After living in China for a year, I want to be able to go home and cook up a Chinese storm for myself, friends and family, so a cooking class when my Mum and Aunty Jo visited was a good way to keep out of Beijing’s cold weather. I love to cook from Kylie Kwong’s recipes (I’ve already included some on this blog!) and wanted to add a few more to the repertoire. We attended a Hutong Cuisine class one Saturday morning in January and were taken on a local market tour by Chunyi – a bubbly woman who has run the cooking school for many years. She showed us mushrooms of many sizes, shapes and colours; tofu that looked like meat and even intestines; and beans, seeds and dried foods. Back in her hutong, her younger sister Xia ran us through a class on seasoning – covering soy sauces, vinegars and shao hsing wine. Now I’ll always look for certain things on soy and vinegars I buy! It also solved the mystery of why I couldn’t find proper shao hsing wine when looking in the sauces section of my local Wu Mart – I needed to be looking in the alcohol section!
Chunyi’s brother, Chao Chao then took us through five dishes – gong bao chicken, a Sichuan favourite, steamed fish with ginger, beer duck, tiger-skin pepper and steamed ginger egg custard. Chao Chao taught us how to hold a cleaver properly, how to flavour oil with Sichuan peppercorns but not have them in the dish and a simple, how to cut chicken to enable more flavour to get into it while cooking, how to get a little “sizzle” and crisp up spring onions, and an easy steamed egg custard dessert.
Of course one of the best parts of cooking is the end result and the eating – the duck, which had been simmering in beer, oil and spices for more than an hour was just divine. Served with fresh fluffy steamed rice, the flavours were intense and delicious. The gung bao chicken had great flavours, minus the pesky little Sichuan peppercorns that cause many people a lot of pain – not only picking them out of food, but when they realise they’ve chewed one and their mouth is now on fire and numb at the same time! Steamed fish was also perfectly cooked, and the tiger-skin pepper had a lovely char-grilled taste to it. A dessert – the steamed ginger egg custard – wasn’t too sweet, but had a great ginger taste from the ginger juice. And it was such a simple dessert we started coming up with other ideas, tastes and flavours we could add to make different types. It’s not often after a meal you come out feeling stuffed, but that you’ve learned something, but this meal also taught us many skills to take home with us and impress others with our Chinese cooking skills.
Chunyi’s gong bao chicken 宫保鸡丁(reproduced here with her permission)
- 300 gm chicken, cut into 1.5 cm cubes (鸡肉 ji rou)
- 1-2 tbsp deep fried peanuts ( 炸花生 zha hua sheng)
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced (大蒜 da suan)
- 3 cm piece of ginger, sliced into thumbnail size (姜 jiang)
- 1 tbs spring onion, white part only, cut into 1.5cm sections (葱 cong)
- A handful dry chillies, cut into sections, remove seeds if you don’t like it hot (干辣椒 gan la jiao)
- 1 tsp Sichuan pepper (花椒 hua jiao)
- ¼ tsp salt, 2 tsp wine, 2 tsp light soy sauce, 2 tsp water, 3 tsp corn starch
Seasoning to add during cooking:
- 2 tsp light soy sauce
- ¼ tsp dark soy sauce
- 3 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp black vinegar
Thickening at the end (if you don’t like a sauce, you can skip this part):
- 1 tsp corn starch
- 3 tbsp water
- Mix chicken well with marinade and keep for 15 minutes.
- Above a high flame, add 2 tbsp oil to season wok, turn off flame, add Sichuan pepper, deep fry pepper until it becomes brown, take out, turn on flame, add chilies, ginger, garlic, spring onion and stir till flavours and smell rises. Add chicken, slowly mix till it changes colour from pink to white and separates. Add 1 or 2 tbsp water if wok too hot. Add all seasoning, stir for one minute, add thickening, stir, when thickening gets thick, turn off the heat, add peanuts, mix and take out.