
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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2004-02-02
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Purchase Benefits
List Price: $24.00


In China the chicken represents the phoenix, the mythological bird that rose from its ashes and that symbolizes rebirth and reaffirmation. Because of this deeply held belief, chicken is served at every New Year celebration, every wedding feast, and every birthday dinner. The chicken is honored for its eggs, its meat, and the flavor it provides for stocks and broths. Because of the reverence for this bird, the Chinese prepare chicken in myriad ways. Chicken is steamed, baked, boiled, stir-fried, deep-fried, pan-fried, and roasted. It is served hot, cold, or at room temperature. No part of the chicken is wasted from its bones to its skin to its feet, a Chinese delicacy.Now, renowned Chinese cooking expert Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, who has been called "the Marcella Hazan of Chinese cooking" byThe New York Times,brings her love of Chinese cooking and traditional Chinese chicken recipes to American home cooks inThe Chinese Chicken Cookbook.The Chinese Chicken Cookbookbrings together more than one hundred of the best traditional and modern chicken recipes of China from simple stir-fries to more elaborate celebration dishes. In chapters that pair chicken with noodles and rice and in chapters on soup, preparing chicken in the wok, and cooking it whole, readers will find dozens of delicious, easy-to-prepare delicacies. Recipes such as Two-Sesame Chicken, Hot and Sour Soup, Ginger Noodles with Chicken, Chicken Water Dumplings, Chicken Stir-Fried with Broccoli, Mu Shu Chicken with Bok Bang, Mah-Jongg Chicken, and Asparagus Wrapped in Minced Chicken offer new and flavorful ways to prepare chicken whether you're making a quick weeknight meal or having dinner guests on a Saturday night.Although these recipes use ingredients that home chefs can find in the international section of a well-stocked supermarket or on the Internet, Lo includes the Chinese names for ingredients and recipes, rendered in beautiful Chinese calligraphic characters. Not only decorative, these characters can help you locate unfamiliar ingredients in a Chinese market.The Chinese Chicken Cookbookalso has sections on how to select and clean a chicken, a detailed explanation of Chinese ingredients, suggested equipment (including how to properly season a wok), and how to cook a perfect pot of rice.With wonderful family stories from the author's childhood in China,The Chinese Chicken Cookbookis not just a cookbook for your cookbook library, it is a source of culinary inspiration.

Table of Contents

Chicken at the Chinese Table: Mythology of the Phoenix
Kitchen Tools, Techniques, and Processes
Chinese Ingredients and Essentials
The Whole Chicken as Celebration
Chicken as First Course: Small Dishes and Appetizers
Chicken in Soups
Rice with Chicken, Chicken with Rice
Chicken with Noodles, Dumplings, and Buns Chicken in the Wok, Every Which Way A Final Feast: Mah-Jongg Chicken
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.

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Chicken at the Chinese Table

Mythology of the Phoenix

It is believed among the Chinese that many foods are symbolic and are actually metaphors for aspects of life. In Chinese religions, folklore, allegory, and mythology, particular foods often have meanings and significance beyond satisfying hunger. Chicken, historically, is such a food.

To the Chinese the chicken is the embodiment of the phoenix, the mythological bird that rose from its ashes, symbolizing rebirth and reaffirmation. It is also a female symbol and is paired with the dragon, the male symbol, as a recurring image of marriage. Chicken is also believed to be a food that promotes longevity as well as a tonic that possesses recuperative powers (a concept shared with a number of cultures around the world).

As such it is part of every Lunar New Year celebration, every wedding feast, every birth of a child, every birthday and anniversary dinner in China. Chickens are offered whole to ancestors in temples and at graves. The whole chicken suggests that the lives of those departed were felicitous from beginning to end.

The chicken has always been a most honored food in China. It is highly regarded for its eggs, later its meat, still later for the life and flavor it provides for stocks and broths when it becomes too old to produce eggs and too tough to eat. The Chinese even distinguish between a chicken, an old hen, and an old and tough black-boned chicken. Each provides flavor for soup as well as nourishment, but the old hen is deemed better than the chicken, the black-boned chicken better than the old hen. In all of its varieties it is a most useful, necessary, and esteemed bird, one that began its existence as a wild bird and was first domesticated in China thousands of years ago.

The whole chicken is a most versatile ingredient in the Chinese kitchen. The chicken is steamed, boiled, baked, stir-fried, deep-fried, braised, roasted, and barbecued. It is chopped, sliced, ground, and minced and cooked with rice and noodles. Often, in classic and traditional dishes, chicken is cooked using several processes for a single dish. Chicken is the basis for stocks and sauces and is often cooked with other ingredients. It is eaten hot or cold or at temperatures in between, in salads and in stews. Chicken fills baked and steamed buns and breads, is wrapped into dim sum dumplings and pastries, and is the inspiration for sculpted dough dumplings. No part of a chicken is wasted, from the meat and bones to the skin, the fat and the innards, and even the feet, which are a delicacy in China.

It is rare in China to come upon a region, a city, a town or village that does not have its own way of preparing chicken. Indeed, if you ask the chef in any restaurant how chicken is cooked in a particular area, you will be told that it is cooked "our way." In Beijing, chicken might be cooked in strips with sautéed leeks; in Guangzhou, simmered in soy sauce or roasted to a parchment-like crispness; in Hunan, cooked with chilies and bits of dried tangerine skin. In South China, chicken is often combined with the local tropical fruits; in Shanghai, it might be sweet and oily, or "drunken" with a marinade of rice wine; in Fujian, chicken is cooked together with rice. In dim sum teahouses it is stuffed into steamed dumplings or even into cakes of bean curd. Chicken might be sliced and ladled into rice congees, and in Hangzhou chicken could come wrapped in clay or pastry in a well-known dish called beggar's chicken. The number of chicken recipes is truly infinite.

Chickens, along with pigs, are believed to be the first wild animals to be domesticated. In their wild states, both animals were important foods for the P'ei-li-kaang, a prehistoric people who lived in what is now the central valley of the Yangzi River.

The chicken is mentioned as a domesticated bird in the oracle bone writings of the Shang/Yin dynasty, which spanned the period from 1766 to 1122 B.C., and chicken bones have been found in archaeological excavations of that period. It is believed that the chicken became a largely domesticated bird in those Shang years.

Excavations of Han dynasty tombs in Hunan in the last century have yielded much knowledge of the early Chinese kitchen and its foods. In one uncovered tomb, the preserved body of a woman, thought to be the wife of a nobleman, was found along with forty-eight bamboo boxes that have provided food historians with extensive information on Chinese eating and drinking in that 200 B.C. period. More than fifty pottery containers filled with various foods, including chicken, were found in that tomb as well. There were remains and writings about what were initially called "bamboo chickens," later "black chickens," terms for wild chickens, as well as notes on their domestication.

In another Han dynasty tomb, there are wall drawings of two chickens. In still another there is a detailed wall drawing of a kitchen scene that includes a rack on which hang two chickens.

Among the Han, an important feast always included a chicken dish. At the same time the Han rulers urged rural people to raise chickens, thus making them more accessible and no longer a food available only to nobility. The Han, according to the classic studyFood in Chinese Culture(1981, Yale University Press), always offered chicken to honored guests, a custom so widespread that when it did not occur it was considered notable. Thus, one Han-period writer excuses a wealthy man for not providing chicken to his guests because it was needed to nourish the man's aged mother. Another tale is of an old woman, poor and ill, who steals a neighbor's chicken to cook a nourishing soup for herself and for a presumably ill daughter-in-law.

Through the years of China's various dynasties, particularly the Ming, from A.D. 1368 to 1644, mentions of chicken abound, always with admonitions that they be live and fresh. The Ming, notorious for gastronomic excess, appear to have regarded chickens as special indeed. More than six thousand cooks labored in the Ming imperial kitchens, a number that grew to nine thousand by the middle of the fifteenth century. Among them was a group whose function was to prepare foods for sacrifice to the heavens. Each year this group sacrificed 200,000 animals of which 138,000 were chickens.

Scholars on the subject of food and wine in China's long history were explicit and precise in their writings about chicken. In the Qing dynasty, China's last, which stretched from 1644 to 1912, scholar Yuan Mei wrote a book calledShih-Tan,which stressed the properties of food and the necessity for them to be cooked in such a manner as to balance the systems of those who ate them. He stressed that a chicken must not be eaten too young or too old, but in its prime and that it had to be cooked at precisely the right heat. Another Qing writer, Li Yu, was more philosophical. He valued chickens highly, he said, because they woke humans each day. Still another writer, Shen Fu, wrote warmly of a special "chicken soup with skin" cooked by his wife, Yuen. What is significant, to be sure, is that chicken was deemed sufficiently important to write about.

A banquet menu from the 1754 imperial court of Qian Long consisted of many small dishes, such as snacks, breads, and sweets. The seven main courses all contained chicken: a dish of fat chicken and bean curd; pot-boiled chicken, smoked fat chicken, and court-style fried chicken were a few of the dishes served.

Historically in many parts of China, chickens were eaten only occasionally because the chicken was considered too valuable as a source for its eggs to be killed and eaten for a single meal. Careful note was made of a chicken's age; thus when they became too old -- both hens and roosters -- they were killed for the richness they added to broths and stocks. To this day it is believed, as a matter of course, that old chickens make the best soups. It is true; they do.

Chickens were quite special in my family when I was growing up in the village of Siu Lo Chen, or "Lo's Little Village," in Sun Tak (today it is Shunde), a suburb of Guangzhou. Our family had its own chickens, which we raised from chicks. We would buy chicks, dye their feathers to indicate our ownership and then allow them to run free and to forage. We did not know the term "organic" or "free range," but that is indeed what they were. And even as they grew and we continued to tint their feathers, we would know our chickens and they would know us.

After the chickens ran free all day we would collect them by strewing small amounts of rice kernels while softly calling, "chiu, chiu, chiu." The chickens would come toward us and we would continue saying, "lai, lai, lai," or "come, come, come." Along with the raw rice, we would show them bowls of milled rice husks moistened with water from washed rice. They would run after us, right to their cages, which we would drape with black cloths so that they would rest at night. Each morning, we would free them again.

Our family valued the eggs from our chickens and we ate them in a variety of ways. We boiled them; cooked them in a sweet and pungent soy sauce-basedlo soiliquid; and stewed them in sweet and savory custards. A special concoction called sweet birth vinegar, in which eggs were boiled and combined with strong rice vinegar, chunks of ginger, and pig's knuckles, was traditionally fed to women who had just given birth to build up their blood. It is a custom I followed with the births of each of my three children.

We believed that the chicken that gave the egg also conferred health and balance within one's body and helped in the recovery from illnesses. Chicken implicitly was good to us and for us. On its own it is considered a warming food. When combined in soup with cooling vegetables, it will become cooling. When strong herbs are added it will become a warming soup. Cooling soups are believed by practitioners of Chinese medicine to be ideal for reducing the body's temperature; carefully made "neutral" soups are considered perfect for the young as nourishment; warming soups benefit the elderly who fatigue easily, or those whose blood might be sluggish.

Herbalists often prescribe chicken broths with their prescriptions as beneficial, natural combinations. They believe chicken affects the stomach, liver, and spleen, and tones blood. Chicken and its soup warm the essential center of one's body and are prescribed often for appetite loss, weakness, loss of weight, diabetes, rheumatic pain, and blurred vision. One of my aunts, Ng Gu Jieh, had a keen knowledge of herbal medicine. Our family would often seek her advice as to which herbs and roots should be added to our soups to help us recover from illnesses. As a young girl I remember our family asking exactly what we should add to our chicken soup.

The chickens we enjoyed were roasted or barbecued, but we ate them steamed and stir-fried, as well as in soups and congees. As in virtually all other Chinese families, chicken was part of our blending of the sacred and the secular.

Our family always ate chicken on special occasions. We observed birthdays, engagements, and weddings with chicken. Before the wedding ceremony, the families of the bride and groom would come together to eat congees with chicken, for its symbolism. Chicken, a symbol of rebirth, was an important part of the dinners we ate on the eve of the Lunar New Year and on the second day of the New Year when we would cook and serve a chicken to notehoi lin,or the "opening of the year." At the traditional feast given to honor a baby one month after its birth, chicken dishes were always served.

Food offerings always indicated the importance of occasions; the more significant the occasion, the grander the offering. We believed in the dictum of Confucius, who wrote that a good man, "though his food might be coarse rice and vegetable soup, would offer a little of it in sacrifice with a grave, respectful air." Our family offerings included chickens in a tradition and observance overseen by my grandmother Ah Paw (Chinese for "mother's mother"). We would set out whole cooked chickens before our family ancestral altar at home and in the temples we visited.

We would take our offerings of food to the temple and there light incense sticks and candles. We would kneel, pray to the gods, offer them our food, particularly those whole chickens, so that they would give us their blessings for a good harvest and for good business. It was also considered a grateful gesture to the gods, awan sun,to thank them for caring for those departed members of our family. Then we would take the chickens home, poach them in stock, and cut them up to eat as white cut chicken, our way of personally sharing in the ancestral offering.

We also offered chickens at the graves of our ancestors during the Ching Ming festival, celebrated each spring with a visit to these graves and a general tidying up of the gravesites.

Even in modern China having chickens, and of course their eggs, was a characteristic of those who were well off. The eldest son of a family was privileged to eat two eggs at breakfast, and after a woman had given birth she was served one poached egg per day, and chicken and soup from chicken at all her other meals, bounties not necessarily shared by other family members. After a birth, the family of the new mother would send out gifts of chickens and eggs, and distributing red-dyed boiled eggs was akin to the western tradition of handing out cigars.

It was believed in parts of southern China that cock's blood kept bad spirits at bay, and among the Fujian people -- those who sailed to and settled in Southeast Asia -- chicken blood, dried and fashioned into a loaf, was sliced and served with a variety of sauces.

Chickens in China were always live, always free running, always freshly killed. We never had such items as chicken "parts," which are commonplace in today's markets, though we often used portions of our chickens (legs, wings, breasts) for different preparations. We killed chickens, prepared them, and cooked and ate the whole thing. Occasionally we bought them, but always live ones. Even in a teeming city like today's Hong Kong, chickens are sold fresh and live in its central market. Housewives still shop twice each day for the noon meal and for dinner. When Ah Paw sent her servants out to buy chickens she would always wag her fingers at them, cautioning them to make certain the bird they bought was "sun sin, sun sin," or "fresh, fresh," and should be "fei, fei" or big-breasted and meaty.

Every year on Ah Paw's birthday her cooks would prepare raw fish dishes for her, along with a whole chicken simmered in soy sauce, in her honor. The raw fish were deemed to be too strong for young stomachs, so as a child I was not permitted to eat them. Instead Ah Paw would have a thick, rich, rice congee filled with chicken made for me and my young cousins, something I always looked forward to at her birthday dinners, along with her chicken in soy sauce, which I was permitted to eat.

There is a recipe in this book for Ah Paw's chicken congee, of course, and for her soy sauce chicken, but you will find more than one hundred preparations for chicken from all over China, as well. All of the recipes are Chinese -- traditional, classic, and modern. Many of them are my personal adaptations of classics. Some of these traditions cannot be broken but some can be altered slightly to fit the modern kitchen and I have done that. Along with these recipes are some personal notes and observations, some of my experiences, some bits of history, tradition, folk tales, and mythology as they relate to chicken.

An important note: much is made these days about cooking with wine. Most of the recipes in this book call for the addition of wine, particularly Shao-Hsing rice wine, in marinades, sauces, and in the actual cooking. This is not unusual. A caution: Do not use rice wine labeled "cooking wine." It is inferior. My Ah Paw's cooks always cooked with good wine, as did my father, Lo Pak Wen, who would say repeatedly, "If you cannot drink it, don't cook with it."

Another discovery that you will make relates to the chemistry of the Chinese kitchen. From recipe to recipe, often you will find that ingredients for a sauce, marinade, or even for cooking processes seem repetitious. But what makes Chinese cooking unique is how differently these ingredients react in combination when added and cooked in a precise order. Sameness results in variety.

As you go through the recipes you will find the chicken to be most accommodating, so long as you treat her with care and respect her taste. "Ho ho sik," the Chinese say. Eat well.

Copyright © 2004 by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo

Chicken Baked in Salt

(Yim Guk Gai)

This may well be the most famous chicken feast in China. It comes from the Hakka people, China's nomads, who began their lives in Mongolia but through centuries of persecution made a forced migration south until they settled in many areas of Guangdong, and particularly in the New Territories of Hong Kong. The salt in this recipe does not make the chicken salty. Rather, it acts like an oven that cooks and seals the chicken.

The Hakka, because they were nomads, had no ovens and no permanent homes, so they would dig a shallow hole in the ground, place stones in it, and create an "oven" out of sea salt. I have simplified this process for the modern kitchen; I use coarse salt in a Dutch oven.

It saddens me to say that you will seldom get genuine Chicken Baked in Salt in restaurants, even if their menus say so. In most cases the chicken is thrust into a series of boiling salt solutions to cook and is presented as salt-baked. It is more satisfying to make your own.

6 pounds kosher salt

1 whole chicken (3 1/2 pounds), thoroughly cleaned and dried

2 tablespoons Shao-Hsing wine or sherry

3 scallions, trimmed, cut into1-inch-long pieces, white portions slightly smashed

1 slice ginger, 1/2 inch long

1/4 dried tangerine skin (about 2 inches long), soaked in hot water for 30 minutes until soft

2 lotus leaves, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes until soft, rinsed, or 4-foot-long piece of cheesecloth

Place 3 pounds of the salt in Dutch oven and the remaining 3 pounds in a separate roasting pan and heat at 350° F for 30 minutes, until very hot.

As the salt bakes, prepare the chicken: Rub wine on the outside and inside of the chicken. Place the scallions, ginger, and tangerine skin inside the chicken. Wrap the chicken with overlapping lotus leaves or cheesecloth.

Remove the salt from the oven and raise the oven temperature to 450° F. Make a shallow well in the salt in the Dutch oven. Place the wrapped chicken, breast side up, in the well. Spoon the 3 pounds of salt from the roasting pan over the chicken to cover it completely. Roast, uncovered, for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Turn off the heat. Remove the chicken from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes.

Brush away the salt cover and remove the chicken to a platter. Unwrap it and discard the lotus leaves or cheesecloth. Chop the chicken into bite-size pieces and serve with the traditional dip.

Chicken Baked in Salt Dip

4 tablespoons scallion oil

4 tablespoons grated ginger

1 teaspoon salt

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Spoon into individual small dishes and serve with the chicken.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Copyright © 2004 by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo

Two-Sesame Chicken

(Ji Mah Gai See)

Black or white sesame seeds are very special in China. The fine, scented oil from pressed sesame seeds imparts fragrance to cooked dishes, and the seeds themselves are fragrant, particularly after they have been roasted. Sprinkled on dishes they add a nutty aroma, as in this delicious dish that I have created.

For the sauce

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

2 1/2 teaspoons Chinese white rice wine vinegar or distilled vinegar

1 teaspoon Shao-Hsing wine or sherry

2 teaspoons sesame oil

2 teaspoons sugar

1 tablespoon chicken stock

1/4 teaspoon salt

Pinch white pepper

2 cups poached chicken meat cut into pieces 2 inches by 1/4 inch along the grain

2 tablespoons finely sliced scallions

1 3/4 teaspoons white sesame seeds

1 3/4 teaspoons black sesame seeds

2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce

Mix the sauce ingredients in a bowl. Add the chicken and toss well to combine. Add the sliced scallions, mix well again, and reserve.

Put both the white and black sesame seeds in a wok and dry-roast them for 2 minutes, until their aroma is released and the white sesame seeds turn light brown. Allow to cool.

Spread shredded lettuce on a serving platter. Mound the chicken with sauce on top, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and serve.

Makes 4 servings

Copyright © 2004 by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo

Hot and Sour Soup

(Seun Lot Tong)

Is there a more well-known soup in China than hot and sour? Surely not. This soup, which began its existence in western China, in Hunan and Sichuan, has become universal in China, and everywhere else for that matter. Although it is usually made with pork, I have devised a hot and sour soup with chicken, which is just as delicious. This recipe has many ingredients, illustrative of how accommodating chicken soup can be. It is a simple dish, which asks only that you prepare all of your ingredients before cooking.

6 ounces chicken cutlets, cleaned thoroughly, dried and julienned

For the marinade

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon light soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons cornstarch

Pinch white pepper

2 teaspoons Shao-Hsing wine or sherry

5 cups chicken stock

1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons minced ginger

2 tablespoons cloud ears, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes until soft, washed and drained

40 dried tiger lily buds, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes until soft, ends removed, and cut in half

1/2 cup shredded bamboo shoots

1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes

4 tablespoons red wine vinegar

4 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 4 tablespoons cold water

3 eggs, beaten with pinch of white pepper

2 cakes fresh bean curd, cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips

1 tablespoon double dark soy sauce

2 tablespoons finely sliced scallions

Mix the marinade ingredients in a bowl. Add the chicken and mix well. Allow to rest for 20 minutes.

Pour the chicken stock into a large pot and add the garlic and ginger. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the cloud ears, tiger lily buds, bamboo shoots, pepper flakes, and vinegar and return to a boil. Cover, lower the heat, and simmer for 7 minutes. Return the heat to high and add the chicken with the marinade. Loosen the chicken and return to a boil. Add the cornstarch mixture, pouring slowly with one hand and stirring with a ladle in one direction with the other hand. When the soup thickens and returns to a boil, add the beaten egg in the same manner, pouring with one hand, stirring with the other. When the soup again returns to a boil, add the bean curd, stirring well. When the soup boils again, add the soy sauce and stir.

Turn off the heat. Transfer the soup to a heated tureen. Sprinkle with scallions and serve.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Copyright © 2004 by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo

Ginger Noodles with Chicken

(Geung See Gai Mein)

This noodle dish emphasizes the fine tastes of fresh ginger, particularly the young, smooth ginger of spring, summer, and fall, a taste that is subtle and less spicy than older ginger root. When fresh ginger is available, which is most of the year in southern China, the Chinese always demand that these noodles be made with ji geung, or "baby boy ginger," which complements chicken so well.

For the sauce

2 1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce

2 teaspoons light soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

4 tablespoons chicken stock

1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seed oil

Pinch white pepper

8 cups cold water

2 teaspoons salt

8 ounces fresh Chinese egg noodles (or linguine)

2 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil

4 tablespoons fresh young ginger, shredded (if unavailable, use 3 tablespoons regular ginger)

1 cup poached chicken cut into 2-inch-long julienne

1 cup scallions cut into 1 1/2-inch-long pieces, white parts of 4 to 6 scallions quartered lengthwise

Combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl and reserve.

Put the water and salt in a large pot, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the noodles and stir and cook for a minute, or until al dente. Turn off the heat. Run cold water into the pot and drain the noodles through a strainer. Put the noodles back in the pot and fill the pot with cold water. Mix the noodles with your hands and drain through a strainer. Repeat. (This removes excess starch from the noodles.) Allow the noodles to drain for 10 to 15 minutes, loosening them with your hands. Reserve.

Heat a wok over high heat for 45 seconds. Add the peanut oil and coat the wok with it, using a spatula. When a wisp of white smoke appears, add the ginger and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the noodles and mix with the ginger until the noodles are very hot. Add the chicken and scallions, mix well, and cook for 2 minutes. Make a well in the mixture, stir the reserved sauce and pour it in. Stir and cook for 2 minutes, making certain that the chicken and noodles are well coated and that the liquid is absorbed. Turn off the heat. Transfer to a preheated platter and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings

Copyright © 2004 by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo

Asparagus Wrapped in Minced Chicken

(Gai Yeong Bau Lo Sun)

For this wrapping, my minced chicken recipe replaces minced carp, a popular freshwater fish beloved in Hangzhou and one that is quite often used for fillings. The change to minced chicken is for the better, with its firmer texture and more defined taste.

1 recipe basic minced chicken filling

4 cups cold water

1/2 teaspoon baking soda, optional

8 asparagus spears, cut into 5-inch lengths as measured from the tips

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons peanut oil

Prepare the basic minced chicken filling and reserve.

In a large pot bring the water, baking soda, and salt to a boil over high heat. Water-blanch the asparagus. Add the spears to the boiling water and blanch until they turn bright green, about 30 seconds. Drain, refresh under cold water, and allow to dry on paper towels. (The recipe can be prepared in advance to this point. Cover and refrigerate the minced chicken and the blanched asparagus.)

When the filling cools, divide it into 8 equal portions. With your palm, flatten each portion into a 3-inch-long oval wide enough to enclose the base of an asparagus spear. Press the base into the oval and fold the chicken to enclose the spear firmly. You will have what I call an asparagus lollipop, with the tip of the spear protruding.

Heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat for 45 seconds (or a nonstick pan for 10 seconds). Add 2 tablespoons or more, if needed, of the peanut oil, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. When a wisp of white smoke appears, place the wrapped asparagus in the skillet and lower the heat to medium. Fry until golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes on each of the four sides of each wrapped spear. Remove the asparagus to paper towels to drain. Turn off the heat. When all are fried and drained, place on a preheated platter and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings

Note: To reheat leftover wrapped asparagus, allow to return to room temperature and then pan-fry over medium heat for 5 to 6 minutes until hot.

Copyright © 2004 by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo

Excerpted from The Chinese Chicken Cookbook by Lo Eileen Yin-Fei
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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