Many Talking Points readers already have their turkey, ham, or tofu creation planned for Thanksgiving. Some, however, may be looking for something a bit different. So we contacted Sylvia Wu, the legendary force behind Madame Wu’s Garden, for four decades one of Los Angeles's most famous eateries.
Madame Wu was born in Jiujiang on the Yangzi River. She came to the U.S. to attend Columbia University’s Teachers College in 1944. There she married King Yan Wu, an MIT graduate from Hong Kong and grandson of Wu Tingfang, China's first ambassador to the United States. Madame Wu’s Cantonese cuisine attracted a large following, including entertainment celebrities and political giants. Madame Wu ran her Santa Monica restaurant until 1998. By then she’d published popular cookbooks (Madame Wu’s Art of Chinese Cooking and Cooking with Madame Wu: Yin and Yang Recipes for Longevity), a memoir (Memories of Madame Wu) and a remembrance of Song Qingling, the widow of Sun Yatsen (Memories of Madame Sun). She's had a busy semi-retirement, producing Madame Wu’s Garden: A Pictorial History. She's at work on a second memoir.
Madame Wu immediately suggested sharing one of her best known fusion efforts, a Chinese chicken salad dish inspired by a conversation with her longtime customer and friend Cary Grant. She also selected another of her signature dishes, Wu’s Beef. One of her children, federal judge George Wu, suggested a dish to utilize leftover turkey – stir fry turkey on spinach.
The first two recipes are from Madame Wu’s Art of Chinese Cooking.
Wu’s Beef **Ng See Ngau Yoke**
Happy Thanksgiving! 祝你感恩节快乐！
1 piece of filet mignon or flank steak (about 1 pound), gristle removed
(Thinly sliced along the grain into strips 2” long, 1/2” wide, ¼” thick)
2 quarts vegetable oil
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 ½ tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 ½ teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon Hoisin sauce
½ teaspoon red cooking wine
½ teaspoon sugar (optional)
Pinch salt and pepper
1/3 package Chinese rice noodles
½ coarsely chopped onions
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
Marinate the beef for 15 minutes in a blend of 1 tablespoon each of vegetable oil, cornstarch, and dark soy sauce, 2 teaspoons light soy sauce, 1 teaspoon Hoisin sauce, ½ teaspoon cooking wine, and a pinch of sugar, salt, and pepper.
In a deep fryer bring the remaining vegetable oil (about 2 quarts) to 400° F. over high heat. (To test for readiness, drop in one strand of the rice noodles and if it pops up immediately the oil is hot enough.) Put in the skein of noodles, and they will explode into a large puff upon contact with the oil. Take out immediately and set aide to drain on the paper toweling.
In a preheated wok or skillet, coat the sides and the bottom over high heat with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Quick-fry the chopped onions for 1 minute then add the marinated beef and cook for 2 more minutes. Stir very little or the meat will become too watery.)
Make a thickening of 3 tablespoons water, 1 teaspoon oyster sauce, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, ¼ teaspoon sugar, ½ teaspoon light soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce. When smooth, add to the beef and onion mixture stirring for 1 minute. Remove from heat.
To serve, place the noodles on a platter and spoon the beef mixture over them. Do not mix.
Pete and Gayle Wilson celebrate the Governor's 60th birthday at Madame Wu's Garden (1993)
Toasted Shredded Chicken Salad **Sao See Gai**
2 chicken breasts or drumstick thighs (Put in a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes; remove and drain on paper toweling)
Have Ready For Deep-Fry:
2 quarts vegetable oil
8 squares wonton dough cut into 1/8” strips
1/3 package rice noodles
Chicken (prepared as above)
Pour the 2 quarts of oil into a deep fryer and heat to 350° F. Test for readiness by dropping one of the rice noodles into the oil. If it sinks to the bottom, the oil is not hot enough. When it pops up immediately put the dough strips and fry to a light tan color. Remove and drain on a paper towel. .
Divide the noodles into 3 parts and deep-fry separately. The noodles should “explode” on contact with the hot oil and should be instantly removed before the oil is absorbed. Drain on paper toweling.
Now deep fry the chicken meat for 5 minutes. Remove, drain on toweling, bone and cut into strips, including the skin.
Makes 2 cups.
Have Ready For Chicken Salad:
2 cups cooked chicken meat
1 teaspoon liquid mustard
¼ teaspoon 5-spice powder (optional)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
3 tablespoons toasted almonds, chopped fine
½ cup thinly sliced green onions, using only bulb and white stem
½ teaspoon salt
Put the chicken meat in a large bowl. Add the mustard, Five-Spice powder, sesame oil, soy sauce, almonds, green onions, salt, and mix well.
Add the crisp fried wonton strips and noodles and mix thoroughly. The will break into small bits by the mixing. Pile the salad over the lettuce bed, but do not toss; it will become soggy.
Cary Grant and Madame Wu (ca. 1966)
Stir-fried turkey on spinach
(created by George Wu)
1 and 1/2 pounds of left over turkey meat cut into bite sized pieces (dark meat is preferable)
1 package frozen uncut leaf spinach
1 cup Chinese string beans (ends cut off and cut 1 and ½ inch in length) (one can substitute asparagus or even broccoli).
3 tbsp minced scallions
2 and 1/2 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp minced peeled ginger
1 and 1/2 tbsp Chinese chili paste or chili oil (or more or less or none depending on if you like it spicy or not)
1 and 1/2 tbsp hoisin sauce
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 and 1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 and 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
2 and 1/2 tbsp rice wine
3 and 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sugar
2 and 1/2 tsp Chinese black vinegar
3 tbsp peanut oil
Cut turkey meat and put aside.
Mince garlic, scallions and ginger, combine and put aside (while mincing by hand is preferable, this task can be done in a food processor on a "pulse" setting).
Cut string beans and place in boiling water for 2 minutes (a bit longer for thick asparagus or broccoli). Thoroughly drain and pat dry.
Put frozen spinach in hot water to thaw out. Thoroughly drain and squeeze in hand or cheesecloth to remove water. Arrange spinach around and in center of a serving platter.
Place in a bowl the chicken stock, soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, Chinese black vinegar, cornstarch, and sesame oil. Stir so that cornstarch and sugar are not clumped on bottom.
In a wok or extremely large frying place over very high heat, add peanut oil and wait until it is very hot (to the point of just smoking).
Add scallion, garlic and ginger mixture and stir so that it doesn't burn.
Add chili paste/oil and stir. Add hoisin sauce and stir. Add string beans and stir once and cook at least 30 seconds. Add turkey pieces and stir.
Immediately stir chicken stock mixture in bowl and add it to the wok/pan.
Cook stirring periodically until mixture thickens. Pour over spinach on the serving platter.