When I was growing up, Chinese food was an exotic culinary treat. Back then, we would actually go to “full service” Chinese restaurants. The dining rooms were always decorated with pictures of the Great Wall of China, colorful ornamental gardens, dragons, etc. The unpronounceable foodstuffs were very different from typical American fare and, best of all, each meal ended with fortune cookies.
Although Chinese restaurants have evolved from sit-down to carry-out and delivery, the menu hasn’t really changed, and, to be brutally honest (kinda my M.O.), the food is not as I recall from my youth. In fact, it’s terrible.
One thing that has changed is the variety of other Asian cuisines available in the 904. You could probably eat different Asian cuisine every day of the week. On Monday, I’ll have Vietnamese Pho, Tuesday maybe some pad Thai, Wednesday Filipino lumpia, a bowl of ramen will make Thursday delicious, for Friday perhaps Taiwanese pork belly bao, Saturday is Korean barbecue and, of course, Sunday is reserved for dim sum. What fun! We truly are spoiled with bright, sweet, salty, sour, tangy, funky flavors.
But even with these varieties of unique deliciousness at our disposal, I still sometimes crave the Chinese dishes of my past. Since delivery places don’t have that retro-feel, I make the classics at home.
There are a few essential things to consider when cooking Chinese: First, always have all mise en place prepared before you begin. Cooking time and heat don’t allow for halfwa-prepared ingredients. You never want to stop or slow down to finish cutting a neglected item. Second, marinating meats for 30 minutes or so really adds an amazing depth of umami. Third, pre-mix sauces. With all the different Chinese condiments most recipes require, it’s best to complete this first so you can just pour in sauce in one efficient step. Last, keep your wok SCREEMING HOT. For some old-time flavor, try this Cheffed-Up version of a Chinese classic.
Chef Bill’s Gluten-Free Szechuan Beef
• 2 lb. tri-tip beef, 4” long, 1.5” wide, 1/4” thick, cut across the grain
• 3 tbsp. gluten-free tamari sauce
• 2 tbsp. mirin
• 5 tbsp. cornstarch
• Sesame oil
• Canola oil
• 3 celery stalks, cut into 3” matchsticks
• 2 medium carrots cut into
• 3” matchsticks
• 6 oz. snap peas, cut on bias, 1” thick
• 6 scallions, white part sliced into 1/4” rounds, green part cut into 2” pieces
• 1/2 red onion, fine julienne
• 1 3” knob ginger, grated
• 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
• 5 small dried chilis
• 1 tbsp. Szechuan peppercorns
• 1/2 cup gluten-free tamari sauce
• 1/4 cup gluten-free hoisin sauce
• 1/4 cup water
• 2 tbsp. Sriracha
• 2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
• 1 tbsp. sugar
1. In a bowl, mix beef with the first 3 tbsp. of tamari, mirin and cornstarch. Marinate for 30 minutes.
2. Mix sauce ingredients in a bowl.
3. Heat wok coated with half sesame oil and half canola oil. When it begins to smoke, add 1/3 of the beef and quickly stir-fry. Remove, wipe wok and oil again. Repeat two more times until all beef is cooked.
4. Add oil in same way and stir-fry the vegetables along with the chili and peppercorns. Add beef and sauce, stir to combine. Heat beef through and adjust seasoning to taste.
Email Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Fernandina’s Amelia Island Culinary Academy, for inspiration and to get Cheffed-Up!