Cookbook Review - Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine - Cooking Index
Author: Susanna Foo
Susanna Foo is the chef and owner of the Susanna Foo restaurant in Center City, Philadelphia. Born in Inner Mongolia and raised in Taipei, Taiwan, Foo came to cooking relatively late in life after coming to the US in 1967 to study for a degree in library science (whatever that is) at the University of Pittsburgh.
In 1979 she and her husband E-Hsin moved to Philadelphia and opened a restaurant, Hu-Nan. While cooking at Hu-Nan she met Jacob Rosenthal, the founder of the Culinary Institute of America, who persuaded her that she should study at the CIA and learn more about French cooking techniques. In 1987 she and her husband opened the Susanna Foo restaurant, which served Chinese food often with a Western or French twist. In 1995 she published this book, the first of two recipe books she has written (the other is Susanna Foo Fresh Inspiration).
For the sake of full disclosure, I have eaten at Susanna Foo's a couple of times and was somewhat underwhelmed by the experience. However I was being interviewed for investment banking jobs (lucky escape, eh?) and was in a group of loud bankers from New York, so I suspect the kitchen may not have been pulling out all the stops. Also, it was from a set menu which, in my experience, is never a good idea in a Chinese restaurant, whether cheap or expensive.
The good news to report is that Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine is an excellent recipe book and is very inspiring in that it makes you want to get into the kitchen and cook many of the recipes. It avoids the trap of many Chinese chef-written books in that it does not have tons of obscure ingredients or expect you to have spent the last 20 years in a professional kitchen preparing dumplings.
As with the restaurant, many of the recipes have an East meets West fusion to them, so there are plenty of Chinese dishes with a French or classical twist. Typical dishes include Veal Dumplings in Ancho Chile Sauce, Marbled Eggs, Grilled Chinese Eggplant with Balsamic Vinaigrette, Asparagus with Dried Shimp Vinaigrette, Pan Sauteed Pompano with Sun Dried Tomatoes, Black Beans and Eggplant Salsa, Tea Smoked Cornish Hens and Brandy Infused Hoisin Sauce.
The book is divided into the following chapters:
The book also comes up with menu suggestions, so if you are planning a five course Chinese banquet Foo has some ideas about what will go well together.
As you may have guessed from the recipe titles, few of these recipes are things you can throw together in 15 minutes. Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine is all about having elegant, high quality Chinese food and the emphasis on how Chinese food definitely qualifies as one of the world's great cuisines (something that many top food writers and restaurant critics still seem to find hard to grasp). That said, these are dishes I can imagine cooking for guests at a dinner party and not feeling too frightened or worried about getting it right.
One odd thing is the frequency with which vodka crops up as an ingredient. The only alcohol I use regularly in Chinese cooking is Chinese rice wine so I was slightly surprised to find it cropping up at all. After a while it seemed to be everywhere - in the Chicken with Mango, Asparagus and Ginger (as a chicken marinade), in the breast of chicken sauteed with mushrooms (added with the garlic to deglaze the pan) and in the grilled tuna with jalapeno pepper puree. I could go on but you get the idea. Cooking the Susanna Foo way comes with a shot or two of vodka, which is no bad thing in my book but certainly qualifies as a little unusal.
If you're looking for an upmarket Chinese recipe book with plenty of inspiring ideas, this is a good book to buy. It's not a bargain but I refer to it frequently and it's definitely one I am happy to have on my shelves.
Susanna Foo continues to be one of Philadelphia's most successful restaurants and in 2003 the Foo empire expanded to include Suilan by Susanna Foo at the Borgate restaurant in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In September 2006 she opened Susanna Foo Gourmet Kitchen in Radnor, Pennsylvania which aims to echo the dumpling houses of the Shaanxi district of China.
Chapters, 1995 , $35, 325 pages (hardback)
Joe Saumarez Smith (11 June 2007)