Szechuan Food

Discovering Szechuan Food

Frank Greenhalgh April 10, 2011

        Today ethnic food is part of our life style. Within a three-mile radius from my home in Amityville, I can eat Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Italian, Greek and Thai food in local restaurants. Supermarkets now carry all sorts of ethnic food. It wasn't always this way. 

            While living in Queens NYC In 1970 the only Chinese food available in local restaurants was chicken chow mein and chop suey, which were designed for Americans and not actually genuine Chinese recipes.  Names like Szechuan and Hunan and Sushi were unknown.

           Then came The Szechuan Taste; a Chinese restaurant at Chatham Square in Chinatown that specialized in the Hot and Spicy recipes from the Szechuan Province in China. A rave review in in the New York Times convinced us to try out this food. We did and enjoyed it so much that for many months, each Wednesday evening we would drive from our house in Queens to the Szechuan Taste for dinner.

             Eventually I decided that it should be possible to cook Szechuan food at home and avoid the drive to Chinatown each week. We purchased a series of ethnic cookbooks from Time Life Books, which contained “The Cooking of China.” I reviewed the Szechuan recipes. I studied them, made up the ingredients list required for each recipe and a list of tools needed. Then on a Saturday morning we went to Chinatown.

 I found a hardware store on Mott Street, and bought a Wok, a Cleaver, a knife, a Whisk, a ladle and new chopsticks. As I entered the food markets I realized that it wasn't usual for Americans to shop in the local food stores. Chinese people from the other boroughs, Long Island and New Jersey, populated the stores. buying their weekly groceries. I seemed to stick out like sore thumb being six-foot four and Caucasian. The scene I remember vividly was in a small market where I asked an employee for "Szechuan Peppercorns." Not knowing any English prompted him to call other employees. Soon I was surrounded by about five Chinese grocers all about five and a half feet tall, and I am repeating slowly to them "S Z E C H U A N    P E P P E R C O R N S”, and receiving blank stares on their part. In my memory I liken this to Gulliver talking to the Lilliputians. The problem was finally solved when I realized that the Time cookbook (which I thankfully had with me) had the Chinese characters for the ingredients, I whipped it out and everybody smiled.

           For a number of years we cooked Szechuan food at home, eventually Szechuan restaurants appeared all over and we stopped. Unfortunately most restaurants today have modified the recipes making them milder to please American tastes.

            The recipe I continue to make is for Hot and Sour soup, which I fine-tuned to perfection, I have included the recipe below.

 

GRINDLES HOT AND SOUR SOUP

YOU NEED :

4 DRIED Whole SHITAKE MUSHROOMS

3 SQUARES OF BEAN CURD (3”x3”x1”)

1 CAN OF SLICED BAMBOO SHOOTS

2 MEDIUM   SIZE PORK CHOPS (.75 LB – 1LB.)

1 LARGE CAN, (46OZ.) CHICKEN STOCK (COLLEGE INN)

SALT, WHITE PEPPER,

CORN STARCH,

SESAME OIL, SOY SAUCE

WHITE VINEGAR OR RICE VINEGAR

1 BEATEN EGG, 1 SCALLION

To  Start:

SOAK SHITAKE  MUSHROOMS IN A BOWL OF WARM WATER

OPEN CHICKEN STOCK (COLLEGE INN) AND WITH LARGE SPOON REMOVE ANY CHICKEN FAT FLOATING ON TOP.  POUR INTO LARGE POT ON STOVE

CUT PORK OFF BONE AND REMOVE ALL FAT. CUT INTO SMALL BITE SIZE PIECES (1/2 INCH CUBES) AND ADD TO POT

OPEN CAN OF SLICED BAMBOO SHOOTS AND CUT INTO 1/2" PIECES ADD TO POT

ADD 1/4 TEASPOON OF SALT, 1 TABLESPOON OF SOY SAUCE TO POT

TAKE MUSHROOMS AND CUT STEMS OUT, SLICE INTO BITE SIZE PIECES. ADD TO POT.

TURN HEAT ON HIGH

While it is heating

COMBINE 3 TABLESPOONS OF CORNSTARCH WITH 5 TABLESPOONS OF COLD WATER AND STIR UNTIL MIXED

SLICE AND CUT THE BEAN CURD INTO BITE SIZE (1/2") PIECES

SLICE AND CHOP THE SCALLION (ALL) INTO SMALL PIECES

WHEN THE LIQUID STARTS TO BOIL TURN DOWN HEAT AND COVER POT, SIMMER FOR THREE MINUTES THEN TURN HEAT UP HIGH AGAIN AND UNCOVER

ADD THE BEAN CURD, 1/2 TEASPOON OF WHITE PEPPER AND 4 TABLESPOONS OF THE RICE VINEGAR

WHEN THE LIQUID IS BOILING PROFUSELY, ADD THE CORNSTARCH MIXTURE STIRRING IT IN SLOWLY TO THE POT,

SLOWLY STIR IN THE BEATEN EGG THEN REMOVE FROM HEAT

STIR IN THREE TEASPOONS OF SESAME OIL

SPRINKLE CHOPPED SCALLION ON TOP AND SERVE