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Chinese Me

Tuesday marked my first cooking class of my new cooking series on International Cuisines, a gift from Bryan to him me for my last birthday.  It is an 8 week series course that meets every Tuesday night from 7-10pm at Bon Vivant Culinary Center, which just happens to be located in the home of the instructor, Louise Hasson.  For my first week I had no idea what to expect other than I would be learning and eating Chinese food.  Great!

My class is about 15 people and each week features a full menu featuring that cuisine.  For our Chinese feast we learned to make:

Sizzling Rice Soup
Rainbow Salad
Barbecue Short Ribs
Chicken and Cashews
Almond Float
Almond Cookies

Louise first introduced a lot of common ingredients used in Chinese cooking, how long they last, what brands to buy and where to find them.  She also spent a long time talking about woks, caring for them, what kind to get, and appropriate cooking techniques.  After all of that instruction she set to marinading the short ribs.  That was straight forward.  Then we started on our soup and salad course (which we learned is technically not a thing in Chinese cooking).  The soup was fabulous and also the most time consuming of the entire meal but I would love to make it again.  You make a stock, you stirfry some pork with mushrooms, and you make rice cakes.  The rice she had cooked previously, then laid out on a baking sheet and baked for 2 hrs to make them dried out and toasty.  The final step is to deep fry your rice cakes so that they puff up and immediately ladle the hot soup on top of the rice cake so it sizzles.  It was delicious.  The rainbow salad was straightforward with soaking and draining some vermicilli noodles and then layering rows of sliced cucumber, sliced ham, green onions, and sliced fried egg on top before drizzling with a sesame soy dressing.

The fabulous sizzling rice soup that this photo does absolutely no justice.
The fabulous sizzling rice soup that this photo does absolutely no justice.
Apologies for how horrible these pictures are...my phone.  I was waiting for the class photos to get posted to Facebook.  Here is our vermicilli salad, my portion at first.
Apologies for how horrible these pictures are…my phone. I was waiting for the class photos to get posted to Facebook. Here is our vermicilli salad, my portion at first.

We next made the almond cookies so that they could get to baking.  Nothing too unusual from your normal sugar cookie other than they have some almond extract in them for additional flavor and you top each cookie with an almond in an egg white foam to bake and glisten in the oven.  They also get a tad red dye for good luck?  The gelatin for the almond float was already prepped and chilled so we just worked in making the sugar water they float in and layering the triangular almond gelatin in cups with the sugar water and mandarin oranges and kiwi.  This was refreshing and delicious and the almond cookies at the end of the meal were very nice and crunchy.

The almond float and my first of two almond cookies.
The almond float and my first of two almond cookies.

The ribs were finished in the oven just in time as we started learning to make the chicken and cashew stirfry, and stirfry technique in general.  This dish had all sorts of goodies in it:  bell peppers, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, celery, chicken and cashews, and a nice light sauce.  I learned a lot while making this dish, and this was what I was most interested in because I love the concept of stirfrys but have never felt like I actually know how to do it properly.  We had this with rice and the short ribs and I definitely went back for seconds.  The people in my class seem generally nice and we were provided wine to drink throughout the class while we watched.  Louise also has a lot of cooking tools that she sells and a lot of people bought the tolls that were used throughout the class.

My first portion of chicken cashew stirfry and my first barbecued rib.  Yum!!
My first portion of chicken cashew stirfry and my first barbecued rib. Yum!!

I am super excited to try my hand at Chinese food now.  It has actually been a long time since I have tried any Chinese dishes.  I’m thinking that tonight is the night for that.  Other useful items I learned during the class that I will pass on (or to remind myself later) are:

  • A wok should be treated like a cast iron; seasoned with oil, barely cleaned when needed, and not to be scrubbed with a soapy brush
  • Carbon steel is the most common material for a wok
  • A wok should have a round bottom but due to electric stoves in most US homes the flat bottom woks have become more common (too bad I have both an electric stove and a flatbottomed wok)
  • The purpose of the wok’s narrow bottom is to push up items that are already cooked and get those that need to be cooked closer to the heat
  • Velveting your meat is to coat meat in a mixture of sherry and cornstarch, this soaks into the meat, makes it more tender and will prevent the meat from sticking in the pan with hot oil
  • Corn oil (Mizula) is the most common oil to use for stirfrys, peanut oil is second
  • Keep the stove on high heat the entire time and don’t add items until the oil is sizzling
  • You want vegetables to still have a crunch, often people overcook their vegetables
  • Keep everything in the bottom of the wok until it has sufficiently been coated with oil before moving up the sides of the wok
  • Chinese dried mushrooms are great for the mushroom flavor and chew but also for using their soaking liquid in soups and for flavoring
  • You don’t need to rinse rice bought in the US
  • Use good sherry (made in Spain)
  • You will burn your ribs if you run out of water in your pan
  • Soy sauce made in China is generally saltier than Kikoman.  Preference comes into play here and most American Chinese recipes are assuming you use Kikoman.  She does not recommend using low-sodium while cooking but only for passing around the table to add later
  • Chinese do not add salt or ground pepper to their cooking.  That is what salt and all of the other spices going on are for

Chelsea

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