When I was a kid, my family usually ate Chinese food at least once a week. The typical meal included an appetizer of egg rolls, chicken chow mein and gai kow, sort of like the chow mein with larger pieces of chicken and vegetables and without the bean sprouts. We seemed to be one of the few families I knew who didn’t order egg foo yong which, to me, is nothing more than deep fried omelets served in a thick, rather unappetizing gravy, all of which is really nasty after it has been around for a while. This was Cantonese food, the only style of Chinese available at that time. In fact, Cantonese cuisine is far more complex than what was served in Detroit back then.
I began cooking Chinese food about 30 years ago. Fortunately, there are many fine Asian markets in our area. One of my favorites is the Evergreen Supply Co., located on Lahser just north of Eight Mile. This place has nearly every ingredient you need to make a complete Chinese meal. For starters, there is a selection of vegetables so fresh they always have a longer shelf life than I expect.
The selection includes the garlic chives used in dumplings and stir-fries. On my last visit, bok choy was available in three sizes: regular, baby and small baby, the tiniest and most tender yet. They offer gai lon or Chinese broccoli, and long beans that can be stir-fried or “dry fried” — that is, blanched and then stir-fried in a garlic sauce.
The list continues: okra, bitter melon, yu choy, napa cabbage, fresh mushrooms — enoki, shiitake and king, new to me recently. King mushrooms look more like a stem than a ’shroom. Their texture is firm and slightly spongy at once, pleasing to the palate. Then there are long, thin, light-purple eggplants, which I’ve eaten stuffed with a garlicky pork mixture.
One thing that distinguishes Evergreen is its Chinese barbecue. Not Southern barbecue, but pork and poultry roasted over a flame while being basted and glazed with delicious sauces. There is duck, whole pig and, my personal favorite, char siu. These strips of barbecued pork, usually very lean, are good enough to eat as a snack but constitute the heart of great fried rice, providing the flavor that really distinguishes the dish.
Tofu comes in many varieties including hard, soft and fried, fresh and packaged, some of which will last unopened for several months.
There are several varieties of noodles, both fresh and dried. At the end of the seafood counter, there are noodles that have been cooked and need only a minute in hot water to heat and to make them pliant. The grocery also offers rice noodles, often used in Thai cooking.
If you want to make dumplings or egg rolls, you needn’t bother to make the wrappers; Evergreen Supply has them.
They offer jasmine rice, excellent for fried rice, and Nishiki-brand medium grain rice, which is sticky and sometimes used in sushi. I could go on about the selection at this market, but better you should go and explore. Ask some questions. Linda, who is there every day, is knowledgeable and glad to dole out tips.
As for Chinese cooking, Lee Kum Kee is a popular brand of bottled sauces. The company has an awesome Web site — www.lkk.com — that gives you the ability to search for recipes by ingredient, sauce and course. Lee Kum Kee’s chili garlic sauce and black bean garlic sauce are two that I recommend.
Evergreen also sells woks, rice cookers and cooking utensils. A good hammered steel wok is indispensable for Chinese cooking. The idea of stir-frying is to sear the exterior of the ingredients to hold in the flavors and the nutrients. Steel woks withstand the required high heat better than electric or Teflon-coated woks. When you stir-fry, keep the heat as high as you can. Have your ingredients ready. Work fast. Woks, like cast iron skillets, must be seasoned, and after the initial cleaning should never be washed with soap as they are porous and can absorb the soap. They should be scoured with a stiff brush and some hot water, rinsed well and dried on a hot burner. I always put a thin coating of oil on mine after it has cooled.
Here is a recipe that I want to pass along. Vary it as you see fit, using the vegetables and meats or seafood that you like.
Pan fried noodles with vegetables and char siu
Step 1: Prepare a noodle pancake
Put 2 or 3 tablespoons of peanut oil into a hot 10- or 12-inch skillet, preferably non-stick.
Add 1/2-pound of cooked, drained noodles. (I like the “pan-fried noodles” sold at Evergreen). Cook over medium heat until the bottom begins to brown, about 6 or 7 minutes.
Turn it over, adding enough oil to prevent the noodles from sticking.
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon each of garlic, scallions and ginger, all finely chopped together
8 sliced mushrooms, preferably shiitake or dried Chinese black mushrooms, soaked in warm water until soft. Remove stems.
1/2-3/4 pound of mixed chopped Chinese vegetables (pick from some I describe above
6 sliced water chestnuts
12 snow peas
2 or 3 ounces of thinly sliced char siu
1 tablespoon each soy sauce and oyster sauce
3/4 cup of chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon cornstarch diluted in 2 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Put the oil into a very hot wok or skillet. Add in the garlic mixture, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms, stirring for a minute. Then add all of the vegetables and the meat. Stir for two or three minutes.
Add the remaining ingredients. Stir well and reduce the heat. Cover the wok for a minute or two to let the vegetables cook through. Either break up the noodles and add them to the vegetables, or pour the vegetables and their sauce over the noodle pancake just before serving. The noodles should be crisp.
All of the quantities are approximate. Vary them according to your taste. Makes two generous servings. Enjoy!
Evergreen Supply Co. is located at 20736 Lahser in Southfield. Call 248-354-8181.Jeff Broder shares his food fascination with Metro Times readers. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org