In the 1980s, Madame Wu’s Garden on Santa Monica’s Wilshire Blvd was the most famous Chinese restaurant in the United States. For four decades celebs flocked to it.
Elegant Silvia Wu greeted them wearing her jade silk Mandarin dress. Cary Grant, Bob Hope, Mae West, Dinah Shore, Johnny Carson, and Carol Burnett were regulars.
We first learned about Madame Wu’s as an ’80s teenager while poisoning our wee mind reading a trashy Jackie Collins novel. In Hollywood Wives, a husband and wife consider different caterers for some swish Hollywood power party, and one spouse ventured, “Madame Wu’s, perhaps?”
It sounded exotic and elegant. And a hell of a lot more intriguing than the rest of the book.
The Garden’s doors closed in 1998, but not before Wu published Madame Wu’s Art of Chinese Cooking, sharing recipes and tidbits about the restauarant and its star-studded patrons.
She’s apparently now working on a second memoir and a pictorial history.
One of Madame Wu’s best known fusion efforts, this Chinese chicken salad dish inspired by a conversation Cary Grant, follows.
MADAME WU’S CHINESE CHICKEN SALAD
SAO SEE GAI
3 or more chicken thighs
Oil for frying
8 (3 1/2-inch) square won ton noodles, cut into 1/8-inch strips
3 ounces rice sticks
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons water
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, shredded
1/3 cup chopped toasted almonds
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions, white stem only
Chopped sweet red pepper
Cook chicken in water to cover until tender, about 20 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towel.
Heat oil in deep-fat fryer to 400 degrees. Fry chicken until crisp, about 5 to 8 minutes. Drain on paper towels and cool. Bone and cut chicken into strips with or without skin. There should be about 2 cups chicken.
Fry won ton noodles in oil until golden brown. Remove immediately and drain on paper towels. Divide rice sticks into 3 portions to deep-fry separately. Drop portion of sticks into hot oil, fry 30 seconds or until puffed. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
Combine mustard and water and let stand 15 to 20 minutes. Add spice powder, salt, soy sauce and sesame oil, stirring until smooth.
Spread shredded lettuce on serving plate or platter. Toss together chicken, won tons, rice sticks, mustard mixture and almonds. Pile over lettuce, but do not toss. Garnish with green onions sweet red pepper. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
MADAME WU’S BEEF
NG SEE NGAU YOKE
1 piece of filet mignon or flank steak (about 1 pound), gristle removed
(Thinly sliced along the grain into strips 2” long, 1/2” wide, ¼” thick)
2 quarts vegetable oil
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 ½ tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 ½ teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon Hoisin sauce
½ teaspoon red cooking wine
½ teaspoon sugar (optional)
Pinch salt and pepper
1/3 package Chinese rice noodles
½ coarsely chopped onions
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
Marinate the beef for 15 minutes in a blend of 1 tablespoon each of vegetable oil, cornstarch, and dark soy sauce, 2 teaspoons light soy sauce, 1 teaspoon Hoisin sauce, ½ teaspoon cooking wine, and a pinch of sugar, salt, and pepper.
In a deep fryer bring the remaining vegetable oil (about 2 quarts) to 400° F. over high heat. (To test for readiness, drop in one strand of the rice noodles and if it pops up immediately the oil is hot enough.) Put in the skein of noodles, and they will explode into a large puff upon contact with the oil. Take out immediately and set aide to drain on the paper toweling.
In a preheated wok or skillet, coat the sides and the bottom over high heat with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Quick-fry the chopped onions for 1 minute then add the marinated beef and cook for 2 more minutes. Stir very little or the meat will become too watery.)
Make a thickening of 3 tablespoons water, 1 teaspoon oyster sauce, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, ¼ teaspoon sugar, ½ teaspoon light soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce. When smooth, add to the beef and onion mixture stirring for 1 minute. Remove from heat.
To serve, place the noodles on a platter and spoon the beef mixture over them. Do not mix.
MADAME WU’S BARBECUED SPARE RIBS
1 12-rib slab of pork spare ribs which have been cracked down the center for easy separation after they have been cooked. Cut off skin and fat.
2 tablespoons dark Chinese soy sauce
1 teaspoon light Chinese soy sauce
3 teaspoons Hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons catsup
2 cloves garlic chopped fine
2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
Prepare a marinade of the soy sauces, catsup, Hoisin sauce, sugar and garlic, and brush over the spare ribs with a pastry brush. Turn over, brush again. Place the ribs on a platter, cover with foil, and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
To cook, transfer the marinated spare ribs to a shallow pan. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and bake the ribs for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. And bake for an additional 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven to a cutting board. Separate into two slabs along the center crack then cut into individual bite-size pieces.
MADAME WU’S CASHEW CHICKEN
2 tbl vegetable oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup siced chicken breast
1/2 cup pea pods
1/2 cup whole button mushrooms
1/2 cup bamboo shoots
1 cup canned chicken broth
1/2 cup cooked cashew nuts
1/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp cornstarch
Swirl oil around bottom & sides of heated wok.
Add salt & chicken, stir-fry 2 min.
over high heat. Add pea pods, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, & chicken broth.
Cover & cook 2-3 min.
Gently stir in cashew nuts, monosodium glutamate, and sugar.
Mix cornstarch w/ 1/2 tsp.
water to form a paste and add to thicken the sauce.
MADAME WU’S CHINESE MIXED VEGETABLES
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 thin slice ginger root
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 cups Chinese cabbage, chopped
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp monosodium glutamate (MSG) (optional)
1/4 cup canned chicken broth
1/2 cup pea pods
1/2 cup sliced bamboo shoots
1/2 cup thinly sliced mushrooms
Preheat a wok and swirl the vegetable oil around inside. Rub bottom and sides with the ginger root and garlic and discard.
Place cabbage in wok and stir. Add salt, sugar, monosodium glutamate, and chicken broth. Stir and cover; cook for 3 minutes.
Add the peas pods, bamboo shoots and mushrooms. Stir about 30 second and serve.
MADAME WU’S SWEET AND SOUR SHRIMP
JAR TEEM SUEN HAR
1 cup flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups water
1 qt vegetable oil
16 shrimp (16/20) deveined and butterflied
1/2 cup catsup
2 tspt white vinegar
3 tbsp sugar
red food colouring
1 cup green pepper, cut into chunks
1/2 cup white onion, cut into chunks
1/2 cup pineapple chunks
in a bowl mix a batter of the flour, 1/4 cornstarch, baking powder, salt, 1 tsp vegetable oil, the egg, and 1 cup water. blend to consistency of a thin ribbon liquid. Heat 1 quart of oil in deep fryer to 375.
Dip shrimp into batter, letting excess drip back into the bowl. Slip shrimp into the hot oil, fry until golden brown 1 to 2 minutes.
Drain on paper towel.
Fry only 1 -3 shrimp at a time. Into a wok or skillet, mix 1 cup water the catsup, 1 tsp veg oil, vinegar, sugar and food colouring. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
Add green pepper and onion and boil for 1 minute. Add pineapple and return to boil.
Make a slurry with 1 tsp cornstarch and 1 tbsp water, add to mixture to thicken.
Add shrimp, stir, remove from heat and serve.
MADAME WU’S YANG CHOW FRIED RICE
SUBGUM CHOW FAN
2 tb vegetabel oil
1/4 c chopped green onion
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 c raw green peas
1/4 c diced cooked shrimp
3 c cold cooked rice
1/4 c barbecued park or ham, diced
1/2 ts light soy sauce
1 tb dark soy sauce
Heat oil, add onion and eggs, quick fry, then add peas and shrimp and blend. Add rice, pressing gently to the sides and bottom to separate grains. Add pork, salt, soy sauces. Mix and serve.
EGG DROP SOUP
EGG FLOWER SOUP
2 cans chicken broth with fat skimmed off
1 can water
2 tablespoons, cornstarch blended with 4 tablespoons water
2 eggs – beaten slightly
1 tablespoon, scallions (green onions) – chopped or thinly sliced
Heat together the soup and the water, covered, until boiling. Add the cornstarch blend, then turn off the heat. Now add the eggs, pouring them in a light stream stirring lightly. Add scallions and serve immediately.