Pros: Clean layout; simple recipes; LOTS of recipes; fantastic flavors; authentic tastes
Cons: Not exactly written for a modern American kitchen and cook; some confusions
Rating: 4 out of 5
First published 3/20/2003
I can’t even remember how long ago we bought this cookbook, but it’s been a while since we used it. My husband has been so busy with his job that most of our cooking for the last several months has consisted of making our own freezer meals. Homemade freezer meals are better than store-bought, but it still gets to you after a while.
We might not have time for full Sundays of cooking again yet, but at least we’ve made the time to make one or two simple recipes a week. By now we’re completely sick of bland, easily-frozen food, so we hauled out “The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook,” by Gloria Bley Miller.
Who This Cookbook Is For
While this cookbook promises to be both authentic and comprehensive, it does not pretend that it is for the complete beginner, and I can appreciate its honesty in this. There’s a large difference between an ethnic cookbook meant to introduce others to that cuisine, and an ethnic cookbook meant to be comprehensive and authentic. The former will probably explain things in American terms throughout, and frequently suggest easily-available substitutions for foreign ingredients you might have trouble finding. The latter assumes that you have some access to the necessary ingredients and equipment, and some understanding already of the terms and terminology. The former might Westernize some of the more unusual foreign tastes or leave out ingredients that are considered to be an “acquired taste,” while the latter presents the cuisine as it is meant to be in its original form.
Both types of cookbook have their places. The former presents a great opportunity to ease others into trying the cuisine (or allow those without access to specialty stores or ethnic groceries to at least enjoy some of the flavors), while the latter allows those who’ve developed a taste for the “real thing” to make it for themselves.
This cookbook falls squarely in the latter category, although it does not entirely strand the adventurous amateur. It does include a glossary of Chinese ingredients, some notes on serving a Chinese meal or setting a Chinese table, a handful of suggestions for substitutions, a how-to section, a couple of pages on Chinese terminology, a listing of handy kitchen equipment, and some notes on regional variations in Chinese cuisine.
However, the fact that this book does not coddle beginners together with the fact that it was first published in 1966 does mean that it isn’t exactly aimed at the modern American cook and kitchen. (For example, instead of telling you to buy ground beef, one recipe tells you to buy whole meat, and “remove fat and tendons from beef; then mince or grind.”)
What does this mean to you?
- Read the recipes thoroughly before buying ingredients or making the recipes. You may need to make adjustments, such as realizing that you can just go ahead and buy ground beef instead of grinding it yourself!
- You should have experience in a kitchen, and preferably a little experience with Chinese cooking, before using this cookbook. It will help you more easily translate the directions into ones that will work with your kitchen.
- You need access to the proper ingredients. We find that a 45 minute drive to a co-op that carries a wide variety of things satisfies most of our needs; having access to a Chinese grocery would be even better, of course.
- Don’t expect the same food you get at the corner Chinese take-out restaurant. This stuff hasn’t been Westernized, and it isn’t restaurant fare.
Remember how long ago the book was written–don’t expect the listing of ingredient mail order sources, for example, to still be up-to-date. (And it certainly doesn’t include web page listings!)
All that aside, this is a fantastic cookbook! The recipe layout is clean & clear–most recipes are roughly two to a page, because they’re short and simple. Ingredients are clearly delineated, and steps are short and numbered. Occasionally a recipe does trail onto the back of a page, but not too often.
Recipes are simple, short, and easy. They aren’t fancified. Most of this is simple home cooking at its best. There are also LOTS of recipes! This book isn’t kidding when it calls itself “The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook”; it has more than 900 pages.
The flavors are fabulous. We’ve made everything from braised anise beef, to sweet-and-pungent beef balls, to stir fry. By far our favorite is the stir-fried asparagus with egg sauce, which is so good that we’ve made it again, and again, and again, and again. Not a single recipe has disappointed us; every one has been delicious, and we’d make them all again.
Again, read recipes carefully. Not only are the instructions not always meant for a modern American cook, but a few of them seem to be a little confused. (In a couple of spots I suspect translation errors, or simple carelessness.)
For instance, the braised anise beef recipe I mentioned has as its last step, “Increase heat to medium and cook, uncovered, turning meat and stirring sauce, until most of the liquid is absorbed.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’ll ever see two pounds of meat absorb two cups of liquid. Perhaps they meant evaporated. Either way, we just cooked the meat until it was done and enjoyed it immensely–most of the few little problems like this are easy to recognize and compensate for if you have a little experience cooking and can guess at what to do.
The Range of Recipes
I can’t even begin to give you an idea of the variety of actual recipes. You really will find everything in here, from stir-fried pork and ginger root, to stir-fried beef and bean curd, simmered deep-fried duck, stir-fried deep-fried chicken with soybean paste, red-cooked deep-fried squab, lobster Cantonese (two variations), stir-fried miniature shrimp and vegetables, deep-fried eggs and vegetables, steamed bamboo shoots with chicken and ham, simmered stuffed green peppers, noodles in soup with pork, ten precious rice, and on and on and on.
Many recipes are presented with variations, as well as suggestions for adapting them to the ingredients on hand (for instance, one stir-fry we made simply called for “one pound vegetables,” so you can use whatever is in season).
There are no photos of the food–just some little drawings of various things here and there scattered throughout the book.
This is a fantastic book for the cook who’s desperate to explore more of Chinese cooking, or the adventurous amateur who’s willing to do a little research and exploration. The flavors are wonderful, the recipes are simple and easy, and there’s enough in here to keep you busy for years!
Please note: The editions I’ve linked to at Amazon above are a 1984 reprint edition, and a 1988 hardcover, so it’s possible that some information has been updated. However, not having read them, I can’t be sure.