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Jennie Low

Serving up classic Chinese dishes for two decades in Marin County

After 62 years of teaching Chinese food cooking classes, owning and running her namesake restaurant, and becoming an author of her own Chinese food cookbook, what is Jennie Low’s favorite meal? “Italian. I like pasta,” she says without any hesitation. Despite her fondness for scampi fettuccini, she has made a career out of cooking shrimp chow mein, and not even her daughters (who run the Novato and Petaluma restaurants) can get her to take a break from it. What keeps Jennie Low’s a Marin favorite? Low suggests that the friendly atmosphere and good service keep the customers returning. Even her chefs stay with her, enjoying the atmosphere as well, and always happy to cater to a customer’s needs. Such is the case with the additional “Light Creations” portion of the menu, created for health-conscious customers.

Who taught you to cook? I learned on my own, just being interested about cooking. My husband’s mother cooked Chinese food for him so I had to cook it for him too. I called my aunt up and she gave me instructions. I was using the sprinkle system: no recipe, just sprinkle some salt, sprinkle some sugar, etc. After I learned to cook, I enjoyed it. I could duplicate a recipe just by tasting it at the restaurant. Cooking is my hobby. I’m 70 now, and my daughters ask me why I don’t retire, but it’s just something I like to do with my time.

Why did you start your own restaurant? After I taught cooking classes for 20 years, it was one of my dreams to open a tiny restaurant.
What is the most popular dish at your restaurant? Green beans, lemon chicken, Mongolian, kung pao. We make our own pot stickers; they are popular because we make our own dough. The filling is different; we put in some secret ingredients.

Do you teach your chefs how to cook? Yes. They learn to cook my way. If they use my sauces, the flavor will be the same. The sauce is the most important part; anybody can cook. The skill is in the sauce.

Due to the current health fascination, have you had to change your menu a lot? No, I only have fewer than 80 recipes. There are not too many sauces I can make, maybe one a day. People like the “Light Creations;” I told the chefs people don’t want oil in their food, they want simple and light. People really like it; especially (those) with heart problems tell me they can now eat Chinese food.

How would you describe the “ho wok mee” (great wok taste)?  If you quick stir-fry food, it will always have the flavor. Lightly cooking food is the secret: smell good, taste good. The wok cooks it fast so you won’t forget and overcook your food, which can be easy to do.

Preparation for Lemon Chicken

To prepare the batter, lightly beat egg white with a fork. Add cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder, and water. Mix thoroughly. Set aside at room temperature for at least 5 hours, or as long as overnight. If preparing more than a day in advance, refrigerate.

Skin and bone chicken breast. Cut into pieces 1 1/2˝ by 1/2˝. Leave drumettes whole. Place chicken in a bowl.

Add seasoning ingredients to chicken. Mix well.

Cut lemon into thin slices. Cut each slice in half to make about 10 half-slices.

Combine sauce ingredients in a small pan. Add lemon slices and bring to a boil. Stir in thickener. Cook for 30 seconds.
Set aside.

Heat oil in wok to 325 degrees. Add chicken pieces to batter and coat thoroughly. Drop chicken, a piece at a time, into hot oil, stirring after each addition to keep chicken from sticking to pan bottom. Deep-fry for 3 minutes. Remove chicken and drain on paper towels. Arrange on a serving platter.

Meanwhile, reheat sauce (including lemon slices) to a boil. Pour over hot chicken and serve.

Advance preparation: Step 1 may be done 2 days in advance and refrigerated. Steps 2 to 4 may be completed the day before and refrigerated.

You may be surprised to see that I have used this commercial product here, but I have found that the easiest way to assure the success of this recipe is to use lemon juice from the familiar “plastic lemon” (this juice is also available in bottles). This is because the juice from fresh lemons is often too sour and adversely affects the taste of the dish. If you want to serve the same dish I serve, then use the brand RealLemon.

(Ling Mong Gai)

1 whole chicken breast or 10 drumettes
1/2 medium-sized lemon
3 cups oil for deep-frying
egg white from 1 large egg
2 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tbsp. cold water
1/3 tsp. salt
1/3 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. thin soy sauce
1 tsp. oyster sauce
2 tsp. white wine
1/3 cup cold water
3 tbsp. ReaLemon brand lemon juice
1 tsp. thin soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. catsup
1 tsp. sesame oil
1  tsp. cornstarch, mixed well with 2 tsp. cold water
Serves 4

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