Late in the 19th century, a Chicago inventor created a paper pail with origami-inspired folds for transporting raw oysters without leakage. Little did he realize that his design would later serve as the vehicle for introducing Westerners to chow mein, Buddha’s Delight, and other Chinese classics that could be picked up to go or delivered right to their doorstep.
Kwoklyn Wan learned to make those now-ubiquitous dishes from scratch growing up in his parents’ Cantonese restaurants in Leicester, England. Now a professional chef, Kung Fu instructor and BBC radio personality, he has perfected those formulas and presented them in a tantalizing little volume he calls “the holy grail of Chinese takeout (and restaurant) trade-secret recipes.”
In the introduction to “Chinese Takeout Cookbook,” he explains that it is not his intention to offer his own interpretations of Chinese cuisine, but rather help the home cook easily replicate the flavors they already know and love.
The table of contents reads like a Chinese menu that could be hanging on a refrigerator magnet anywhere: Wonton Soup and Sesame Seed Prawn Toast under Starters and Soups; Cantonese Style Sweet and Sour Pork and Happy Family under Beef and Pork; Szechuan Style Crispy Tofu with Chili and Salt under Vegetarian; Singapore Chow Mein under Rice and Noodles. A short chapter called Buns and Sweet Things includes recipes for Chinese Egg Custard Tarts, Banana Fritters, and Iced Coffee Tea — the latter a blend of brewed tea, strong coffee and sweetened condensed milk.
Most of the recipes are designed for two servings with prep and cook times of 30 minutes or less. Some of his time estimates feel overly optimistic for my capabilities, but I managed to pull off a tasty meal of Shredded Crispy Chicken with Black Pepper with sides of Salt, Stir-Fried Bok Choy and rice in fairly quick order without too much hassle.
I could easily see cooking a meal from this book at least once a week, and taking comfort in sitting down to a Chinese feast in the time it would take to place an order and wait for the delivery guy to arrive.
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.
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