Food and Wine’s April 2018 edition was called “The Spring Wine Issue”. One particular article by the author of “The Flavor Matrix”, James Briscione caught my eye. Well, actually, what caught my eye was the wok filled with strips of chicken, green peppers and cilantro. The prescribed pairing was a Sauvignon Blanc preferably one from New Zealand. The wine was described as having flavors of hay, green grass and floral herbs that pair especially well with the spicy, peppery flavors of coriander and cumin. I couldn’t wait to make it. And then I couldn’t wait to amp it up.
When I tasted it, I was instantly reminded of the flavors of Xi’an Famous Foods, a New York-only success story and another chapter of Chinese cooking in America. The cumin, particularly, instantly signaled the flavor of a dish I am passionate about. Last winter, I trudged through something like 24 inches of snow to get to the Chinatown branch of Xi’an Famous Foods, one of its twelve locations in the city. There, a spicy, cumin-flavored lamb ‘sauce’ is combined with hand-ripped noodles which are wider and more chewy than hand-pulled noodles which are thinner. The thicker noodles hold onto the flavors. I honestly have never gotten past this dish to sample any others. But for the home cook, the prospect of hand-made noodles, whether pulled or ripped is next to zero, at least in my kitchen. That’s what made Food and Wine’s recipe such a gift.
Chinese cooking in America has a history that closely follows the paths of immigration from China. The earliest Chinese food consumed in this country was the result of Chinese laborers brought to this country to build railroads in the American West. These early Chinese pioneers had to make do with whatever ingredients reminded them of home. Dishes like Chop Suey are purely Chinese American inventions. The majority of early Chinese arrivals came from Canton (Guangdong) province. Cantonese cooking is only one of 8 Chinese culinary traditions. However, the number of immigrants from Guangdong meant that most restaurants in America served Cantonese cooking. As immigration patterns changed, newly arrived Chinese from two other traditions were introduced: From Sichuan province, known for its spicy flavors came such dishes as Kung Pao Chicken. Hunan Cuisine, from the western province of Hunan, came to America with its hot and spicy flavors and its liberal use of chili peppers, shallots and garlic. Xi’an cooking represents yet another wave of Chinese immigration this time from the north of China. Xi’an Famous Foods is the latest addition to Chinese cooking in America. And it comes with an Only-In-America immigrant success story.
Jason Wang, CEO and President of Xi’an Famous Foods, and his family are natives of Xi’an, one of China’s cities with a 3100 year history. Xi’an is most well-known among Americans for its Terra Cotta warriors. The city itself is where the Silk Road began. The Silk Road was used to describe the ancient network of trade routes that connected Asia to the West and stretched from Korea and Japan to the Mediterranean Sea. Cumin is Middle Eastern in origin and likely came to Xi’an along this very route.
Once in America, the Wangs dearly missed their grandfather’s cooking and so they set about making dishes with his recipes. Wang’s father, started a Tea Shop in in Flushing New York, but the family soon realized that the few dishes they offered sold better than their tea and Xi’an Famous Foods was born. It’s first location was in Flushing’s Golden Shopping Mall. Wang’s grandfather’s recipes are the backbone of the business. They include more than 20 ingredients and are closely guarded secrets. And while today’s recipe doesn’t even come close to that, it will still allow you to sample, at its most simple, this rich, exciting cumin flavored style of cooking. I altered the original recipe considerably to make sure that you could easily make it. By the way, this picture of the green peppers includes a strange shaped instrument. It’s a Peeling Knife which I bought in Vietnam and which seems to be a combination of peeler and mandolin. It’s a wonderful addition to our kitchens. Here is the recipe:
Stir-Fried Chicken, Green Peppers and Cilantro with Xian Province flavors Of Cumin and Coriander
Xi'an Famous Foods in New York has introduced a new flavor profile in Chinese Cuisine. Here is a simple way to sample what Cumin and Coriander can bring to a Stir Fry.
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into thin strips
- 3 tablespoons Shaoxing wine or dry sherry, divided
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed or peanut oil, divided
- 2 green bell peppers, cut into matchsticks
- 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 red chile, thinly sliced
- 4 tablespoons sliced garlic
- 2 tablespoons coarsely ground cumin seeds
- 2 teaspoons cracked coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Cooked white rice, for serving
- Step 1 Combine chicken, 1 tablespoon wine, soy sauce, and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Toss to coat, and let stand 10 minutes.
- Step 2 Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wok or large, heavy skillet over high. Add bell peppers, onion, chile, and garlic, and cook, stirring, until peppers and onion are crisp- tender, about 4 minutes. Place vegetables on a plate, and return wok to heat.
- Step 3 Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in wok, and add cumin and coriander and cook 10 seconds. Add chicken, and cook, stirring, until chicken is just cooked through. Return vegetables to wok, and sprinkle with sugar and salt. Add remaining 2 tablespoons wine to pan, and cook, scraping and folding mixture, until steaming and coated in a light sauce. Remove from heat, and fold in cilantro and black pepper. Serve stir-fry with rice.