TV chef Martin Yan still teaches enjoyment of food

| Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Martin Yan is one of the pioneers of the television cooking-show genre that first introduced gourmet chefs who not only taught viewers how to prepare foods, they also had fun doing it.

“When I started out in the U.S. market in 1982, there were only a few of us, including Julia Child (‘The French Chef') and Graham Kerr (‘The Galloping Gourmet'),” says Yan, a certified master chef. “Now, there are more than a hundred cooking and reality shows with talented chefs.”

His “Yan Can Cook” series on PBS is one of the longest continuously running cooking shows in a TV-programming category that has evolved into a multifaceted entertainment industry. He has hosted other public-television series, including “Martin Yan's China,” a travelogue and cooking show in which he teaches Asian cooking and explores the cultures of the people who represent various cuisines.

Yan, who will demonstrate some of his recipes at Pittsburgh area Market District stores this weekend, says cooking shows have changed since he got started in the business in 1978 in Calgary, Canada, where he did 520 shows before coming to the States to work with PBS.

Besides the obvious changes in technology that have led to more-advanced cooking tools and better-equipped TV studio kitchens, Yan says many of today's television chefs are the main attraction — as much as the food they prepare.

“Nowadays, a lot of Food Network chefs are personalities who are about making a statement,” he says. “Some have wild hairdos and tattoos. Julia Child and I were so conservative compared to them.”

Yan says he's more concerned with teaching people how to enjoy wonderful food.

“That's my goal. I don't want to be famous. I don't have a hairstylist or a makeup artist,” he says.

Yan was born in Guangzhou, China, and trained at Hong Kong's Overseas Institute of Cookery and University of California, Davis, where he earned a master's degree in Food Science. He has taught at the California Culinary Academy, Johnson & Wales University, The Chinese Cuisine Institute in Hong Kong and The Culinary Institute of America. In 1985, he founded the Yan Can International Cooking School in San Francisco and has written several cookbooks, many of them as companions to his TV series.

With the emphasis on healthy eating today, Yan says he tries to prepare dishes that are poached or steamed, avoiding deep-fried foods and limiting salt in his cooking. He finds it easier now to locate exotic ingredients in local supermarkets and likes making quick and easy stir-fry meals.

“Fifteen years ago, I'd visit a market like Giant Eagle and only find bean sprouts, tofu and bok choy. Now, a lot of Asian produce is available that most people have never seen before,” the chef says, “and they want to learn about the unusual foods people have in other parts of the world.”

Yan lives in the San Francisco area and regularly travels to various regions in China and places like Thailand, Manila, Malaysia and Vietnam, where he completed 26 shows to air later this year for a new reality series, “Martin Yan: Taste of Vietnam,” filmed for a Ho Chi Minh City TV channel.

He recently opened an authentic modern Chinese restaurant near his home, M.Y. China, which features an open kitchen and wok cooking for an exhibition dining experience.

“Going out to eat is part of our lifestyle, and people want to be entertained,” he says. “My restaurant is like a theater, and the kitchen becomes a stage.” He plans to open another M.Y. China eatery in the northern California wine country by the end of the year.

Yan says Americans are becoming more appreciative and adventurous, more accepting and more sophisticated because of TV, cookbooks and the fact that people travel widely.

“I think the American palate will continue to expand and grow and be more adventurous,” he says.

Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

Red-cooked Chicken

For the chicken: 12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces

For the marinade:

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon sugar

18 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

2 teaspoons Shao Hsing rice wine

2 teaspoons dark soy sauce

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

For dish preparation:

2 tablespoons cooking oil

4 ounces preserved duck, diced

5 medium-size shallots, peeled

2 stalks spring onions, cut into 1 14-inch lengths

4 slices gingerroot, crushed

1 12 cups chicken stock

2 medium-size fresh red chiles, seeded, sliced

2 medium-size fresh green chiles, seeded, sliced

To prepare the chicken and marinade: Combine the chicken and marinade ingredients. Mix well and set aside for 15 minutes.

To prepare the dish: Heat a wok over medium heat until hot. Swirl in the oil to coat the sides. Add the duck, shallots, spring onions and ginger; stir-fry for 20 seconds. Add the chicken; stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the chiles; cook for 3 to 4 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.

Phoenix & Dragon Longevity Noodles

This is a perfect dish to use freshly make noodles. That's what I do. The combination of rice noodles (fun) and hand-pulled noodles (La-mein) makes it interesting.

For the chicken and shrimp:14 pound boneless, pork or chicken, cut into 2-inch juliennes

14 pound medium-size raw shrimp, peeled and deveined, halved

1 teaspoon cornstarch

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the sauce:

1 cup soup stock

3 tablespoons oyster-flavored sauce

1 tablespoon chile sauce

For dish preparation:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 medium-size cloves garlic, minced

1 medium-size shallot, thinly sliced

1 fresh red jalapeno chile, thinly sliced

1 medium-size rib celery, thinly sliced diagonally

2 cups rice noodles

1 12 cups cooked egg noodles

2 large eggs, lightly beaten, made into a thin omelet, shredded

For serving:

1 teaspoon sesame oil, for serving

14 cup sesame seed, toasted, for serving

To prepare the chicken and shrimp: In a medium-size bowl, combine the chicken, shrimp, cornstarch, salt and pepper, and stir to coat.

To prepare the sauce: Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl; mix well.

To prepare the dish: Heat a stir-fry pan over high heat until hot. Add the oil, swirling to coat the sides. Add the garlic, shallot, and chile; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chicken and the shrimp; stir-frying until the shrimp turn pink, about 2 minutes.

Add the celery and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the noodles and sauce; cook, stirring gently until chicken is no longer pink and noodles are heated through, about 2 minutes. Add the shredded egg.

To serve: Sprinkle with sesame oil and toasted sesame seed then serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Curried Chicken in Lettuce Cups

For the lettuce cups:

10 each lettuce leaves or toasted bread slices

For the chicken:

9 ounces boneless, skinless, chicken thigh, diced

For the marinade:

1 tablespoon cornstarch

14 teaspoon salt

18 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

2 tablespoons chicken stock

For the seasonings:

2 teaspoons curry powder

2 teaspoons sugar

12 teaspoon 5-spice powder

18 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons chicken stock

1 tablespoon Shao Hsing rice wine

2 teaspoons soy sauce

For dish preparation:

2 tablespoons cooking oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon minced gingerroot

1 stalk spring onion, chopped

2 small fresh red chiles, minced

4 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked, stems removed, diced

6 fresh water chestnuts, peeled, diced

14 cup frozen peas and carrots, thawed

1 small onion, diced

3 tablespoon frozen corn, thawed

To prepare the lettuce cups: Separate and wash the lettuce leaves. Trim each lettuce leaf into circles 10 centimeters in diameter. Pat the lettuce leaves dry with paper towels and arrange them on a serving plate. Refrigerate.

To prepare the chicken and marinade: Combine the chicken and marinade ingredients. Mix well and set aside for 15 minutes.

To prepare the seasonings: Combine the seasoning ingredients and mix well.

To prepare the dish: Heat a wok over high heat until hot. Swirl in the oil to coat the sides. Add the garlic, gingerroot, spring onion and chiles; stir-fry for 10 seconds. Add the chicken; stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the remaining ingredients and the seasonings. Stir-fry for another minute.

To serve: Heap 2 tablespoons of the curried chicken in the center of the lettuce cup, wrap up and eat out of hand or spread on toasted bread to make a sandwich.

Makes 10 servings.

Chrysanthemum Fish in Sweet Vinegar Sauce

For the fish:

1 pound firm, white fish fillets, such as catfish

1 teaspoon salt

14 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

For the seasonings:

14 cup ketchup

14 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons plum sauce

3 tablespoons chicken stock

2 tablespoons firmly packed light-brown sugar

1 tablespoon pickled cucumber or ginger

For dish preparation:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

14 cup finely chopped celery

14 cup finely chopped carrot

14 cup finely chopped onion

14 cup finely chopped sweet green bell pepper

Vegetable oil for deep-frying

14 cup cornstarch

To prepare the fish: Lay one of the fillets on a cutting board with the tail end facing you.

Working with a thin-bladed knife and holding the blade parallel to the cutting board, cut through the center of the fillet starting at one of the long sides. Do not cut all the way through the fillet: The idea is to butterfly it, so it opens like a book.

Close the fillet back up and cut it crosswise—through the uncut side into 12-inch strips. Sprinkle the fish fillets with salt and pepper. Let stand for 10 minutes.

To prepare the seasonings: Stir the ketchup, vinegar, plum sauce, chicken stock, brown sugar and pickled cucumber or ginger in a small bowl until well-blended.

To prepare the dish: Heat a 2-quart saucepan over high heat until hot. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom. Add the celery, carrot, onion and bell pepper and stir-fry until the carrots are tender-crisp, for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in the seasoning mix, bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to low to keep the sauce warm.

Pour enough vegetable oil into the wok to fill it to 3 inches. Heat over medium heat to 375 degrees. Dust the fish strips with cornstarch to coat them lightly and shake gently to remove any excess. Hold one of the fish strips by the uncut end and slowly lower the cut end into the oil.

Move the fish constantly as you lower it so the cut ends begin to curl. When the ends begin to curl, release the fish into the oil. Repeat with as many of the remaining fish fillets as will fit into the oil without crowding. Cook until golden brown, for about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the fillets with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining fillet strips.

Arrange the fried fillets on a warm platter with the curled ends facing up or toward the side. Spoon the sauce over the fish and serve immediately.

Makes 4 side-dish servings.

Five-flavor Crispy Chicken

For the marinade:

1 teaspoon 5-spice powder

1 teaspoon each minced ginger, garlic, fresh red chile and shallot

1 large egg

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon Shao Hsing rice wine

12 teaspoon sesame oil

For the chicken:

Cooking oil for deep-frying

10 12 ounces chicken thighs, halved

12 cup cornstarch for coating

For the sauce:

1 teaspoon sugar

12 teaspoon 5-spice powder

12 cup chicken stock

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

2 teaspoons Chin Kiang vinegar

1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved with 2 tablespoons water

For the garnish:

1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted

To prepare the marinade: Combine the marinade ingredients and marinate the chicken for 20 minutes.

To prepare the chicken: Heat the oil in a wok over high heat until it smokes, then reduce the heat to medium high. Drain the excess marinade from the chicken, coat in the cornstarch and deep-fry the chicken for 10 to 12 minutes, or until it is golden brown. Remove the chicken, drain and arrange on a serving plate.

To prepare the sauce: Combine the sauce ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the cornstarch solution and stir until the sauce thickens.

To serve: Pour the sauce over the chicken, and garnish with the sesame seeds.

Makes 4 servings.

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