Ushering in the Chinese year of the monkey

Chinese food has made great leaps forward in the United States. Once popular for late-night dining or for take-out meals, it is now an involved subject of interest including cooking schools, dozens of special cookbooks, the sale of new kinds of cookware, and a growing interest among young children.

At Ohrenberger Elementary School in Boston, Grades 3, 4, and 5 students showed their awareness at a special program by Jeanne Tahnk, born and raised in Taiwan and now head of a Winchester cooking school.

Explaining how Chinese cooking relates to Chinese culture in general and to the Chinese new year in particular, Mrs. Tahnk got a majority show of hands when she asked what special animal is associated with the Chinese year 1980.

The year of the monkey was an easy answer for these students, and when asked if they had eaten Chinese food the responses came quick and fast: egg rolls, spare ribs, rice, chow mein, and other familiar dishes.

Fuzzy or hairy melon, winter melon, water chestnuts, lotus root, and wonton skins were passed around the classroom as Mrs. Tahnk described them. she also showed a map of China and neighboring countries and explained some of the customs at Chinese new year celebrations.

A pair of chopsticks for each student prompted a buzz of interest which increased as wontons were cooked in the wok and each child was able to come closer and watch the filling and shaping of the individual wonton dumplings.

Mrs. Tahnk recomends dishes for parents to make together with their children, including more festive ones for the new year such as Chicken Velvet Soup, a whole fish in sweet and sour sauce that is served hot and crisp, and a duck that takes longer to prepare but is well worth it and is always served at a special dinner.

Here are some of Mrs. Tahnk's recipes from her cooking school, Jeanne Tahnk's Gourmet Kitchen Inc., Where she teaches special courses in Chinese and Japanese cooking. Chicken Velvet Soup 1 Egg white 4 tablespoons water 4 ounces boneless chicken breast, chopped 6 cups chicken stock 1 large can creamed corn 2 teaspoons salt 1/2 teaspoon white pepper 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil 4 tablespoons cornstarch 6 tablespoons water 2 egg whites, well beaten 2 tablespoons chopped ham

Combine 1 egg white and 4 tablespoons water. Chop chicken until it is a paste and combine with egg and water mixture. In large kettle combine stock, corn, salt, pepper, and sesame oil and bring to boil, then slowly add chicken paste and stir well.

Mix cornstarch with water and add to thicken, stirring contantly. As it thickens add 2 egg whites adn stir well. Sprinkle ham over soup and serve immediately. Serves 6. Sweet and Sour Whole Fish 1 whole white fish, 1 1/2 to 2 pounds, or fillets 2 tablespoon salt 1 cup cornstarch for coating 10 cups cooking oil 2 tablespoons oil 2 Chinese black mushrooms, soaked and chopped 1/2 cup diced carrots 1/2 cup frozen peas %1/ 6 tablespoons sugar 6 teaspoons vinegar 6 tablespoons ketchup 8 tablespoons water 2 teaspoons salt 2 teaspoons cornstarch 2 teaspoons sesame oil

Rinse fish with water and dry with paper towels. Rub well inside and out with salt and set aside for 15 minutes, then heavily coat with cornstarch.

Heat oil in work to 400 degrees F. and deep fry whole fish for 5 minutes. Remove from wok. Let oil get hot again. Return fish to wok and fry a second time 1/2 to 1 minutes until golden brown and crispy.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in wok and stir fry all vegetables, stirring constantly, over high heat, about 2 to 3 minutes. Combine sugar, vinegar, ketchup, water, salt, cornstarch, and sesame oil and add to vegetables in wok. Stir constantly until thick and smooth. Pour over fish and serve. Serves 6. Mandarin Crisp Duck 2 tablespoons salt 2 tablespoons Szechuan peppercorns 2 scallions 3 slices fresh ginger 1 duck, approximately 3 to 4 pounds 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce 1/2 cup flour 8 cups cooking oil

Roast salt and peppercorns over low heat in wok until you can smell them, a few minutes. Remove and combine in bowl with scallions and ginger.

Wash, drain and dry duck. Sprinkle body and neck cavities and inside with salt and set aside in refrigerator about 6 hours. Place on platter or tray with ginger and peppercorn mixture and steam over medium heat for 2 hours or until tender. Cool and remove ginger and peppercorn mixture.

Rub duck evenly with soy sauce then dust with flour.

Deep fry in hot oil until crispy and brown.

This recipe can be used equally well with chicken.It is often served with Chinese steamed buns or bao or with Mandarin pancakes.

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