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Chinese Cooking Is Largely A Matter Of Orchestration

Copyright 1994 The Chicago Tribune
From Knight-Ridder/Tribune Information Services
Selected and Prepared by Tribune Media Services

By William Rice 
Chicago Tribune 

CHICAGO -- Ben Moy, the local chef and cooking teacher, developed a devoted
following at The Bird, his restaurant in Melrose Park that was closed recently because of
extensive damages to the kitchen. In the midst of tending his garden and contemplating
whether he will reopen in another location, Moy took time to discuss techniques of
Chinese cooking that set it apart from other cuisines.

Before anyone tries it, he recommends eating the real thing in restaurants to develop a
sense of taste reference. In part this is because he believes merely following written
directions is not enough to make a dish special.

``In cooking Chinese,'' he said, ``you must produce harmony by being able to balance
sweet and salty, hot and bland, various textures. It's like a musical composition. The
recipe will provide the instrumentation atop the theme, but you  like a conductor  must
add the dynamics.''

Eye appeal is another important factor.

``Our trick is to cook and serve quickly. In China, fuel for cooking was very limited, so
timing was vitally important. Also, if you set the food aside, the colors go dull. So you
arrange the order of the steps according to which ingredients require less or more time
and intense or low heat to cook, so as to make the cooking go smoothly with no
untoward delays.''

This is accomplished, in part, by how the food is prepared for cooking. Meat and poultry
are cut to expose as much surface as possible to the wok or skillet. Vegetables may be
partly cooked (blanched) ahead, then added for the brief time needed to make them

``For stir-fry,'' Moy explained, ``the skillet (or wok) must be large enough to spread the
food, and made of metal that has good heat retention as well as conduction. Also, the
output of cooking fuel must be sufficient to bring about enough quick heat recovery.

``Every cook must develop a sense of timing. The instinct of knowing when something
has reached the correct point is one of the most essential aspects of cooking. To do this,
you use all your senses. Knowing how the food smells, how it looks, hearing the sound
of oil sizzling -- all this makes cooking much easier and more pleasurable.

``In short, pay attention. Concentrate. Focus all your attention for the time it takes to
prepare a particular dish. It will be done quickly if it's done right, and there's no way to
produce a good stir-fry dish without giving it your full attention.


(Four to six servings) 

1&1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
2 large cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon tapioca starch, or 1&1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon chopped fresh hot pepper, Hungarian or jalapeno preferred
2 or 3 dashes white pepper
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry white wine
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, peanut preferred
1 to 1&1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons chopped green onion 

1. In a large bowl, combine chicken, garlic, thyme, parsley, tapioca starch, hot pepper,
white pepper, sesame oil, soy sauce and wine. Toss together, then set aside for 10 to 15

2. When ready to cook, heat a large skillet, preferably cast-iron, or a wok, until very hot.
Add vegetable oil and salt. Add chicken mixture and spread evenly over the bottom of
the pan. Brown one side, then turn mixture and brown the other.

3. When chicken is golden brown, mix ingredients well with a cooking ladle or spatula.
Add chopped green onions, toss briefly, then remove pan from heat. Portion onto plates
and serve with beer or a dry white wine such as sauvignon blanc. 


(Four to six servings) 

2 small pork tenderloins (total weight 1 to 1&1/2 pounds), sliced on bias against the
grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup cloud ear mushrooms, soaked, cleaned and squeezed dry (do not use wood ear
1 small red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into thin strips
1 small red onion, peeled and sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped hot pepper, Hungarian or jalapeno preferred
1 teaspoon Szechwan red peppercorns, crushed
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon bourbon or 2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 teaspoon tapioca starch, or 1&1/2 teaspoons corn starc
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled, crushed and chopped
3 tablespoon vegetable oil, peanut preferred
1 teaspoon salt
4 green onions, cleaned and sliced into 1-inch pieces (for garnish) 

1. In a bowl, combine cloud ear mushrooms, red-pepper strips and red onion. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine pork, garlic, hot pepper, red peppercorns, sesame oil, soy,
bourbon, tapioca starch and chopped ginger. Let sit 10 to 15 minutes.

2. When ready to cook, heat a large skillet, preferably cast-iron, or a wok, until very hot.
Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, then add mushrooms, red-pepper strips and red onion.
Toss and cook until vegetables are just beginning to soften. Remove vegetables to a
colander set over a plate and keep close at hand.

3. Rinse skillet, wipe dry and return to heat. Add remaining 2 tablespoons of vegetable
oil and salt. Add pork and seasonings and stir-fry until pork is just cooked through.
Return vegetables to the pan and toss with pork until all ingredients are well mixed and
heated through. Correct seasoning as desired. Transfer to a platter or plates, garnish with
green onions and serve with beer or a fruity red wine such as Beaujolais or merlot.

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