One of the most interesting things that Andy Coe discovered in his research for Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States, was the eventually unclassified quote from Henry Kissinger, “After a dinner of Peking Duck I’ll agree to anything.” The way to a man’s heart and head is clearly through his stomach.
But as Coe pointed out, there has always been a bit of politics entwined with our Peking Duck, from the Exclusion Act in 1882 to the 1965 Immigration Act, which re-opened Chinese immigration to the U.S. And Nixon’s negotiations with the Chinese made Americans pursue authenticity–or at least venture beyond chop suey to a somewhat sticky-sweet General Tso’s Chicken.
If you’d like an insider’s view of this transformation, visit Cedric Yeh’s blog where he recounts growing up in a Chinese restaurant family. Yeh is a curator at the National Museum of American History and is researching an exhibit on American Chinese food scheduled to open in February 2011.
I also use CHoW meetings as an excuse to bake, and unless I’m desperate to try a recipe, I look for something that will fit the theme. I wasn’t about to schlep a wok to the meeting (and we can’t cook there anyway) and Chinese Almond Cookies seemed too obvious. But in looking for recipes I came across Chinese Five Spice Cocoa, which I though would adapt well to cookies, so I made these:
Chinese Five Spice Chocolate Cookies
(adapted from Big Fat Cookies by Elinor Klivans)
2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp five spice powder (ground star anise, fennel seeds, cinnamon, sichuan peppercorns, cloves)
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside. Beat together the butter and sugar until blended, beat in the egg and vanilla. On low speed add the flour, mixing until incorporated and the dough is smooth.
Roll spoonfuls of the dough into balls, flatten them and bake on a greased cookie sheet at 325 degrees for about 10 minutes.
They’re not the prettiest things ever, but they are very chocolatey, have a nice spicy bite, and the sichuan peppercorns leave a nice buzz on your tongue after the cookie is gone.
By coincidence, I got this update about Elinor Klivan’s new book on cakes, just a day before the meeting–another variation on the five spice theme.