A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from October 02, 2018
Almond Boneless Chicken (ABC)

Almond Boneless Chicken (often called “ABC") is a Chinese dish that is popular in Detroit, Michigan. In other cities, it’s called, in its various spellings, “war/wor shu/shui/su/sui gai.”

The origins of the dish are uncertain. Boneless chicken with almonds has been served in Chinese restaurants in San Francisco and New York since at least the early 1900s. The website Taste California Travel states:

“He (food scholar Andrew Coe—ed.) discovered a similar recipe in one of the first Chinese cookbooks published in the United States, ‘The Chinese Cook Book’ by Shiu Wong Chan, released in 1917. The dish was called Hung Yuen Guy Ding, and it was made from boneless chicken, almonds, water chestnuts, onions, mushrooms, celery, oil and stock—the same ingredients in ABC.”

“WOR SHU GAI” was advertised in the The Evening Sun (Baltimore, MD) on April 18, 1956, and in the Keyport (NJ) Weekly on June 29, 1961. “War Sui Gai: was printed in a 1968 guide to Chicago, Illinois.

“Warr Shui Gai (Almond Boneless Chicken)” was advertised in the Record-Eagle (Traverse City, MI) on December 24, 1970.


Wiktionary: war su gai
Noun
war su gai
(uncountable)
1. Almond-battered deep-fried chicken breast (white meat).
2. A dish composed of a large fried patty made of ground chicken, Chinese sausage, pork fat and swallow’s nest, wrapped in crispy chicken skin, served on a bed of shredded lettuce, and covered in chicken gravy (preferentially spelled “war siu gai” or “war sui gai").

18 April 1956, The Evening Sun (Baltimore, MD), pg. 5, col. 5 ad:
WOR SHU GAI
A Cantonese delicacy of Braised Breast of Chicken with Almonds.
(Asia Restaurant.—ed.)

29 June 1961, Keyport (NJ) Weekly, pg. 16, col. 5 ad:
WOR SHU GAI...(Braised boneless fresh chicken with a typical Chinese 5-flavor sauce and crushed almonds on top)
(House of Eng.—ed.)

11 January 1964, Hartford (CT) Courant, pg. 3, col. 7 ad:
TRY SOMETHING NEW
WOR SHUI GAI
Boneless Chicken with Mushrooms, Bamboo Shoots, Waterchestnuts, Crushed Almond and Chinese Vegetables.
(Chinese Hitching Post.—ed.)

Google Books
Chicago:
An Extraordinary Guide

By Jory Graham
Chicago, IL: Rand McNally
1968
Pg. 63:
... War Sui Gai (pressed chicken with almonds and a ham sauce) ...

Google Books
Modern American Cities
By Ray Ginger
Chicago, IL: Quadrangle Books
1969
Pg. 17:
Try the bouillabaisse at Del Pezzo in Manhattan, or the almond boneless chicken at Chung’s in Detroit.

24 December 1970, Record-Eagle (Traverse City, MI), pg. 10, col. 5 ad:
Warr Shui Gai (Almond Boneless Chicken) ... $3.50
(Ted Lim’s Cantonese Foods.—ed.)

17 July 1977, Detroit (MI) Free Press, “Bad jokes aside, there are a lot of things you’d miss if you left Detroit” by Peter Gavrilovich, pg. 14, col. 3:
“I miss family and friends, of course. But I miss the Almond Boneless Chicken at the Golden Phoenix at 15 (Mile) and Telegraph.”

25 April 1979, Detroit (MI) Free Press, Detroit (magazine), pg. 2B, col. 1:
Almond Boneless Chicken
2 whole chicken breasts, skinned, boned and cut in half
1/2 t salt
1 T dry sherry
Vegetable oil
1 c shredded lettuce
1/3 c toasted, slivered almonds
1 green onion, finely chopped

Final Sauce:
4 T cornstarch
3 T water
3 c chicken broth
1 1/2 c chopped mushrooms (optional)
3 T chicken fat or butter
2 T soy sauce
3 t chicken bouillon granules

Batter:
3 T cornstarch
3 T flour
1/2 t baking powder
1 egg, beaten
1 T water

Google Books
Eating the Chinese Way in Detroit
By Elizabeth Chiu King and Wendy Thoryn
Southfield, MI: Chinese Cultural Publications
1980
(Google Books does not allow a snippet from this book, but it contains the dish.—ed.)

25 July 2010, Detroit (MI) Free Press, “Detroit’s love affair with Almond Boneless Chicken” by Sylvia Rector, pg. D11:
(...)
Ex-Detroiter Mary Sexton e-mailed from the Las Vegas area to say: “You can’t get it anywhere out here. They have heard of Almond Chicken but not Almond Boneless Chicken.”
(...)
She also sent along a recipe the Free Press published in 1979. It described battered, fried chicken breasts sliced on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce, topped with a cornstarch-thickened broth-based sauce and sprinkled with almonds and sliced green onions.

With its iceberg, cornstarch and very mild flavor, it was clearly from a bygone era.
(...)
Longtime metro area restaurateur Raymond Wong agrees; it’s “a chop suey dish” dating back at least 60 or 70 years, he says.

Google Books
Lost Restaurants of Louisville
By Stephen Hacker and Michelle Turner
Charleston, SC: American Palate
2015
Pg. ?:
One of these was war sui gai, known around Columbus, Ohio, and Detroit as “almond boneless chicken” or “ABC.” Boneless chicken breasts are dipped into a thick, tempura-style batter and then deep-fried until golden brown. Cut on the diagonal, the fried chicken pieces are set on shredded iceberg lettuce. Brown mushroom gravy is drizzled over the top and then sprinkled with almonds and green onions. Vegetables such as celery, bamboo shoots or water chestnuts might be added, depending on one’s location.

Taste California Travel
The Mystery of Almond Boneless Chicken
By Tina Caputo (Zester Daily)
March 28, 2016
(...)
I began searching for clues online and came across a 2010 article on the Detroit Free Press website. They’d asked readers to name the foods that define Detroit, and almond boneless chicken was the dish that came up over and over again.

Marshall Chin, owner of a Chinese fusion restaurant in the Detroit suburbs, theorized that ABC was one of the dishes that originated in the old chop suey houses in big cities where Chinese immigrants settled, including San Francisco.
(...)
Could it really be true that ABC started out in San Francisco? I had my doubts, so I reached out to Andrew Coe, author of the book “Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States.”

Coe had never heard of ABC, or its alias War Su Gai, but my search for its history piqued his interest.
(...)
He discovered a similar recipe in one of the first Chinese cookbooks published in the United States, “The Chinese Cook Book” by Shiu Wong Chan, released in 1917. The dish was called Hung Yuen Guy Ding, and it was made from boneless chicken, almonds, water chestnuts, onions, mushrooms, celery, oil and stock—the same ingredients in ABC.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • Tuesday, October 02, 2018 • Permalink