SHANGHAI TO SICHUAN

As a home cook, I have fun playing with California cuisine, French bistro fare, and Italian classics, but I’ve always approached Chinese food with unusual trepidation. It’s not just fear that I won’t be able to reproduce the flavors that I’ve grown so fond of over the years. I’m afraid of what clumsily rendered Chinese dishes might suggest — that my Americanness has crowded out my Chineseness. Yet more and more, I feel the need to bring traditional Chinese food part into my everyday repertoire. I’m particularly drawn to the subtle flavors of Shanghainese cooking and the spicy stalwarts of Sichuan — not surprising, since my family has roots in both places.

All or nothing — that’s Mr. Alpenglow’s way. With my mom at my side, I tackled four of my favorite dishes, bringing different regional cooking styles together in one meal. I love the typically restrained Shanghainese technique of accentuating fish and shrimp with seaweed and tea, respectively, on display in the first pair of recipes. In stark contrast, the vegetable dishes that follow — from Sichuan and Sichuan-by-way-of-Taiwan — are maximally assertive, relying on the technique of layering intensely fragrant ingredients, one after another.

My initial trepidation subsided after making these dishes. Each one tasted familiar, true, and deeply comforting. Each one was made by a guy who’s spent 30 years in America and 1 wide-eyed month backpacking in China.

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SHANGHAINESE SEAWEED FISH BEIGNETS 
苔條黃魚 / tai tiao huang yu

for 4 servings:
about 200 g fish fillet, such as flounder
5 g Chinese yellow cooking wine
3 g salt
1 g white pepper powder
30 g wheat flour (xiao mai feng)
3 g active dry yeast
2 g five spice powder
15 g dried seaweed, thinly sliced
warm water
canola oil for frying

Heat 3-4 inches of oil in a heavy pot on medium-high flame. Slice the fish fillets in half lengthwise, then cut them again to make 4-inch pieces. Marinate the fish in the cooking wine, salt, and white pepper for 30 minutes. Combine the flour, yeast, five spice powder, and seaweed. Slowly add warm water until the batter is just thick enough (slightly more watery than pancake batter) to evenly coat the fish. Let the batter sit for 15 minutes. When the oil is hot, dip the fish in the batter and place gently in the oil. The batter should puff up. Fry the fish in batches until light golden brown. Drain on a paper towel and serve piping hot with a condiment of Sichuan peppercorn powder mixed with salt.

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LONG JING TEA SHRIMP
龙井虾 仁 / long jing xia ren

for 4 servings:
3 g Long Jing (Dragon Well) tea leaves
12-14 oz. very small shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup warm water
1 tbsp egg white
1 tsp corn starch
2 tsp cooking oil

Marinate the shrimp with the rice wine, salt, warm water, egg white, and corn starch for 30 minutes. Pour 1/4 cup of hot (but not boiling) water over the tea leaves and let it sit for 5 minutes. Heat 1 tsp cooking oil in a large non-stick skillet or wok on high flame. Stir in the shrimp with the marinade until it is about 50 percent cooked, then set the shrimp aside. Wipe the skillet/wok clean and heat it again with another tsp of oil. Return the shrimp to the wok, adding the tea leaves and at least 2 tsp of the tea-flavored water. Stir-fry until the shrimp is no longer translucent. Transfer to platter and serve immediately.

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SICHUAN DRY FRIED GREEN BEANS 
干煸四季豆 / gan bian si ji dou

for 4 servings:
1 1/4 lb. string beans, washed & dried
2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 inch piece of ginger, finely minced
1 green onion, finely minced
1 1/2 heaping tbsp of dried shrimp, finely minced
2 tbsp pickled mustard cabbage, finely minced
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
2 1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp sesame oil
canola oil for frying

Place the dried shrimp in 1/2 a cup of very hot water for 30 minutes, then drain. Trim the ends of the green beans and cut them to 2-3″ pieces. Make sure the beans are dry. In a large pot, heat about 2 inches of oil on medium-high flame. Once the oil is hot, fry the beans in several batches until they are slightly softened (but still crisp) and blistered on the exterior, about 2 minutes. Drain the beans thoroughly and set them aside. Next, heat a large skillet or wok with 2-3 tbsp of your frying oil and add the garlic, ginger, green onion, dried shrimp, and pickled mustard cabbage. Stir-fry until very fragrant and slightly caramelized. Stir in the green beans along with the remaining ingredients — the soy sauce, salt, sugar, rice wine vinegar, and sesame oil. Stir-fry for a minute longer and transfer to a serving platter.

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GARLIC CHIVES with FERMENTED BLACK BEANS, PORK & CHILES 
蒼蠅頭 / cang ying tou (“fly’s head”)

for 4 servings:
2 tsp canola oil
about 6 oz. of ground pork
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 fresh red chili peppers, seeds removed and finely minced
3 tbsp fermented black beans
about 8-10 oz of flowering garlic chives, thinly sliced
1/2 tbsp of hot bean paste
1/4 tsp of salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil

Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok on medium-high flame. Fry the pork, using a spatula or wooden spoon to break it into small pieces. Add the garlic, chili peppers, and black beans. Stir-fry until very fragrant. Add the garlic chives along with the remaining ingredients — bean paste, salt, sugar, and sesame oil. Stir-fry for a few minutes longer until the chives are softened but still a vibrant green. Transfer to a bowl and serve with white rice.

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One thought on “SHANGHAI TO SICHUAN

  1. 苔條黃魚!!! one of my favorites. when you mention wheat flour, that’s not AP flour you’re talking about, right? (at least I know all purpose flour as zhongjinmianfen) and i’m guessing it’s not ‘wheat starch’ either? or maybe it’s AP flour w/ a different name? where did you buy it? that’s an unusual and creative use of yeast! are these your family’s/mom’s recipes ?

    The long jing xia ren is a new dish to me; do you think it could work with another good quality green tea?

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