I love Chinese food, the REAL one, the one you can eat even here in Amsterdam at places that do not make concessions to the locals’ taste such as the fantastic Nam Kee restaurant on the Geldersekade.
It’s a vast cuisine with an infinite variety of preparations – a bit like the Italian one – because every region of China is characterized by own dishes and ingredients, exactly like in my own country. Just think of the enormous differences between the spicy Sichuan cuisine and the Cantonese one, more “cosmopolitan” and widespread, and you’ll have an idea.
Recently, at the Paris Cookbook Fair I bought the beautiful Chinese home cooking book titled “Every grain of rice (simple Chinese home cooking)”. The talented writer Fuchsia Dunlop, who has lived in China and was the first Westerner to study at the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine, describes the dishes, traditions and ingredients of the everyday Chinese food so well and yet with so much simplicity that you really want to prepare some.
My first dish inspired by this book is really easy and fast to make, and
leaves you a lot of freedom as it allows you to add the vegetables you
prefer. It is a noodle soup prepared with good broth, preferably
homemade (I made a simple chicken and onion stock) and enriched by
vegetables and noodles of your own choice. I used egg ones, those that
cook really fast just like Italian egg pasta.
My vegetables of choice were pak choy, also know as bok choy or Chinese chard, and chestnut mushrooms. If you do not find pak choy you can also use the more common Swiss chard, slightly sweeter and with less fleshy stems.
The other “exotic” ingredients you will need are sesame oil and basic soy sauce, easy to find in any oriental food store.
Basic Noodle Soup (Qing Tang Mian) according to Fuchsia Dunlop
300 gr of boneless chicken thighs, preferably organic, cut in fairly big chunks
1 medium-sized onion, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons of soy-bean oil
2 l. water (it will partly evaporate while cooking the broth)
200 g Chinese egg noodles
2 handfuls of pak choy cut into rather large pieces, whole leaves
100 grams of fresh chestnut mushrooms
2-3 spring onions
basic soy sauce
Prepare the broth by gently frying the onion in soy-bean oil and then
browning the chicken in it. Add the water, possibly already boiling,
and simmer for a while with the lid on the pan, at least until the
chicken is thoroughly cooked (which means that the meat should flake
easily when pressed with the chopsticks or with a wooden spoon). Also
make sure that the broth is nicely concentrated for extra flavour. Add a
little salt or soy sauce at the end.
Add the white, fleshy parts of the pak choy and the quartered mushrooms to the stock and cook for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the noodles adding them to boiling water (slightly salted, if you like) which you then immediately remove from the flame leaving them to rest for about 4 minutes (the actual time will depend on the type of noodles you use).
Drain and divide into two bowls. Chop the spring onions in rings, making sure you use also most of the green leaves.
Throw the green parts of the pak choy in the broth and remove the pan from the flame. The pak choy leaves only need to be blanched.
Add a couple of ladles of broth, chicken and vegetables to the noodles in every bowl and garnish with the spring onion rings.
Season with a teaspoon of sesame oil and a little soy sauce and enjoy.