Chef Danny Bowien issues a warning early in The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook, which weaves the story of his red-hot restaurants in San Francisco and New York with some of his most-famous dishes.
“To those of you who have never eaten at the restaurants and are expecting a book of authentic Chinese recipes, let me just dispel that idea right now,” he writes. “To Chinese-food purists, the cooking at Mission Chinese Food is profane. We’re not experts or historians. We’re fans.”
“Profane.” You can almost hear a certain pride in the word. “Authentic”? Listen for a clang, like a cleaver dropped on the floor. For “authentic” — once much esteemed — is simply out these days for many in the newest generation of chefs cooking Asian food. We live in an age when steamed Chinese buns are stuffed with Mexican carne asada, Japanese sushi rolls pair with Thai curries and Korean kimchi is spooned over french fries drizzled with melted cheese.
The latest batch of Asian cookbooks reflects this cross-cultural current. How else to explain a title like Asian-American: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes From the Philippines to Brooklyn?
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“You’ve got to evolve,” said Daniel Halpern, president and publisher of HarperCollins’ Ecco imprint in New York. “You won’t evolve if you stick 100 percent to traditional cuisine. These guys want to honor that tradition and move it forward. These guys are celebrating the food and their own lives and lifestyles.”
Indeed. Asian-American (Grand Central Life & Style, $32) tells the story of Dale Talde, a Chicago-born, Filipino-American restaurateur based in Brooklyn with a new restaurant, Talde, in Miami Beach, while The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook (Ecco/Anthony Bourdain, $34.99) recounts the adventures of Bowien, who was born in Korea, raised in Oklahoma and who turned a fascination and love for Chinese cooking into an enormously successful career as a chef and restaurateur.
In Chinatown Kitchen: From Noodles to Nuoc Cham (Mitchell Beazley, $29.99), London food blogger Lizzie Mabbott recounts her search for the foods she remembered growing up in Hong Kong, while Andrew Wong, the London restaurateur, writes in A. Wong: The Cookbook (Mitchell Beazley, $29.99) that his cooking is not “fusion” but “a refinement of classical Chinese cuisine” for today’s tastes.
“They reflect a multicultural experience that captures the broad swath of Asian foodways,” writes Andrea Nguyen, the Santa Cruz, California-based food writer and cookbook author, in an email from Vietnam. “The chef-focused works reflect their hyphenated Asian-American experience. For example, just like their non-Asian peers, Danny and Dale don’t cook and live within the confines of their ethnic heritage. Just because you’re Asian, you don’t have to cook strict Asian fare.”
Jenny Wapner, executive editor of Ten Speed Press, said this genre of cookbook “feels consistent with how cookbooks have evolved in the last five-plus years as a popular medium and appeal to an audience beyond the traditional cookbook buyers, and live on nightstands and coffee tables as well as in the kitchen.”
These new cookbooks also have attitude. Take Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes (Clarkson Potter, $35). At one point, author Peter Meehan writes of a “cavalier and labradoodle-enthusiastic approach to what we mean when we talk about Asia.”
While Nguyen wonders if some of this is machismo, she notes “the food media space is extra crowded now, so the sass will hopefully get the works more attention.”
“If these works get readers and cooks hooked, maybe they’ll push them to delve deeper to explore the nooks and crannies of Asian cooking,” she added.
Cola Chicken Wings
Lizzie Mabbott’s recipe from “Chinatown Kitchen: From Noodles to Nuoc Cham.” Do not use a diet or flavored cola, she warns.
1 3/4 pound chicken wings
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 slices fresh ginger root, peeled
1 star anise
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 can of cola
Drizzle of sesame oil
Split the wings at the joint (one wing makes 2 pieces, the “flat” and the “drum”). Place in a bowl and rub with the dark soy sauce. Let marinate for a few minutes, and while doing so, crush the garlic and separate the white and green parts of the scallions, chopping the whites coarsely and slicing the greens diagonally.
Heat the vegetable oil in the wok over medium heat, and brown the chicken pieces well, about 3 minutes per batch. Remove and set aside. Stir-fry the garlic, ginger and whites of scallions with the star anise. Return the chicken wing pieces to the wok, stir to coat and add the light soy sauce. Open the can of cola and pour into the wok. Bring to a boil, then let it simmer, tossing occasionally, 20 minutes. The liquid may not quite cover the chicken pieces, in which case, turn the pieces over and simmer another 20 minutes. By that point, the sauce should have reduced to become thick and glossy. If not, simmer it a little longer.
To serve, arrange on a platter and garnish with the scallion greens. Drizzle with the sesame oil, and serve with steamed white rice and a vegetable side dish or two.
Yield: 6 servings
Bacon and cream cheese are used to “turbocharge” this Korean drinking snack recipe from “Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes” by Peter Meehan and the editors of Lucky Peach magazine.
4 ounces bacon, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound frozen corn kernels (about 3 cups) or the kernels cut from 3 to 4 ears fresh corn
4 ounces cream cheese
1 tablespoon white miso
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place the bacon in a large, cold skillet, and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until the bacon is crispy and its fat rendered, about 10 minutes.
Pour off most of the fat, leaving the bacon in the pan, and toss in the butter. When the butter melts and sizzles, add the corn and toss to coat. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes to heat the corn through. Add the cream cheese and miso and use the back of a spoon to smush until they melt and coat the corn. Stir in the mayo and toss until the mixture is creamy and smooth.
Spoon the corn into a baking dish (or a fajita pan) big enough to fit the corn mixture in a 1/2- to 1-inch layer. Sprinkle with the mozzarella and bake until browned and bubbling, 5 to 7 minutes.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings