The Chinese Cookbook

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askmar publishing, Sep 30, 2011 - Cooking
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 First published in 1972, The Chinese Cookbook by Craig Clairborne and Virgina Lee remains one of the best Chinese cookbooks. For many Americans, The Chinese Cookbook opened the door to a world beyond chop suey and egg foo young.”


Virginia Lee had been cooking since age seven. She observed and experimented with Chinese recipes during her extensive travels over China with her family, and after her marriage to Kuang Chao Lee, manager of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. Due to her husband’s position and interest in fine food, many of the finest chefs in China cooked in their kitchen, and furthered her education. After coming to the United States in 1967, she quickly developed the reputation as one of America’s foremost Chinese chefs.

Over a two year period, Virginia Lee worked with Craig Claiborne in his East Hampton’s home kitchen, to clearly and explicitly explain how 250 well know Chinese dishes could be prepared by most American cooks without undue work.

The book is both thorough and easy to understand, written clearly and explicitly to educate even the novice cook. Recipes are categorized by their main ingredient (pork, chicken, beef, seafood, et cetera) with a chapter on desserts.

It provides considerable practical advice about kitchen equipment, methods, and proper cooking techniques, such as the proper ways to carve and present meat. It concludes with a detailed list and description of Chinese ingredients.

New to the 2011 Edition

Electronic books have no fixed page numbers. However, for the purposes of the index, the page numbers listed correspond to hypertext links that are located at the same locations of the original text. (You can click on an index page link and be taken to that portion of the text.) Color illustrations have replaced the orig

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This was one of the first books to emerge during the post-Nixon China visit and remains one of the best Chinese cookbooks in any collection (and I have many). Check out the stir friend pork with straw mushrooms and baby corn, an old Cantonese standby, or the pork with long or green beans. Also excellent is the recipe for Kung Pao chicken, particularly if you augment it with some vegies (I use onion chunks, bell pepper, and asparagus). With Pierre Franey, Claiborne, food critic for the paper, wrote some wonderful "New York Times Cookbooks," chock full of international gourmet selections, and Ms. Lee was already a leading authority on Chinese cooking, aiding Claiborne in making the recipes easy for the American chef. Their fried rice recipe is still popular, though I like mine in the Yangchow style with shrimp, pork, and chicken in combination. There may have been a lot of more comprehensive Chinese cookbooks, as well as several concentrating on the food of a particular region (Hunan, Szechewan, &c.) but this is as good a basic primer as is available.  

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About the author (2011)

Craig Claiborne
Craig Claiborne was one of the three best-known food writers in America during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s during his tenure at the New York Times, the others being Julia Child and James Beard. He legitimized the field of restaurant criticism by maintaining a discreet, anonymous profile in visiting a restaurant and paying his own check. He would evaluate the restaurant’s food, ambience, and service, giving a rating between zero and four stars. Previously, it was common for reviewers to be paid by the very restaurants they were critiquing. Claiborne's ample knowledge of gastronomy commanded respect by restaurateurs who used his reviews to improve themselves.

He popularized the cuisines of China, Vietnamese, Indian, Brazilian, and a dozen more by having experts raised in the particular traditions to come to his house and cook where he would take meticulous notes, than write about them in the New York Times.

His first and most popular book, The New York Times Cookbook of 1961, sold over three million copies and was eventually translated into seventeen languages. He co-wrote (with Virginia Lee) the first American cookbook of genuine Chinese cuisine, The Chinese Cookbook, published in 1972, as well as twenty other cookbooks, including Craig Claiborne’s Memorable Meals and Craig Claiborne’s Southern Cooking.

Born September 4, 1920 in Sunflower, Mississippi, he grew up in Indianola, Mississippi. He received a degree in journalism from the University of Mississippi. After working in public relations, he enrolled in the L'Ecole Hôtelière Professional School of the Swiss Hotel Keepers Association in Lausanne, Switzerland.

He lived most of his adult life in Manhattan and East Hampton, Long Island. He was known for his elaborate New Year’s Eve and birthday parties, as well as his Fourth of July picnics. He died of a heart attack on January 22, 2000.
“Why Craig Claiborne Matters,” by Georgeanna Milam Chapman, Master’s Thesis, 2007, University of Mississippi at Oxford (reformatted July 2011)
Virginia Lee
Virginia Lee came to the United States in 1967. She started teaching Chinese cooking after being interviewed by Craig Claiborne for an article in The New York Times. Teaching only 10 students at a time, one of her early students was Craig Claiborne. She subsequently co-authored The Chinese Cookbook with him in 1972.

A native of Shanghai, she attended Keene's School in Tianjin and studied at Peking University. Her husband, K. C. Lee, was a businessman and manager of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. She had three sons in Hong Kong and two daughters in the United States.

“After I was married,” she said, “we entertained a lot because of my husband's position and his interest in fine food. And in our day, we had some of the finest chefs of China in our kitchen. They taught me how to cook. Wherever we were, I would send my cooks to the kitchens of restaurants to learn how to make certain dishes, and as often as not, I'd ask to go myself.”


In her teaching, she emphasized methods by which dishes were prepared exactly as they would be in China.

Virginia Lee died of cancer in Manhattan at age 76 on October 16, 1981.

 

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