Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Chinese Take Out, Made In

The kids all know and like, if not love, Chinese take out. It's cheap, it's available, it's filling, and strongly flavored. Outside the fact that it's "Chinese" and tends to be made in shops with Asian people in it, there is not too much deep knowledge going on.

I started the class with a story about my friend Sonja, a Brit who liked to travel and have adventures, and when she got married, she and her husband decided to have the trip of a lifetime for their honeymoon. They flew to Hong Kong, took a train out as far as it would go, then took a bus even further, then hitch hiked further, then the roads ended, and they hiked into the countryside, where the villages are connected by foot paths.

As you can imagine, there is no hotel, no restaurants, no running water. In the villages, you are invited to sleep in the barn of a farmer, and the village came out for a communal meal to welcome their odd, foreign guests. Sonja & hubby remember being served, with great pride, a plate of white rice topped by a whole, roasted and crispy field mouse. This was the best the village had to offer, and it would have been poor form to do anything but eat it with great smiles and gusto. Suffice to say, Sonja lost a lot of weight on her trip. And after the mouse, they turned back and headed home.

Part of the character of Chinese and Asian cooking is the use of all sorts of sources of protein and food, and nothing is wasted. Such a large country with so many mouths to feed and limited resources -- being resourceful is job #1 of the chef. Multiply that with 1000s of years to develop a cuisine, and it was inevitable something interesting would emerge.

I presented the students with smells of the different soy sauces, oyster sauce, rice wine, rice vinegar and of course stinky fish sauce, all part of the artillery that Asian chefs use to make plain stuff extraordinary.

I broke up the students into two teams -- one did the pork dumplings and pad Thai, the other did the scallion pancakes and the chicken & broccoli. There was some resistance from the students: despite knowing and loving much of the menu, the recipes seemed to long and full of words. There's few things more annoying in life than taking the time to go over a recipe with a student step by step, and when it's time to get started, they first thing they ask is what is the first thing they need to do.

The pork dumplings went well, though upon tasting, adjusted with a little bit more soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine.


Yield: 60 dumplings
Pork, ground 2 lbs
Gingerroot, minced 3 tbsp
Scallions, mostly green, minced 4 each
Rice wine 1 tbsp + 1 tsp
Soy sauce 1 tbsp + 1 tsp
Sesame oil 1 tbsp + 1 tsp
Egg whites 4 each
Cornstarch 3 tbsp
Water chestnuts, fine dice ¼ cup
Thin round dumpling skins 60 each
  1. Hand mix pork, ginger, scallion, rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, egg white and cornstarch. In batches, place mix in a food processor. Pulse to mix further, then puree.
  2. Once the entire batch in pureed, fold in the water chestnuts. Chill until ready to use.
  3. Place approximately 2 tsp of the filling in the center of a wrapper. Bring sides up and push/pleat sides together so that the dumpling has an “Empire waist” and some of the filling pushes out the top. Place the shao mai on a cookie sheet and cover with a damp cotton towel until you are ready to steam them.
  4. Place enough water into a wok or pan so that it comes up to inch below the steamer basket. BTB. Open the steamer and arrange the dumplings in the steamer basket with space between them. Steam until meat is cooked through, about 5 to 8 minutes. Serve immediately with dipping sauce.
The pad Thai came out surprisingly well. The thing about this dish (and the Chicken & Broccoli) is that it's a stir fry -- it's pretty fast in the cooking, all the work is in the mise en place, getting all the components together.


Yield: 8 entrée portions
Fettuccine-width rice stick noodle 1 lb
Peanut oil 1 cup
Tamarind paste 1 cup
Honey 1 1/3 cup
Fish sauce 1 cup
Rice vinegar ½ cup
Red pepper flakes 2 tsp, or to taste
Chopped scallions 1 cup
Garlic cloves, minced 4 each
Eggs 8 each
Nappa cabbage, shredded 1 head
Mung bean sprouts 2 packs
Peeled shrimp and/or pressed tofu 2 lbs
Cilantro, chopped 1 cup
Peanuts, chopped 2 cup
Limes, quartered 8 each
  1. Put noodles in a large bowl and add boiling water to cover. Let sit until noodles are just tender; check every 5 minutes or so to make sure they do not get too soft. Drain, drizzle with a small amount of peanut oil to keep from sticking and set aside.
  2. Put tamarind paste, fish sauce, honey and vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and bring just to a simmer. Stir in red pepper flakes and set aside.
  3. Put remaining oil in a large wok over medium-high heat; when oil shimmers, add scallions and garlic and cook for about a minute. Add eggs to pan; once they begin to set, scramble them until just done. Add cabbage and bean sprouts and continue to cook until cabbage begins to wilt, then add shrimp or tofu (or both).
  4. When shrimp begin to turn pink , add drained noodles to pan along with sauce. Toss everything together to coat with tamarind sauce and combine well. When noodles are warmed through, serve, sprinkling each dish with peanuts and garnishing with cilantro and lime wedges.
I never made this recipe before, and was happy how authentic they came out. One student who claimed to hate any kind of onion said that she really liked these, because the scallions were subtle.


Yield: 4 thin 8” round breads
AP Flour 9 oz
Baking Powder 1 tsp
Salt 1 tsp
Cold Water 5 to 6 oz

AP flour for dough rolling as needed
Toasted sesame oil as needed
Scallions, thinly sliced, all white and a little green 2 bunch
Kosher salt as needed
Vegetable oil for pan-frying as needed
  1. Add flour, baking soda and salt to the work bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. With processor running add water slowly until dough forms a bowl
  2. Remove the dough and knead into a ball with the heel of your hand until “earlobe soft”, 1 to 2 minutes. Coat the dough in sesame oil and place in a bowl covered with plastic wrap to rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour at room temperature.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured board and knead until smooth, about 1 minute. Divide into 4 equal pieces and keep one covered with plastic wrap so it does not dry out. Roll out the balls of dough into 4 1/8” thick rounds.
  4. Brush these well with sesame oil and sprinkle evenly with scallions and salt. Roll up the circle into a cylinder – not too tight or too loose. Pinch the ends shut. Wind this cylinder into a flat, round spiral. Press this to flatten and roll out to about 8” diameter. (THINNER is definitely better for this bread.) Keep the breads covered until you cook them. (If they become too rubbery and hard to roll out, simply cover and wait 15 minutes. The gluten will relax.)
  5. Heat a heavy skillet. Add oil to the depth of 1/8”. When oil is hot, add the bread – it should sizzle. Cover and cook over moderately low heat, shaking the pan occasionally, until the bottom of the bread is golden, about 2 to 5 minutes. Check frequently.
  6. Flip the bread over and add more oil if necessary. Cover and cook again, shaking the pan occasionally, until the remaining side is golden, about 3 to 5 minutes. Slide the bread onto a cutting board and cut into pie-shaped wedges. Sere immediately
We used a Thai Jasmine rice for this, and it came out perfect. Nice and sticky, flavorful, everyone agreed they wished when they ordered take out, the white rice would come like this.


Yield: 10 servings
Long-grain white rice 4 cups
Water 8 cups
Salt 1 tsp
  1. Wash rice well with cold water. Drain. Put rice and 7 ½ cups water into heavy sauce pan. Add salt, bring to boil.
  2. When water boils, lower heat to a simmer and cover. Cook 15 minutes, no more. Turn off the heat and quickly pour the extra half cup of water in around the edges of the rice. Then cover and don’t touch, uncover, stir or move the rice or pot. Just leave it to steam for another 10 minutes.
  3. Uncover the pot and fluff the rice with a fork. Fluff onto a serving platter or bowl. Try not to mash or break the grains.
This was the most complicated recipe of the day, involving a lot of mise, and several times of using the wok, cleaning it out then using it again on different components before doing the final thing. The final result was really good, but the broccoli was a little over cooked and we should of doubled up on the sauce...


Yield: 8 entrée size portions

Chicken breasts, 1” cubed 2 lb
Egg white 2 each
Cornstarch 2 tbsp
Salt ½ tsp
2 tablespoons oyster sauce 4 tbsp
Light soy sauce 2 tbsp
Dark soy sauce 2 tbsp
Water 2 tbsp
Broccoli 2 lb
Water 1 cup
Salt ½ tsp, or to taste
Sugar 1 tsp, or to taste
Garlic cloves 4 each
Cornstarch 2 tsp
Water 2 tsp
Peanut oil 5 cups
  1. Mix together egg white, cornstarch and salt. Add mixture to chicken cubes, coat evenly. Marinate the velveted chicken in a sealed container in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  2. Prepare the sauce: mix together the oyster sauce, light soy, dark soy, and water in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Prepare the thickener: mix the cornstarch and water thickener and set aside.
  4. Prepare the vegetables: wash and drain the broccoli. Cut the stalk diagonally into thin slices. Cut the florets into 3 or 4 pieces. Crush the garlic.
  5. Preheat a wok. Heat 2 cups oil in the wok until it reaches 275 degrees Fahrenheit. (Test the heat by placing a piece of chicken in the wok - it should float). Add the chicken cubes, and let cook until they just turn white (about 30 seconds), using a wooden spoon or chopsticks to gently separate them. Quickly remove the chicken cubes from the wok as soon as they turn white, and drain in a colander or on paper towels.
  6. Drain the oil out of the wok or preheat a second wok on medium high to high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil. When the oil is hot, add the crushed garlic and stir fry for 10 seconds.
  7. Add the broccoli, sprinkle the salt and sugar over, and stir fry briefly, turning down the heat if necessary to make sure it doesn't burn. Add the 1/2 cup water, and cook the broccoli, covered, for 4 - 5 minutes, until it turns a bright green and is tender but still crisp. Remove from the wok and drain.
  8. Clean out the wok and heat 2 more tablespoons oil. Add the broccoli and the velveted chicken, stirring and tossing to cook the chicken through. Add the sauce and cornstarch mixture in the middle of the wok and stir quickly to thicken. Mix everything together and serve hot over steamed rice.
Next week, breakfast foods!

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