Lamb’s one of my favorite meats, and (life often being unfair), it’s also one of the most expensive. I managed to get a good deal on a 3 lb leg of lamb, and spent the weekend coming up with ways to use it. Fortunately, lamb’s a popular meat in many cultures. Can you get any more separated than China and Wales?

My first experiment comes from Ken Hom’s A Taste of China: The Definitive Guide to Regional Cooking. I’d been wanting to pick up this book for a while; Ken Hom shows up in one chapter of Garlic and Sapphires and I was interested to see what his cookbook was like. I finally got my chance during a conference in Bethlehem, PA where I found it sitting neglected on the shelf at the Moravian Book Shop. There are a lot of interesting things to try in it, but this one really caught my attention – I’d never even considered steaming lamb before.

Lamb Steamed With Spice-Flavored Cornmeal (from A Taste of China: The Definitive Guide to Regional Cooking)

  • 2 and 1/2 oz yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tsp five-spice powder
  • 2 tsp ground roasted Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 lb lean lamb
  • 3 tsp green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tbs rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tbs light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp sesame oil

Combine cornmeal, five spice powder, ground Sichuan peppercorns, and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Mix and set aside.

Cut lamb into thin strips (about 1/4 inches thick by 3 inches long) and combine with onions, garlic, ginger, wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil.

Coat lamb pieces with cornmeal mixture and gently steam over medium heat for 30 minutes.

This is a good recipe to use on odds and ends of lamb you might have left over, since the steaming softens them nicely. It pays to watch the amount of Sichuan peppercorns you use: they’ve got a strong flavor and they can easily overwhelm the lamb, which comes out mild and sweet. We had ours with some dumplings and dandan noodle.

Steamed Lamb With Spiced Cornmeal

Steamed Lamb With Spiced Cornmeal

My second project is from another castoff from the PA Renaissance Faire: Salmon Publishing’s Favourite Welsh Recipes. This is actually part of a three-pamphlet set: one for England, one for Scotland, and one for Wales. All have worthwhile recipes. Here in the US, we often don’t remember that Wales has a distinct cultural identity as vibrant as that of Scotland or Ireland, and as a West Coast boy raised in the shadow of the Cascades, I found its rugged landscape to boast some of the best sightseeing in the UK (especially Snowdonia). Not only that but it’s a great place for a military history buff, with plenty of well preserved castles, built by Edward I when he “added” Wales to the Kingdom of England (at Caernarvon you get a castle AND a Roman fort), and the regimental museum of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, among whose items is an officer’s coat worn at Bunker Hill in 1775.

All that rugged terrain makes for some tasty lamb (even celebrity chef and general know-it-all Dr. William Kitchiner mentions it in his 1830 magnum opus The Cook’s Oracle). When you combine it with leeks and barley, you get a good solid working class meal.

Monmouth Stew (from Favourite Welsh Recipes)

  • 1 and 1/2 lbs lamb
  • 1/8 cup flour
  • 4-6 leeks (white parts only) washed and cut into rings
  • 1/4 cup pearl barley
  • 4 sprigs parsley, 1 sprig thyme, and 1 bay leaf tied together
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 pint lamb stock
  • butter or oil for frying

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat lamb in seasoned flour and fry in butter or oil for one minute. Add leeks, fry for 1 more minute, and then transfer everything to a casserole dish. Add barley, herbs, and seasoning. Pour stock over all. Cover, bring to the boil, and cook in oven for about 2 hours. Remove herbs before serving.

I found that this is an excellent crock pot recipe. Just pop all the ingredients in and let it cook all day while you get on with your life. It also tastes even better the second day, as Cat’s envious coworkers can attest.

Monmouth Stew

Monmouth Stew

Advertisements

I found my copy of Chinese Cuisine from the Master Chefs of China languishing on the used book shelf of Auntie’s Bookstore while home in Spokane for the holidays a few years ago, and it quickly became one of my favorites. No other Chinese cookbook I’ve encountered has ever been so…aggressive about its Chineseness. It’s focused around many of the State-run “court” restaurants which have been oft-reviled in travel literature as overpriced tourist traps: this means complicated dishes and exotic ingredients. What other cookbook would dare include six recipes for sea cucumbers and feature the ferociously complex Dragon and Phoenix Cold Dishes as its first appetizer?

I think it’s because China Pictorial‘s editors meant the book to be just as much a “brag book” as an actual useful cookbook. China’s always been (justifiably) proud of its culinary traditions; when they sent their first Taikonaut into orbit, the PRC’s propaganda ministry made sure to let the world know that his space rations would be the tastiest ever carried by a space explorer.

Still, nestled in amongst the elaborately sculpted court dishes are some real gems, one of which is Taiyuan-Style Braised Beef (the recipe was contributed by Beijing’s Jinyang Restaurant). It’s easy, fast, and very tasty.

Taiyuan-Style Braised Beef (from Chinese Cuisine from the Master Chefs of China)

  • 3/4 lb beef, sliced thin
  • 8 scallions, cut into 1and 1/2 inch pieces
  • 2 tbs cornstarch paste (mix 2 tbs cornstarch with 2 tbs water)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tsp rice wine
  • 1 anise star (this is the big star shaped kind, not the little seeds. You can find them in Asian or Mexican food stores – it adds a definite liquorice flavor)
  • 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns (you can substitute black peppercorns in a pinch, but the flavor will be different)
  • 1/2 cup clear chicken/duck stock (the original recipe calls for a mix, but you can use just 1/2 cup chicken stock and preserve most of the intended flavor)
  • 1/2 cup sesame oil
  • pinch shredded ginger

Pour 1 tsp boiling water over peppercorns and let steep 5 minutes. Combine soy sauce and cornstarch paste in a bowl. Add beef and scallions and mix. Heat sesame oil in a wok over high flame. Add anise star, then beef/scallion mixture and stir-fry for 15 seconds. Add stock, rice wine, and 1 tsp of the peppercorn infusion. Cover and cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle ginger on top and serve.

If I had a signature dish, this’d be it. The General and I have a long history.

My hometown of Spokane, Washington, was not exactly a culinary melting pot in the Mid ’80s. While there were several Chinese restaurants, they were essentially interchangeable having gotten most of their menu items from Leann Chin’s book (the best of this group, the Tungloon Garden, is still in business and still makes the best bulgogi to be found outside a Korean eatery). Then along came the China Best, our first “high class” Chinese restaurant, and on their menu was an item called “General Tso’s Chicken”.

This was a big deal for us. General Tso’s work was pretty much unknown in Eastern Washington and the China Best rose to fame very quickly on its strength. Quite honestly, it’s hands down the best General Tso’s I’ve ever eaten anywhere…and I’ve lived in two cities with Chinatowns.

The history of General Tso and his Chicken (which is really about as Chinese as the Hamburger is German) makes for interesting reading. When I want to make people laugh at my history nerdiness I call it “General Tso’s Taiping-Quelling Ever-Victorious Chicken.

Sadly, the China Best is no more, but they did have the decency to reveal their General Tso’s recipe in Spokane Cooks! Northwest, which is like a snapshot of the Spokane restaurant scene in the ’80s. I carried it on an index card all the way through college and grad school, and I now present it here, updated and tweaked:

General Tso’s Taiping-Quelling Ever-Victorious Chicken (China Best Style)

  • 4 skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite size pieces
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp chopped garlic
  • 1/2 tsp chopped ginger
  • 2 tbs soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon shaoxing rice wine (find at Asian market or substitute dry sherry if desperate)
  • 1 tbs chinkiang vinegar (this is a dark, strong vinegar you can also find at your Asian market. You can try white vinegar, but the taste won’t be anything near the same)
  • 1 tsp chili sauce (use more or less depending on your heat tolerance)
  • 1 small handful dried hot chili peppers (these are for color and are optional)
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 10 tbs cooking oil (peanut preferred)
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

Marinade:

  • 4 tbs soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper

Mix marinade ingredients, and marinate chicken pieces for 1 hour. Heat 8 tbs cooking oil in a wok or heavy saute pan and stir-fry marinated chicken for 8-10 minutes. Remove from wok, set aside, and clean wok for next step.

Add 2 tbs oil to clean wok. Add garlic and ginger and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the soy sauce, rice wine, vinegar, chili sauce, dried chilies, salt, pepper, sugar, and scallions and stir fry for another minute or so, until the scallions just begin to change color. Add chicken back into wok and mix with sauce. Remove from heat and sprinkle on sesame oil before serving.

One nice thing about this recipe is that the chicken isn’t deep-fried first so you can at least pretend it’s healthy to your friends. I was actually completely unaware that General Tso’s is normally breaded until I went off to college in Milwaukee….and the first time I ordered it I thought I’d gotten Sweet and Sour Chicken accidentally instead. The Chinese restaurant people had a good long laugh when i went back to complain.