On first glance, it might seem a little peculiar for me to go on a Flavours of China cookery course; after all, I mainly cook Chinese food at home and I'm well familiar with it. But when I was asked if I wanted to try out a course from School of Wok, it appealed. It starts with a tour around Chinatown followed by a cookery lesson with emphasis on wok skills. I felt a little formal training wouldn't go amiss, and perhaps I could pick up some skills that I've missed out on having not had any kind of schooling.
Our teacher and guide, Jeremy Pang, escorted us around Chinatown on a Saturday morning. He explained a lot about the history of Chinatown, and pointed out the regional Chinese restaurants that have started cropping up, and the differences in the cuisines. A natural conversationalist, Jeremy knew his stuff; he answered all my (many) questions patiently. We spent a few minutes watching through the window at the dim sum chefs at Beijing Dumpling working hard at some dough, before going over to Kowloon Bakery for some baked things. In Hong Kong every other shop was a bakery when I was growing up though it's not like how they are in England. Most of the baked goods are made using a sweet brioche-like bun, sometimes stuffed with barbecued pork (char siu), other times with a bit of Spam, or perhaps a spring onion and sesame bun. My favourite is little cocktail buns with a trashy frankfurter running through it. Look out for a recipe on that one soon.
We were then taken around an Asian supermarket on Gerrard Street. I go there regularly, so I used this opportunity to ask Jeremy about all the weird and wonderful vegetables that I've never been brave enough to buy. We had no idea what this was / is for though. Anyone?
Afterwards, we headed off to Jen Cafe for some atomically hot freshly fried dumplings. These were stuffed with pork and chive, and we also had them boiled (which I actually preferred). Jen Cafe isn't fancy, but the dumplings are freshly made by ladies by the window at the front, the chilli sauce is punchy and they serve bubble teas. Pretty much my ideal dumpling fix.
We were joined back at School of Wok by a few more people who had booked specifically for the wok class. We learned how to use a cleaver properly - I'll confess now that I've never actually used a cleaver other than for hacking things up - and how to chop, mince, and julienne all the ingredients we needed for the meal we were going to make. I'll be honest, I was a little scared. Look at that knife! I now know how to remove the pips and membrane of a pepper whilst still keeping it in one piece. I am very proud of me.
Once the ingredients were prepared, Jeremy took us through pleating dumplings. He showed us three techniques, varying from 'mickey mouse' to a complicated number that I thought I could do but really it was embarrassing how bad I was at it.
I stuck to the mickey mouse technique. These were whisked off to be deep fried later, to go with our meal.
Then we came to doing the cooking. On the menu was Sichuan chicken, egg fried rice and stir-fried morning glory. Initially I raised an eyebrow when I saw that the wok hob was induction - where would the 'wok hei' come from, that smoky flavour that only high flames give you? Those questions were swiftly answered when I saw how quickly the wok heated up, and the heat it kicked off it. Jeremy took us through each dish, explaining where you would move the food around to best use the heat well. There were two of us to each work station, giving everyone ample time to do the cooking itself. My wok toss requires some work.
We sat down together afterwards with a beer to eat the fruits of our labour. None of the dumplings we'd made had burst (an achievement, I'd say) and were pretty delicious dipped in a little sweet chilli.
Sichuan chicken wasn't the hottest dish I've ever eaten, but it was well balanced with salty and sweet, the sauce caramelising and coating the chicken well. Fried rice was probably the best egg fried rice I've made to date; I tend to over-complicate mine with too many ingredients. A brilliant, lazy-person-trick for the morning glory was to season the greens with a little soy, sesame oil and rice wine while it's in the prep bowl, along with a garlic clove and a split chilli. When the time comes, you throw it all into a hot wok and a couple minutes later, it's done. No faffing around while the wok's on the heat.
It's a 6 hour course and although it was centred towards wok skills, I felt I'd learn a great deal of knife skills while I was at it - I'm far more confident with a cleaver than I was. It's £160 for the course and for your money you get a hearty breakfast, a dumpling lunch, and enough of an early dinner to see you through the evening. Jeremy is a patient and jolly teacher and I felt well schooled but not daunted after each run-through. Highly recommended - I'm already eyeing up a dim sum masterclass...
School of Wok
They're currently running a buy one get one free on courses if you book by the end of August.
I was invited to try this course.