When we lived outside of Boston, our favorite Chinese restaurant was Joyce Chen Restaurant on Rt 2 near Fresh Pond. We started going there before James was born and continued going when he was a little boy. Joyce Chen was always there overseeing things. She was very friendly and liked to come around to our table, mainly to see James, who was really cute. He learned to eat with chopsticks really young and Joyce marveled at how well he did with them, very skilled by age four.
We had started cooking Chinese at home by then and of course we bought her cookbook “Joyce Chen Cook Book.” We would talk about some of the dishes of hers we had made. She gave us an autographed copy of some recipes that were not in her book, which we still have.
Before writing this, I decided to look her up on Google. It turns out she was pretty famous. Joyce Chen was credited with popularizing northern-style Chinese cuisine in the United States, coining the name “Peking Raviolis” for potstickers, inventing and holding the patent to the flat bottom wok with handle (also known as a stir fry pan), and developing the first line of bottled Chinese stir fry sauces for the US market.
Posthumously, on September 26, 2014, the US Postal Service issued 20 million copies of the “Celebrity Chefs Forever” stamp series, which featured portraits by Jason Seiler of five American chefs: Joyce Chen, Julia Child, James Beard, Edna Lewis, and Felipe Rojas-Lombardi.
One of the dishes I remember getting at her restaurant is West Lake Soup. It is easy and delicious. We just made it last night with ground pork. However, Beef is more traditional. It is quite cilantro-forward, so you might consider passing that separately for each diner rather than adding it all at once.
8 ounces ground pork or minced beef fillet, or white fish fillets, such as cod or flounder, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine, or dry sherry
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon white pepper
6 cups homemade or store-bought low sodium chicken broth
6 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water
4 egg whites, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 1/4 cups finely chopped cilantro
3 scallions, finely chopped
1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine meat with 1 teaspoon salt, soy sauce, sesame oil, white pepper and rice wine or dry sherry and set aside.
2. Combine broth and slurry in a medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until broth comes to a boil and thickens slightly. Reduce heat to a bare simmer.
3. Add the marinated ground meat stirring to break it up as you add it (stir gently if using fish). When the meat or fish is just cooked (about 30 seconds for fish or 2 minutes for meat), add egg whites by drizzling them into the simmering broth and stirring the broth around slowly with a pair of chopsticks. When egg whites are solidified, about 30 seconds longer, turn off the heat. Add white pepper and more salt to taste. Add chopped cilantro and scallions and stir around to incorporate. Serve immediately.