Monday, June 29, 2015

Remembering Joy Young's Chinese Restaurant


Back in the 1960's and 70's, or as my children would say, "When the world was black and white", my family would occasionally splurge and go to Birmingham for a weekend. This was a big, dang deal! We would dress up in our best clothes to go to the big city. Once, my family planned one of these trips because How the West Was Won was making its debut at the Alabama Theater. We were especially excited because the movie was filmed in Cinerama. I had no idea what Cinerama was and can't say that I understand even now, but we were really thrilled about it at the time. My memories of that particular trip are pretty much limited to how excited I was to be going.

Another thing about traveling to Birmingham that I found exciting was that we would be eating out. Birmingham had restaurants that were completely amazing to me, fancy places with white tablecloths and linen napkins. Birmingham was where I was introduced to my first ethnic food. At home, the most exotic things we had to eat were spaghetti or pizza that my mom would make from Chef Boy-Ar-Dee Complete Pizza in a box, which she would top with browned ground beef.

The first Chinese food I ever ate was at a restaurant called, Joy Young's, which was on North 20th Street in downtown Birmingham. This was no ordinary Chinese restaurant. It was as fancy as any restaurant in Birmingham, complete with the aforementioned white table cloths and linen napkins. There was nary a chopstick in sight, but polished silverware and fine china. The decor was unlike any other Chinese restaurant as well. With curvy balconies, tall white columns and sky blue and cream walls, the general impression was the 1960's version of upscale. Chinese motifs were limited. My own opinion is that the four Chinese American businessmen who started Joy Young's made a conscious effort to attract Birmingham's more affluent citizens with the understated and elegant decor as well as the Americanized menu, which featured both Mandarin and American choices.

To begin with, diner's were greeted with delicious homemade yeast rolls and real butter, while they perused the menu. I always ordered the same things, egg rolls and butterflied shrimp. The egg rolls were delivered in groups of three. They were crispy and stuffed with chicken, pork, shrimp and veggies. I would mix sweet plum sauce and spicy Chinese mustard to get just the right combination for dunking my egg rolls.


The savory butterflied shrimp was amazing. Large shrimp, butterflied and paired with bacon was battered and fried, covered in a Chinese brown sauce and sprinkled with chopped green onions and toasted almonds. The flavor combination was perfect and I thought Chinese food was divine.

Joy Young's closed their downtown location around 1974 and moved to another location near Brookwood Mall. They were at the new location for a few years before shutting those doors and opening a take out restaurant on Green Spring's Avenue, after which they finally closed for good. Lucky for me, The Birmingham News did a special about Joy Young's sometime before they closed and printed the recipe for butterflied shrimp. I saved that recipe and pull it out every now and then when we start needing a Joy Young fix.  It has been a long time since I last made them, but tonight I made these wonderful shrimp and thought you all might like the recipe as much as we do.

Here's what you need:

1 dozen large, fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined and butterflied, with tails off.
4 slices of bacon
Iceberg lettuce
1/2 c. toasted almonds
1 bunch sliced green onions

Foo Yung Sauce
1 1/2 c. chicken broth
2 T. soy sauce
2 T. cornstarch

Batter:
1 c. flour
1/2 c. milk
2 eggs
1/2 t. salt

Start with the prepared shrimp. Joy Young's applied a piece of uncooked bacon to fit the pasty side of each shrimp. I find that I am unable to get the same amount of crispiness to my bacon as Joy Young's did if I don't cook the bacon first. I'm not sure why, but it might have been the equipment they used to cook their shrimp. Anyway, I cook the bacon first and then apply a piece of the cooked bacon to each of the uncooked shrimp. Set aside while you prepare your batter and Foo Yung Sauce.

Foo Yung Sauce:
Combine 2 T. soy sauce and 2 T. cornstarch until cornstarch is dissolved. Add this mixture to 1 1/2 c. chicken broth in small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and stir until thickened. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Batter:
Combine 1 c. all purpose flour, 1/2 t. salt, 1/2 c. milk and 2 eggs. Stir until smooth.

Heat vegetable oil (about 1/2" deep) in large skillet until shimmering. Dip shrimp/bacon pieces in batter and place in hot oil. Brown on both sides and remove to a rack to drain.

To serve:
Line a large platter with torn iceberg lettuce leaves. Place shrimp on top of lettuce. Pour Foo Yung sauce over shrimp and sprinkle green onions and toasted almonds over all. Serve with hot cooked rice.

I hope you enjoyed this little walk down memory lane and I hope you love Joy Young's Butterflied Shrimp.

You can download a printable version of this recipe HERE.





Richi Reynolds
Richi Reynolds

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