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In my old neighborhood in Manhattan, there was a Chinese restaurant that made sesame chicken in a way I have been unable to find elsewhere. It was braised rather than fried, and was served with vermicelli noodles and crunchy vegetables with a light brown sauce. I can’t find a recipe. Do you know anywhere this is served?
In my old neighborhood in Brooklyn there was a Chinese restaurant that made a dish called Yunnan chicken that I have been unable to find elsewhere. The meat — dark, dense, velvety in texture — was fried and then tossed in a thick, fiery brown sauce studded with button mushrooms. For a time I ate it weekly, sometimes in a sticky booth near the back of the restaurant, other times in front of my television at home, where I changed the channels with the aid of a pair of small vise grips that had replaced a broken dial.
When the owners of the restaurant got their youngest child through college, they closed the place and moved to Florida. I have in the years since searched restaurants across the city to find a similar dish. No luck. I have tried to cook it at home, to no avail.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying: No, and you’ll drive yourself crazy looking. You remember that sesame chicken as being perfect, as I do the Yunnan chicken of my own experience. But it probably wasn’t, and if you were confronted with it now, it might be a downer, a stale madeleine. It’s time to move on.
Do you like watching cooking shows, such as those on the Food Network, and can you learn anything from them? Or are they a waste of time?
I don’t like the competition shows, and learn very little from what happens when a line cook is given a turnip, a Mars bar and a red snapper then told to make dinner in 30 minutes. But the travel programs — Andrew Zimmern’s, Anthony Bourdain’s and, yes, Guy Fieri’s — are a different kettle of fish (or bugs, in Zimmern’s case).
I like those diners, drive-ins and dives that Fieri visits, and learn a great deal from the men and women who cook and fist-bump with him along the way. You can decry the man’s aspect and sunglasses and hair. But to watch his show is to know that there is really, really good food in this country, if only you take the time to look for it.
Could you provide menus to go with John Sandford’s “Saturn Run” and Patti Smith’s “M Train”?
Mr. Sandford’s a futurist, and his latest book concerns space war near Saturn, circa 2066. So I’m thinking maybe you could just sip on a pouch of Soylent and call that dinner good. For Patti Smith’s “M Train,” her latest memoir, you should follow her lead and consume good brown bread with olive oil every morning, accompanied by a bottomless cup of coffee. She calls it her “substance of choice.”
I am living in a small town in Turkey for a year with two Turks who are very good cooks. They have been teaching me how to cook Turkish classics, and I would like to return the favor, but am forced to wonder: What meals are quintessentially American? Aside from the clichés of burgers and apple pie, I often draw a blank, especially when faced with the limitations of my local market’s shelves.
Can you find a chicken? Because if you can, and you fry it up in the Nashville hot-chicken style popularized in The Times by Melissa Clark, you’ll be eating American food at its crispest and most fiery. Serve on slices of the softest, whitest bread you can find, with a thatch of coleslaw and a cold yellow beer. This is a great nation.
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