Excerpt from At the Chinese Table by Carolyn Phillips, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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At the Chinese Table

A Memoir with Recipes

by Carolyn Phillips

At the Chinese Table by Carolyn Phillips X
At the Chinese Table by Carolyn Phillips
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    Jun 2021, 304 pages


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Print Excerpt

Which means that I'm trapped in a place that makes no sense and I have no way out. It's like one of those fairy tales where the trees close behind me after each step and only a murky path forward shows itself. I feel my way along the dirt, stumbling over rocks. I am now so deep in the forest that even starlight cannot guide my feet. If I stop, a branch creeps up and nudges me onward. I almost hope that a witch's hut is around the bend, because frankly I could kill for some gingerbread, or, even better, a little conversation in English with some wizened crone before she tried to stuff me into her oven.

At least I'd know what was going on.

Taiwanese Fried Pork Chops
Táishì zhá páigŭ 台式炸排骨

Memorize this recipe. It will become beloved.

2 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 tablespoons mild rice wine
1 tablespoon regular Chinese soy sauce
1 teaspoon five-​spice powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper

The rest
2 boneless pork chops (about 12 ounces | 350 g total)
1 cup | 140 g sweet-​potato starch
Oil for frying
Sea salt, as needed

First, prepare the marinade by mixing together the garlic, rice wine, soy sauce, five-​spice, optional cayenne, and black pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Pat the chops dry with a paper towel. The chops should be no more than ½ inch | 1 cm thick at this point, so slice heftier cuts in half horizontally. Lay one chop on your board and use the flat back of a heavy knife (not the blade) to whack up and down the chop so that the entire surface becomes tightly ridged. Turn the chop 90 degrees and whack up and down again, and really work on any streaks of fat, as that is where the tendons hide. Turn the chop over and whack the other side. When you are finished, the chop should be thin (no more than ¼ inch | 6 mm thick) and look almost fluffy, but not falling apart. Repeat this step with the other chop or chops. Flip the chops around in the marinade to coat both sides. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes, and up to a couple of hours.

Pour the starch into a wide bowl and set a large plate or baking sheet next to it. Dip one of the chops in the starch, carefully coating it completely, then gently shake off any excess and set the chop on the prepared plate or pan. Repeat with the other chop.

Pour about 1 inch | 2 cm of oil into a wok and heat over medium-​high heat. When the tip of a wooden or bamboo chopstick inserted in the hot oil is immediately covered with bubbles, slide one of the chops into the oil so that it lies flat, cover the wok with a spatter guard, and fry the pork, turning once, until it is golden brown and crispy on both sides. Remove the chop to a clean cutting board and repeat with the other chop. When the pork is cool enough to handle, cut it crosswise into strips and sprinkle lightly with salt. Serve with hot steamed rice and whatever condiments sound good to you. The Garlic Chile Sauce on page 147 is a delectable accompaniment.

Serves 2 as an entrée, 4 as part of a multicourse meal.

Sweet-​potato starch is classic here and will always give you the best results, period. It's available online, so try to hunt it down. Cornstarch will do if you must have fried pork chops and cannot wait—​be assured that I fully understand and approve. Tapioca starch is a third option, but since it has a tendency to turn gummy whenever it goes on too thickly, proceed accordingly.

Excerpted from At the Chinese Table: A Memoir With Recipes. Copyright (c) 2021 by Carolyn Phillips. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

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