Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pacific Rim, Week 2: Chinese 1

School started up again last week! This semester, I'm taking Pacific Rim Cuisine and Principles of Human Nutrition, which is an online class and will contain no tasty cooking experiences. Most of these weekly recaps will be only photos because my chef-instructor doesn't want his recipes to get out. ;) Our class has been split into groups, and this week was our first week in the kitchen. I think we did well! Only two wok fires, and one of them was Chef's. ;) Working with wok jets will be fun! Our breakdown for the semester is something like 5 weeks of Chinese, a couple weeks of Vietnamese, a week of Thai, a week of Japanese, a week of Filipino, a week of Korean, and a week of Asian Fusion. We're starting with Chinese cuisine. We spend the class time cooking, then feast at the end! This first week in the kitchen featured a pretty simple fare, but it was tasty all the same!

Pacific Rim: Week 2



Chicken fried rice--simple stuff. Cold rice (since fresh, hot rice will probably get mushy if you try to fry it) wokked up with some scrambled egg, peas, and velveted chicken. Chef's a Kikkoman soy sauce brand fan, believing it has good flavor without being too salty and overbearing. It's the stuff I grew up on! If white rice could be considered light, then it's because it's done up in this version. The peas were a nice touch, adding some fresh, sweet pops here and there. The velveted chicken, as in the moo goo gai pan, was silky, moist, and tender.
Pacific Rim: Week 2

Kung pao beef, featuring velveted beef--the velveted beef was tender and flavorful. A low heat came from fresh Thai chilis, and the roasted cashews added a nice earthy crunch to the dish's texture.
Pacific Rim: Week 2

Dumplings with jade sauce (tender, melt-in-your-mouth chicken dumplings, and jade sauce, which is like Chinese pesto--basically spinach, garlic, ginger, cilantro, basil, and a slew of oils, vinegars, sauces, and spices). The ginger makes this dish, filling out the flavors with a pleasant, low-pitched zing.
Pacific Rim: Week 2

Moo goo gai pan, featuring velveted chicken--the slurry-thickened, gingery sauce with a dash of five-spice powder was a class favorite.
Pacific Rim: Week 2

Wonton soup--ginger shines again, steeped into the chicken broth for this soup featuring pork wontons and thinly sliced roasted pork. Awesome porky flavor! The wontons are cooked in salted water before being added to the soup, which is then served right away so the wontons don't turn to mush and fall apart.
Pacific Rim: Week 2

Egg drop soup, Honk Kong style--as Chef explained it, Hong Kong style means it's colorful, made so here with yellow food coloring!
Pacific Rim: Week 2

Notes:

Velvet marinade is made up of eggs, cornstarch, and oil. Sometimes, only egg whites are used, sometimes, only egg yolks for sturdier meat like beef, and other times, the whole egg is used--it's a matter of preference. Basically, toss meat in the beaten egg, coat in cornstarch, and then marinade the meat in oil. Velveting meat will help prevent it from drying out in the wok during stir-frying and gives it a velvety texture. If you've ever stir-fried chicken at home and not gotten that soft texture you get at your favorite chopstick shop, it's probably because you didn't velvet your chicken!

When cooking in a wok, don't throw in a huge amount of stuff at once. Cook in batches, or your meat and veggies will release too much liquid, leaving you with soup or some boiled concoction. Be especially mindful to batch cook if you're stuck with an electric stove since electric stoves don't generate the kind of heat you need to stir-fry a big batch of food at once.

If your wok catches on fire (yeah, I've done it), take it off the heat. You can let it burn out, squelch the oxygen with another wok on top of it, or throw some salt on it, then use the salt to help you scrub the burned crud out of your wok. ;)


For veggies like the simple long beans in the top photo, cook them to crisp-tender, and no more. As Chef explained it, soft veggies are for Italian sauces, not stir-frys!

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