Chinese Cooking Class

This spring, I spent my Sunday mornings cooking home style Chinese food with a cute old Chinese couple:

Qian Jiangwei and Mrs. Qian hail from Suzhou, not far from Shanghai.  Their style of cooking was minimalist, down to earth, with a strong emphasis on balance and simplicity. (And cost control!)  Originally I wanted to document all of the dishes that we made together, but it was an ordeal just to get there on time — let alone remembering to charge my phone or bring my camera.  (Also, most of the dishes are very common, so they’d turn up a million hits on Google anyhow.)

That said, I did learn a few tricks from them that I want to record here before I forget.

One trick is this: If you’re making a dish that calls for very thin, matchstick slices of meat, go ahead and cut the meat while it’s still frozen.  (I’ve seen this tip in Cook’s Illustrated as well.)

Another trick: if you’re working with something that starts to stick to the pan, or tends to dry out while you’re coking it, don’t be afraid to add a little water.  Each time Mr. Qian did this, it always seemed so odd; but it’s surprisingly effective.

Also, don’t forget sugar! Most of the dishes that we made called for a pinch of sugar at one point or another.  Asian cooking famously strives for balance; one dimension of this is the balance between spicy, salty, sour, and sweet.  It may seem strange to add sugar to your savory dishes, but it is often the perfect note to offset spice and vinegar flavors.

Anyhow, check out the final feast from our last day of class:

From the left: beansprouts, braised pork belly, baby bok choi, and some kind of sauteed kipper-like fish. And plenty of rice (not pictured).  Delicious!

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About Thomas

Thomas currently tutors Chinese, writes blog posts, and works in the non-profit sector.
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