I signed up for a cooking class! It’s called Asian Cuisine for Newbies, and it will go over the basics of how to prepare pork/seafood/vegetables, and go over at least two dishes every time. I’ve been cooking ever since elementary school, but other than 2 brief camps I didn’t have any formal training. I wanted to have a more comprehensive overview of Chinese food, and this seems like a good class to learn the basics for all future dishes, rather than solely learning how to make one specific recipe.
There were three main reasons why I didn’t sign up for these things in America:
1. The ones I found were obviously American food, which based on my limited observations tend to take more work, focus more on measuring things out (rather than just putting “an appropriate amount), and strive for fanciness. I’m not looking for elaborate French dinners that will wow the guests. I just like simple good food. Healthy whole foods.
2. It’s really expensive! It’s usually around $70 to $80 just for a demonstration (no hands-on experience), plus I have to drive somewhere far.
3. They’re hard to find. Unless it’s at Williams-Sonomo or Sur La Table, cooking classes are rare. I took one at the community center, but have been ineligible for those ever since I turned 15.
But! In Taiwan I found one that’s reachable by MRT, has decent reviews online, and every class gives you ingredients to cook the dishes by yourself at an individual workstation. 8000 NTD for 6 classes, each 3 hours, ingredients and tools included. Excite, especially because they will portion the ingredients–for cost benefits–so I will not be left with a bag of carrots that I physically cannot fit into my pot of curry.
I’ve never seen so many stoves in one room before, not even at IKEA. There were 11 students, 5 male and 6 female (still a better ratio than my EECS major, hurr hurr). The teacher, I can’t figure out what he does other than this, but he talks about professional experience and also teaching at another school. You can tell from the way he handles his knife that he really knows his stuff.
He breezed through the demonstration, pausing to take questions and carefully explaining how to cook rice and cut meat into slivers. He kept his workstation super clean, and touched the measuring spoons very rarely. “Put in two teaspoons of oil,” he said, while free pouring an amount of oil was definitely more than two teaspoons. He had a mild disdain for nonstick pans, which he thinks demonstrates lack of skill. But honestly, the amount of oil he used throughout the class was shocking. Chinese woks require a lot of oil to prevent food from sticking. I think I’ll keep using my nonstick pans at home, thank you.
The biggest takeaway for me was that the reason restaurant food tastes so good is because of salt, oil, and sugar. Which he used extraordinarily liberally. The reason why tomato dishes look so appealing is because they add 1 tablespoon of ketchup for color and flavor. According to him, to make customers believe they’re getting the most bang for their buck, the chefs will scoop out 3/4 of rice without meat, mix in the chicken/pork/shrimp with the remaining 1/4 of rice, then plate it on top. So when you get your dish, your response is, “Wow, there’s so much stuff!”
We also had a TA, and she was washing the dishes for him as he used it. That’s the best kind of cooking! To have your dishes washed automagically as you happily chop and stir fry away. Later, the TA would also save many of our dishes by pointing out when our fire was on too high, or we forgot to do something before adding the ingredients.
When he finished making each dish he’d tell us to try it, but we were all huddled around his station with pens and clipboard in hand. None of us dared dash off for chopsticks for fear of missing out. Because as soon as he finished it was our turn, and you find out pretty quickly that what took a leisurely hour for him will take you a frantic two and a half hours.
Here are the eggs that he made, sitting untasted because we were all looking at him make the tofu.
I also found out that I need a better style of note taking, probably one oriented around Pot 1, Pot 2, and Sink/Cutting Board. Because the preparation of all 3 dishes happens simultaneously, and organizing the notes purely by dish is confusing when I’m trying to reenact everything.
As we buzzed away chopping and I waited for the office for a knife, he walked around answering questions and critiquing.
“Don’t put your hands in your pockets as if you’ve got nothing to do.”
“Are you having trouble lifting the wok?”
“There are people who are afraid of green onions?”
It felt very much like Iron Chef, but nicer and also more bewildering. He said I should use my hands to catch the oil ladle and I probably mumbled sorry about 6 times, half wanting to laugh. Man, it was so exhilarating watching the flames jump up underneath my pot, sliding an egg in, pouring the rice and stirring it all within a minute.
By the time we finished I was exhausted. But look! Eggs with soy sauce, tomato-braised tofu, and corn fried rice. Not bad for class number one.
We packed away our food in tupperware to bring home, and as I left he reminded me to make sure I review the recipes at home. “Okay, I will!” I said, so below are my typed notes. The formatting is fast and loose, like the way our teacher pours oil, except he’s a professional and I’m not.
2/4 Class: Grandma Egg, Fried Rice, Tomato Tofu
Wok tips: heat and dry after use, oil if long term storage
If pan hot, use low heat
White rice 1:1 water
Brown/5 grains 1: 1.5 water
Purple rice 1: 1.5 warm water soak for 4 hours
- Wash: cover with water, stir and drain 3 times
- Soak: with measured water for 20 minutes.
- DaTong hot pot: ¾ cup water for 1 cup rice. If 5-6 cups rice, 1 cup water
- Steam: when pop, keap inside for 10 mins
- Cut against grain: messy cross section
- Remove tendons and fats
- Use sawing motion to cut
- Strips, then slivers .2 to .3cm
- Marinate: 70g meat with 2/3 egg white or water
- 1t wine, 1t starch, mix and soak
- Cook rice: wash, soak with 1t oil so it’s shiny and won’t stick
- 1 egg + 1 yolk, beat until light yellow
- 2t oil in hot pan
- heat off
- egg in, while 30% done put in rice, stir with flat side of spatula
- ¼ t salt
- Add cabbage, all green onions, corn. Cook for 30s
- Pork slivers: 2t oil in hot pan
- Heat off
- Meat in, stir apart, heat on 30s
- Sieve meat out
- Scoop out ¾ rice and plate
- Wine in remaining rice, add pork and cook. Plate
Cabbage: wash, separate thin and steam parts if stir fry to ensure even doneness
1.Cut into slivers, then nail size 1cm
Tomatoes: remove skin by slicing skin into 8ths, place in boiling water 30s each side
- Rinse with cold water. If salad soak in cold water
- If salad or pasta remove seeds
- Cut into 8ths, each chunk in half diagonally
Green onions: snip ends and yellow
- Rinse, then small trickle for 5 minutes
- Chunks, separate green from white
- Grill tofu: Slice tofu 1cm x 2cm x 4cm. Make sure to leave skin on each piece so won’t break
- Oil in hot pan, 1t salt on top prevent stick
- Put tofu on sieve, put in pan all at once (if refried oil, replace when viscous)
- Grill and swirl oil
- Tomatoes: oil in hot pan
- GO white
- Tomatoes, add 1T ketchup for color
- 1t wine (repeat above for sweet sour)
- 1C water, 1/2t salt, 1t sugar, 1t pepper
- 1T starch : 3 water, stir
- Scoop tofu in
- Starch in while stir
- Add GO green, sesame oil
- Heat pan til warm 5cm away
- Enough oil
- Pour egg in from another bowl (prevent splash)
- Flip when golden, drain and remove
- Sauce: white GO in hot pan
- 2t soy sauce 嗆鍋
- 4T water, 1t wine, 1/2 4 sugar, ¼t pepper
- Add eggs in sauce, flip 1m
- Sesame oil
- Add green GO, remove