The Shun Lee Cookbook by Michael Tong
262 pages; Hardcover PhotographyColor
William Morrow, NY, NY, 2007
Reviewed by, Chef John Vyhnanek, April 2007

The review---

My first visit to Shun Lee Palace was around 1976 give or take a year. It was my first experience of Chinese food prepared with such excellence and elegance; gosh it was like the Ritz! In fact that is where my comparison of the service standards comes from. As Chinese restaurants go Shun Lee is one of a few that meets the test of time and still to this day excels in the quality of food preparation.

I still have a copy of the menu and have referred to it many times when I tried to re-create menu items. The corn soup was somewhat easy for me to make from memory, hot and sour soup was more of a challenge and forget the orange beef, how in the world did they make It'so tender?

Well I found all the answers I needed in this beautiful book. The jacket is beautiful and so are the color photographs throughout, and since I've been to Shun Lee I can attest to the presentations as being authentic. So much for the pictures, I needed to test some of the recipes. But first I must tell you that there are chapter lead-in descriptions and most recipes have descriptive starts mixed with a little Shun Lee history and facts here and there.

I planned a whole meal around my testing and I was very fortunate to have a pantry full of asian ingredients, so it wasn't hard for me to find what I needed. You too will see that most ingredients are available to you at your local asian market and even perhaps at your super market too. The menu was to be the Hot and Sour soup on page 71, Crispy Orange Beef on page 171 and Eggplant with Garlic Sauce on page 218. I wanted another dish so I made plain rice and followed the instructions for white rice on page 237. I began in the mid-afternoon around 3 PM and had planned ahead so all the ingredients were at my fingertips. I sliced this and marinated that, cut and chopped, grated and peeled and cut and sliced some more. I mixed soy with ginger and vinegar with sugar, added beef to the marinade and cut tofu too, and when I was done and ready to cook it was nearly 6:30 PM. I was really hustling and by my professional training and experience quite a quick cook. I like to clean as I go but when I looked at the sink all I thought was that my wife was going to scream after all she does the dishes!

At this point I needed a drink, but that would only lead to an accident for I still had to cook everything. So with wok and oil, strainers and foil I started, the soup almost done and the rice keeping warm. I first prepared the eggplant and then the crispy orange beef. It's pretty straight forward cooking Chinese dishes, it's just a progression of adding items to the wok and carefully following the time in the recipe. Ready to eat and everything smelling wonderful it was now 7:45 PM and you guessed it, the sink was full again.

It was worth it! Everything tasted and looked as I remember at the restaurant, my wife who has eaten there too agreed! Hot and Sour was divine, albeit quite hot! The Eggplant with Garlic Sauce was nearly the best I ever had; the best was at Shun Lee where someone else cooked it for me! Oh boy, the Crispy Orange Beef, I nailed it to perfection and learned the secret to the tenderness--adding a little baking soda to the marinade acted as a tenderizerit was spectacular. The rice was the perfect foil! Okay. I had a mess in the kitchen and I was exhausted from the long preparation but It'sure beat round trip airfare to New York and the clean-up wasn't as bad as first thought.

If you want to experience Shun Lee in your own house and learn the secrets of the perfectly seasoned foods that Shun Lee is famous for, then you must buy this book! Do you have a friend who loves to cook Chinese food? Then buy it for them. I even think that some of my neighborhood Chinese restaurants would benefit from the recipes so I might buy it for them. Whoever you want to give it to, you must buy it first and I sure hope you do.

It's a great Chinese cookbook!

Recipes tested---

Hot and Sour Soup

1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) tree ears
1/4 cup (1 ounce) dried lily buds
4 Chinese dried black mushrooms (1 1/2 ounces)
2 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into thin 1-inch-long strips
1/4 cup canned bamboo shoots (1 1/2 ounces), rinsed, drained, and cut into 1-inch-long julienne
1/2 cake firm bean curd, cut in half horizontally, and then crosswise into thin 1-inch-long strips
1 large egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 cups Chicken Stock or canned chicken broth
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons ground white pepper, or more to taste
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 scallion, green part only, trimmed and minced

1. Place the tree ears, lily buds, and dried mushrooms in three separate bowls. Add hot water to cover to each bowl, and let stand until the vegetables have softened, about 30 minutes. Drain, and cut each vegetable into thin 1-inch-long strips. Set aside.

2. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add the chicken, bamboo shoots, bean curd, tree ears, lilies, and mushrooms, and cook until the chicken turns opaque, about 30 seconds. Drain in a colander. Clean the saucepan.

3. Beat the egg in a small bowl until frothy. Heat the oil in an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Drizzle in the beaten egg to make a thin, lacy crepe, and cook until set, about 1 minute. Slide the crepe gently out of the skillet onto a cutting board, and slice it into 1/4-inch thick shreds about 2 inches long.

4. Bring the stock, soy sauce, and white pepper to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the drained chicken mixture and return to a boil.

5. Dissolve the cornstarch in 1/2 cup cold water in a small bowl. Add to the saucepan, and stir gently until the soup thickens, about 30 seconds. Taste the soup, and add more white pepper if you wish. The soup should be spicy, but season it gradually or you may go too far. Transfer the soup to a large serving bowl, and stir in the vinegar and sesame oil. Garnish with the egg strips and scallion, and serve immediately.

Eggplant with Garlic Sauce

4 small Japanese eggplants (about 1 pound total), trimmed
Vegetable oil, for passing through.

Need to know: Passing through is a Shanghai and Sichuan cooking technique where the meat is cooked in a large amount of hot oil, then the oil is drained away and the remainder of the dish is cooked in what remains. This makes these recipes authentic!

2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 scallion, white and green parts, trimmed and minced
1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon hot bean paste
1 teaspoon hot chili oil, optional
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Keep the water at a simmer. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and place it near the stove.

2. Using a sharp knife, lightly score the skin of the eggplants in a crosshatch pattern, with the lines about 1 inch apart. Halve or quarter the eggplants lengthwise to make sticks about 1/2 inch wide. Cut the sticks into 2-inch lengths.

3. Heat a large wok over high heat. Add enough oil to come about 1 1/2 inches up the sides of the wok, and heat it to 325 F. Working in batches without crowding, add the eggplant to the oil and fry just until It'softens but still holds its shape, about 45 seconds. Do not overcook. Using a wide wire-mesh strainer, dip the eggplant briefly in the hot water, then spread it out on the paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, wiping the strainer dry after each frying. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the oil from the wok.

4. To begin the sauce, mix the soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, rice wine, and white pepper in a small bowl, and set it aside. Dissolve the cornstarch in 3 tablespoons cold water in another small bowl, and set it aside.

5. Return the wok with the oil to high heat. Add the scallion, ginger, and garlic, and stir-fry until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the hot bean paste and the soy sauce mixture, and stir-fry for 15 seconds. Add the eggplant and stir-fry until the sauce is boiling and the eggplant is hot, about 30 seconds. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir until the sauce thickens, about 10 seconds. Add the hot chili oil, if using, and stir-fry for 10 seconds. Add the sesame oil, and serve immediately.

The original Sichuan recipe for this dish was for a cold, somewhat chewy appetizer of fried, dried, and shredded beef. It is a far cry from Shun Lee's Crispy Orange Beef, which was introduced in 1971, and which millions of Americans have since come to love.

Crispy Orange Beef
Makes 4 servings

8 ounces flank steak, cut into pieces 1 inch long, 1/2 inch wide, and 1/4 inch thick
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 orange

2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon rice wine or dry sherry
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Vegetable oil, for passing through
1 cup cornstarch
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
3 scallions, white part only, trimmed and sliced diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces (1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier
1/4 teaspoon hot chili paste

1. Mix the flank steak, baking soda, and 3 tablespoons of water in a medium bowl. Cover, and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. (The baking soda will tenderize the steak.)

2. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the colored zest from the orange. Cut the zest into thin strips about 1 inch long, and set them aside. Save the orange flesh for another use.

3. To begin the sauce, mix the sugar, vinegar, rice wine, soy sauce, and cornstarch in a small bowl. Set it aside.

4. Heat a large wok over high heat. Add enough vegetable oil to come about 1 1/2 inches up the sides of the wok, and heat it to 375 F. Meanwhile, add the cornstarch and egg white to the steak, and mix well to coat the steak with the batter.

5. Add the flank steak to the oil, one piece at a time so it doesn't splash or stick together, and stir gently until it begins to look crispy, about 1 minute. Using a wide wiremesh strainer, transfer the steak to a colander to drain. Using a fine-mesh wire strainer, remove any bits of fried batter from the wok.

6. Reheat the oil to 375 F, return the flank steak to the wok, and fry again until the beef is crispy all over, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a strainer to drain. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the oil from the wok.

7. Return the wok with the oil to high heat. Add the scallions, flank steak, sugar-vinegar mixture, orange zest, sesame oil, Grand Marnier, and hot chili paste. Stir-fry until all of the ingredients are well-blended, about 30 seconds. Serve immediately.