If it was Sunday night it was the New Moon Chinese Restaurant. I would order the Mu Shu, my sister would order the Hot & Sour Soup and my parents did what passed for experimentation at “Chinese” restaurants in San Diego in the 70s: ordering something different every time. The evening would generally conclude with a “Help! Help! I’m a prisoner in a Chinese Fortune Cookie factory” joke and we would be back for more in a week.
The New Moon is long gone as are most of the Chinese restaurants of that day and age: Kip’s, Land of China and many others. One of the few I remember from the time that can still be found is the Gen Lai Sen Seafood Restaurant on the East Village side of downtown San Diego.
While Gen Lai Sen was a little different from many of its contemporaries, most of the Chinese Restaurants of the day were more Chinese-American in nature than they were purveyors of genuine Chinese fare. It was much the same as classic “Italian-American” food that bears only a passing resemblance to the cuisine of Tuscany, Piedmont or Sicily.
There were a lot of reasons for this. First and foremost amongst those reasons may have been immigration patterns. The first wave of Chinese immigration into this country occurred in the nineteenth century. Waves of Chinese immigrants were essential to this country at the time, building railroads, digging mines and engaging in other types of hard physical labor. These workers were fed by other Cantonese immigrants who set up “chow chows” and other simple restaurants.
But in 1882 this Chinese immigration came to a grinding halt with the Chinese Exclusion Act. And with the immigration the flow of knowledge, culinary skill and demand slowed. By the middle of the twentieth century “Chinese” food in the United States revolved around a series of staple Chinese-American dishes that, at times, bore only a passing resemblance to genuine Chinese food: Wonton, Egg Drop and Hot & Sour Soups, Fried Rice, Egg Foo Young, Moo Goo Gai Pan, Chow Mein, Chop Suey and the like.
But things were about to change. In the space of seven years two momentous events occurred: the Immigration Act of 1965, which reopened America’s doors to Chinese, and President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. In the years since then America has come to understand that Chinese cuisine is at least distinct, different and as regionalized as the cuisines of any European country. From the grand Dim Sum parlors and Mandarin palaces to the fiery flavors of Hunan and Szechuan, America has developed an understanding and hankering for genuine Chinese food.
Lost somewhere in this process of discovery and in the fog of time is the Chinese-American food so prevalent in the middle part of the 20th Century. Most of its purveyors are gone, and those who still ply that trade are graying at the temples and fraying at the edges. When, at last, they do disappear something of value will be lost. Perhaps it was not genuine Chinese food but it was something in and of itself.
And for me, at the New Moon Chinese Restaurant on those Sunday nights it was, indeed, the Mu Shu. Sometimes I would order the pork with which the dish is usually associated. But sometimes, depending on what my parents ordered, it might be chicken or even beef. On this Sunday night we would make it with duck. While duck breasts sound more luxurious we find the legs more deeply flavored. In lieu of the genuine Chinese-style pancake wrappers we chose to adapt crepes to the purpose.
MU SHU DUCK
For the Wrappers:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs
- 1 ½ cups milk
- Large pinch of salt
- About 2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil for cooking
For the Filling:
- 3 duck legs
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 ½ cups of shredded cabbage (green or napa)
- 1 cup julienned carrot
- 3 scallions, chopped
- 6 button mushrooms, sliced
- ¼ cup dried black fungus, rehydrated
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons Xao Shing wine (or dry sherry)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch or arrowroot
- 1 tablespoon water
- Hoisin sauce
1. Marinate and cook the Duck Legs. Marinate the duck legs in the soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic and ginger for two hours (or overnight). Preheat the oven to 375° F. Remove the duck legs from the marinade and pat dry. Roast the duck legs until it reaches your desired level of doneness (about 1 ½ hours for medium rare to two hours for well done). When it is cool enough to do so, shred the duck leg meat.
2. Make the Crepe Wrappers. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with an “S” blade, mix together the flour, milk, eggs, and salt and blend for at least 1 minute. Using a kitchen brush, apply a light coating of oil to the bottom of a griddle or sauté pan (preferably NOT a nonstick pan) over medium heat. Wait 2-3 minutes for the pan to become hot, with evenly-distributed heat. Pour the batter onto the griddle or pan, using approximately 1/8 cup for each crepe. Tilt the pan with a circular motion so that the batter coats the surface evenly (the batter should be quite thin). Cook the crepe for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is light brown. Loosen with a spatula, turn and cook the other side. Do not be too concerned if the first one sticks to the pan – a nearly necessary ritual sacrifice to the crepe gods.
3. Make the Filling. Heat the wok over medium-high to high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil, swirling along the sides. When the oil is hot, add beaten eggs and scramble until they are quite firm. Remove the eggs from the wok. Clean out the wok. Add two tablespoons of oil to the wok and, when hot, add the cabbage, carrots and scallions and cook for two minutes (until the cabbage just starts to wilt). Remove the vegetables. Add another tablespoon of oil to the wok and, when hot, add the mushrooms and dry fungus for two minutes. Add the Xao Shing wine, soy sauce and sesame oil to the wok and bring to temperature. Combine the cornstarch and water and temper with a bit of the wine mixture. Add the slurry and all the filling ingredients.
4. Assemble the Dish. Spread about a teaspoon of Hoisin Sauce on each crepe wrapper and spoon about two tablespoons of the filling in the center of the wrapper. Roll the Mu Shu as desired. I prefer jellyroll style, but it’s a matter of personal preference.