"Good Chinese food is no more difficult to cook than good Italian food."
That's the opinion of a former librarian who turned her love of cooking into one of the most successful and innovative restaurants in the country. A quick flip through her first cookbook, "Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine," by Susanna Foo (Chapters, $35), proves just how creative yet simple Chinese cooking can be.
The native of Inner Mongolia grew up in Taiwan, studied library science in the United States, and learned to cook from members of the family and from professional chefs. All her experiences come together in the book and at her Philadelphia establishment, a perennial award-winner.
Prawns with poached pears and curry sauce
Makes 6 servings.
2 pounds prawns or large shrimp (about 36 shrimp), peeled, deveined and cleaned with salt
2 tablespoons vodka
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
2 large, firm, ripe pears (any kind)
2 cups water
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup corn oil
3 shallots, minced
1 tablespoon peeled, julienned ginger root
1 tablespoon julienned lemon zest
1 cup curry sauce (recipe below)
coarse or Kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup toasted almond slices
To toast the almonds, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the almonds on a dry baking sheet and toast, stirring occasionally, for about 4 to 5 minutes, until they have turned light brown and smell fragrant. Set aside.
Pat the shrimp dry. Mix the vodka and the beaten egg white in a large bowl, add the shrimp and toss to combine. Marinate for 20 minutes at room temperature, turning occasionally; drain. Set aside.
Peel pears, cut in half lengthwise and remove the cores. Cut each pear half into 6 to 8 thin slices and place in a small bowl.
Mix the water and lemon juice and pour over the pears; let steep for 5 minutes. Transfer the pears and all the liquid to a large saucepan. Bring the liquid to a boil. Cover and poach the pears for about 3 minutes, or until they are just tender. Remove from the heat, drain and set aside.
Heat oil in a large skillet until it is hot but not smoking. Add shrimp and cook in two batches, stirring occasionally, until they just turn pink, about 3 minutes. Remove from skillet with a slotted spoon and set aside. Repeat with the remaining shrimp.
Remove and discard all but 2 tablespoons of oil from the pan.
Add shallots, ginger root and lemon zest to skillet. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring, until shallots are golden.
Add curry sauce and poached pear slices. Bring the sauce to a boil over high heat. Add shrimp and cook for 2 minutes, tossing in the sauce until they are hot and well coated. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste.
Remove shrimp and pears with a slotted spoon and divide among 6 plates. Top with any sauce remaining in skillet.
Sprinkle with toasted almonds and serve.
Makes about 1 1/4 cups sauce.
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 tablespoons corn oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon peeled, grated ginger root
1 tablespoon curry powder (preferably Madras)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
dash of Tabasco sauce
2 cups chicken stock
about 1 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt (optional)
Mix cornstarch and coconut milk in a small bowl; set aside.
Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Add onion, garlic and ginger root. Cook over high heat until the onion is golden, about 4 minutes. Add curry powder, white pepper and Tabasco. Cook over high heat, stirring, for 1 minute.
Add stock and coconut milk mixture. Mix well; cook over low heat for 20 minutes, or until cornstarch no longer has a raw taste and sauce is lightly thickened. Remove from heat and cool. Puree cool sauce in a blender or a food processor.
Taste to correct seasonings, adding salt if needed.
(The sauce can be prepared 3 to 4 days in advance, covered and refrigerated. It also can be simmered with cooked, cubed chicken or poured over cooked fish fillets, such as salmon and bass.)