If you were asked to complete the phrase “Chinese takeout …” you would say menu, right? The title “Chinese Takeout Cookbook” is almost an oxymoron. Chinese takeout exists so you don’t have to cook.

Cover courtesy of Hardie Grant

But let’s say that you don’t live in New York City or San Francisco or Cambridge, Mass. Let’s say that you live in a state that is 1.2 percent Asian of all nationalities and cultures and you want some sweet and sour pork for dinner. Or broccoli in garlic sauce. Or wonton soup, and you want it now.

As Kwoklyn Wan, a third-generation Cantonese chef in the U.K. writes, quoting Confucius, “Man who stands on hill with mouth open will wait a long time for roast duck to drop in.”

The book begins with a quick rundown on Chinese food and etiquette (pointing a tea spout at someone is rude, placing chopsticks upright in a bowl denotes death, and duck heads, if served at the table, should point toward the guest). Wan reviews Chinese cooking techniques and necessary equipment. Not surprisingly, he considers a wok to be an essential piece of kitchenware. That said, I am wok-less and made the dish I chose in a skillet.

If you do own a wok, there is a helpful section on caring for it and seasoning a new wok.

“The Chinese Takeout Cookbook” is organized in a clear, conventional way, beginning with starters and soups and then moving on to chapters devoted to chicken and duck, seafood and beef and pork. One chapter is called Vegetarian, but most of the dishes would be considered sides, except perhaps for Crispy Fried Tofu in a Hot and Sour Sauce, and Tofu with Chinese Mushrooms. The Rice & Noodles chapter mostly has variations on chow mein but also provides a good primer on steaming rice.

When reading the recipes to see which one appealed to me, I didn’t linger in the dessert chapter as I have never thought sweet food is a strong point in Cantonese cooking — though Wan does provide a recipe for Iced Coffee Tea which is not a dessert but two beverages squeezed into one.

I enjoyed the Chicken and Cashew Nuts dish that I chose to make. The ingredients were not hard to find and the preparation, like almost all the dishes in the book, took very little time (although, like most cookbook authors, Wan significantly underestimates the time it takes to prepare the ingredients). The flavor of the dish was good, almost comforting and the textures were great: tender chicken, crisp water chestnuts and crunchy, salty cashew nuts.

Many of the dishes rely on one of the pork recipes, Char Sui Pork, which appears as an ingredient in about 10 recipes including soups, chow meins, fried rice and pancake rolls. One way to use this book would be to make the Char Sui Pork and then branch out from there, depending on whether you feel like soup or rice or noodles.

Chicken and Cashew Nuts

Serves 2

1 tablespoon groundnut oil

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped ginger root

2 chicken breast fillets, sliced

1 onion, roughly chopped

1 carrot, finely diced

40 grams (1/4 cup) tinned water chestnuts, sliced into bite-sized disks

30 grams (1/3 cup) tinned bamboo shoots

3 baby corn cobs, cut into bite-sized pieces

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

80 milliliters (1/3 cup) chicken stock

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1 tablespoon cornflour (cornstarch) mixed with 2 tablespoons water

30 grams (1 ounce) salted, roasted cashews nuts

1 teaspoon sesame oil

Place a wok over a medium-high heat, add the groundnut oil, garlic and ginger and fry for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the chicken and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and baby corn and stir-fry for a further 2 minutes. Spoon in the oyster sauce and soy sauce, pour in the stock and add the salt and pepper. Stir well, bring to the boil and then turn down to simmer for 2 minutes.

Pour in the cornflour mixture to thicken the sauce, stirring as you do, then remove from the heat, add the cashew nuts and sesame oil and mix well. Transfer to a serving dish and enjoy.


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