Everyone invariably has their favorite Chinese takeout spot. After all, ordering takeout has become something of a ritual: The white, squat boxes of noodles, fresh out of the wok, and fluffy white rice, the wooden chopsticks and small sacks of crisped-up wontons. But while placing an order for takeout can be a beloved weekly tradition, there’s a certain warmth and comfort to actually making those recipes yourself. And it couldn’t be easier, thanks to Kwoklyn Wan.
The English chef is all about making Chinese takeout a practice that can be recreated at home. His “Chinese Takeout Cookbook” is an ode to that mindset. Having grown up in his father’s Cantonese restaurant in Leicester, England, he’s long been introduced to a wealth of Chinese food recipes. This cookbook highlights an assortment of dishes you’ve probably ordered for yourself at home, from hot and sour tofu to shrimp-studded fried rice. From now on, you’ll be eating a lot of Chinese takeout—but instead of ordering it, you’ll be the chef making it.
In Kwoklyn’s cookbook, he shares his family’s multi-generational story of working with Chinese food; below, you’ll find an excerpt from the book, along with a recipe for chicken and cashew nuts, which will be ready faster than your local delivery person can bike to your house.
This recipe in particular feels like it’s arrived directly from your local establishment, minus the excessive wait time. It comes together in under 15 minutes, allowing you to work with mostly pantry staples: a heaping of crushed garlic, a splash of soy sauce, and a mountain of chopped onions and carrots. As the cooking comes to a close, you’ll quickly notice the divergence of textures: soft, seared chicken and baby corn juxtaposed with crunchy cashew nuts, spooned over a pile or noodles or scoop of white rice. So grab your wok and hang up the phone: Tonight it’s all about homemade Chinese takeout.
Chinese Takeout Cookbook, $17.49 on Amazon
Excerpted with permission from “Chinese Takeout Cookbook” by Kwoklyn Wan
“Man who stands on hill with mouth open will wait a long time for roast duck to drop in.”
Chinese food has long been a favourite weekend treat, with entire families ritualistically ordering their favourite dishes from their local Chinese every Friday night. It could quite easily be the 11th commandment: “Thou shalt have Chinese every Friday!”
This cookbook isn’t my interpretation of what I think Chinese food should taste like—this book is the holy grail of Chinese takeout (and restaurant) trade-secret recipes. Everyone has a favourite dish and this book will help you to re-create those dishes step-by-step with ease and simplicity.
I literally grew up in the kitchens of Chinese restaurants. Unlike other children on my estate, my playground was the kitchen store room and, when it was closed, under the tables in my dad’s Cantonese restaurant. I’m sure if you cut me in half it would say “10 minutes” through the middle (in a broad Chinese accent), which is pretty much what we told every customer who asked how long their order would take to arrive.
Most classic Chinese recipes cook in minutes, therefore there is some preparation to be done before we get our kwok (I mean wok!) on. Careful chopping is a must as you need to ensure that all meat and vegetables are cut uniformly, so everything can cook evenly. Seasoning and sauces also need to be pre-measured because as soon as you fire up that wok, it’s all hands on deck and go, go, go! Well, for 5 minutes at least. Then it’s back to the calm and you can savour the smells of the aromatics as they fill you kitchen before you sit down to eat. Grandad, like many Chinese back in the 1950s, opted to migrate to the UK, a journey that took a month by boat, and on arrival he headed to the Midlands where he settled in Leicester. In 1962 Grandad opened Leicester’s first Chinese restaurant (a chop suey house). Chinese ingredients were very hard to come by, so the menu mainly consisted of British dishes like steak and roast chicken with a few beansprouts or chop suey vegetables thrown in. The restaurant was very popular and was even visited by the Beatles when they played in Leicester in 1964.
Dad managed the restaurant for the family until 1978 when he opened his own restaurant, The Bamboo House, Leicster’s very first Cantonese Restaurant. He sourced two amazing chefs from London and the business took off with a BOOM.
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As you can imagine, it was hard work and took up most of my parents’ time, so in 1983 they bought a restaurant on Fosse Road North in Leicester, which he named The Panda, with living accommodation above; this allowed them to spend more time with us, “The Wan Children.” Little did I know at the time, but this would be the start of my career as a chef. Every weekend and sometimes midweek I would be in the kitchen helping, washing up, peeling prawns or chopping vegetables. It was our way of life and fueled my obsessed with food.
Dad liked that the restaurant was family-run and would often parade us around in front of the diners. There were even times when we sang carols at the tables to regular customers (much to my horror now). At 16, I left school and assumed my role as a full-time chef at The Panda. My days were spent preparing ingredients for the night ahead and in the evenings I created amazing Cantonese and Szechuan dishes. Business was booming; we even made it into The Good Food Guide, where we stayed for several years.
Over the years I’ve run a full-time Kung Fu school, presented a huge martial arts and fitness show, opened a truckers’ cafe, a Taiwanese bubble tea store and a Hong Kong street food bar, yet, despite my many varied business activities over the years, cooking has always remained at the heart of my DNA. It’s as natural as breathing and I cannot remember a time when I couldn’t cook. I feel so lucky to have been able to share my knowledge in a myriad of magazines and newspapers, on the radio, at live events and even on TV, and now via the pages of this book—the ultimate guide to re-creating your favourite Chinese takeout and Cantonese restaurant dishes at home!
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Chinese cooking is frantic and it can feel like a workout as everything happens all at the same time, but with a little bit of TLC and forward planning you’ll be tossing your wok like a pro and creating amazing dishes. In the time it takes to dial the number and order your favourite meal, you could be sitting at the table delving into rich aromatic soups, munching on crispy fried delights and shovelling down the tastiest chow mein dish you’ve ever eaten, all cooked by your own fair hands.
Now less of the chit-chat; get your (K)wok on and enjoy!
Cooks Standard Flat Bottom Wok, $39.99 on Amazon
Chicken and Cashew Nuts Recipe
When cooking Chinese food, it’s always important to think about the flavours and textures of the ingredients. Juicy chicken combined with succulent baby corn and salty, crunchy cashew nuts come together beautifully in this dish.
Chicken and Cashew Nuts
- 1 tbsp groundnut oil
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- ½ tsp finely chopped fresh ginger
- 2 chicken breast fillets, sliced
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 1 carrot, finely diced
- 40g (¼ cup) tinned water chestnuts, sliced into bite-sized discs
- 30g (¼ cup) tinned bamboo shoots
- 3 baby corn cobs, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 80ml (1⁄3 cup) chicken stock
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp white pepper
- 1 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch) mixed with 2 tbsp water
- 30g (1oz) salted, roasted cashew nuts
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- Place a wok over a medium–high heat, add the groundnut oil, garlic and ginger and fry for about 30 seconds, until fragrant.
- Add the chicken and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and baby corn and stir-fry for a further 2 minutes.
- Spoon in the oyster sauce and soy sauce, pour in the stock and add the salt and pepper. Stir well, bring to the boil and then turn down to simmer for 2 minutes.
- Pour in the cornflour mixture to thicken the sauce, stirring as you do, then remove from the heat, add the cashew nuts and sesame oil and mix well. Transfer to a serving dish and enjoy.
Header image by Sam Folan