Tag Archives: cook

Wok and Wolling!

25 Aug

The question of what a person wants for his or her birthday is always a tricky one.

So when the boy asked me what might hit the mark, I threw it back to his court, not wanting to be put in the driver’s seat. My only suggestion: something different that we can both learn from.

And on my birthday day, that’s exactly what I found wrapped up for me. A class for two to learn to make dim sum at the aptly named, School of Wok in Covent Garden – the boy done good!

The school is a new addition to Chandos Place, having been set up in late June by Jeremy Pang. He began cooking after deciding to change his career path in 2009 and retrain as a chef. After studying at Le Cordon Bleu and doing extended visits to Hong Kong (where his family originates), Jeremy set up a mobile cooking school which rented space from places like Ping Pong to teach corporate guests to make dim sum and stir fry.

Jeremy shows us how to get woking…

It’s not necessarily surprising that Jeremy would be drawn to this arena – his father’s family immigrated to England in the ’60s and started up some of the first restaurants in London’s Chinatown, while his mother’s family started up the well known Ho’s bakery in Manchester. Cooking – it seems – is definitely in his blood.

Much of his inspiration comes from what he learned growing up around restaurants and in the kitchen with his family and he has an exuberance that’s hard to miss. He’s also very informal and welcoming, which made us feel relaxed as soon as we entered the school on a hot summer evening.

The cooking menu for the night included glutinous rice in lotus leaves, crisp prawn and tofu rolls, Jiaozi and BBQ spare ribs. I’d barely eaten anything all day in preparation, a fact I was very glad of later.

We were joined by two other couples – a perfect class size really – and Jeremy began by taking us through the staple ingredients that are present in flavouring much Cantonese cuisine: soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, sesame oil and ketchup.

“The British left two things behind in Hong Kong and one of these was ketchup,” he clarified.

We then got to marinating some mighty and meaty shortribs in a combination of those ingredients plus other

The boy works up the courage to woll some dumplings!

delicious things like garlic, ginger and hoi sin sauce before moving quickly onto learning about lotus leaves.

Standing around the chunky wooden chopping station, dressed in our very cool School of Wok aprons, we learned to separate and work with this delicate, pungent leaf. Glutinous rice had already been soaking for two hours in cold water, and was then mixed with salt, pepper and garlic oil to be steamed for 20 minutes. We then mixed our meats (chicken thighs and chinese sausage) with rehydrated black mushrooms and a rich marinade before it was whisked away to be cooked on the grill. When both the rice and meat were done, it was laid out on small squares of the lotus leaf and wrapped to be steamed for another 20 minutes.

As a reward for completing our first two dishes, Jeremy dished out the wine – as we learned, to up our courage to make homemade jiazi (or as the Japanese term them, gyoza). These dumplings are easy to devour down but don’t be fooled into thinking they’re easy to construct.

Filled with pork, prawns, coriander, garlic and ginger (among other aromatic ingredients) these are some of my favourite dumplings. I soon learned, they do not love me.

The dough is made from two simple ingredients: flour and water. After mixing and folding, it’s kneaded for five minutes until elastic. We learned to do them fully from scratch, which included taking small balls, squashing them into a circular fashion, and using a two-hand technique whereby you turn the circle with your left hand while using a small amount of pressure on a little rolling pin to roll the edges with your right hand. It is mystifyingly difficult – or, at least for me it was. The boy won praises from Jeremy for his perfect-edged dough circles, while I just puzzled him. I think I made one that looked right out of the 30 I tried over an hour long period.

These small circles of dough are then filled with the meat, before being folded over and pinched together into a half-moon shape, fried and steamed. They were delicious, but all the wine in the world couldn’t have made me confident enough to get them right!

Just some of our delicious creations.

We also added beancurd rolls to our list of accomplishments that evening – these are filled with mashed prawn and bamboo shoots before being deep fried. Delicious!

When finally we got to sit, we’d been cooking for a full-on three and a half hours. While the class is only meant to last for three hours, it was clear Jeremy cared more about getting us to learn the full extent of cooking than to rush us out the door.

Over more glasses of wine, the group sat down to a very big, and very well deserved, meal. I’ll never look at dim sum quite the same but I will look forward to trying all of these at home again.

I can’t recommend Jeremy’s classes enough – it was a great way to pass an evening. And if you’re on the hunt for a birthday present to please, this is definitely one to consider.

For more information on the School of Wok, its classes and upcoming events, visit: http://www.schoolofwok.co.uk

Nusa Soup For You!

12 Dec

Growing up, I knew almost every line of Seinfeld. My father and I would spend ages entertaining each other repeating scenes and quotes while cooking dinner, standing in queues at the grocery store and during the show itself, probably to the great ire of many around us.

By far one of my favourite episodes is the early-days show entitled “Soup Nazi” – “No soup for you!”

That line still makes me laugh every time, bringing back visions of George, lacklustre and leaving the shop with no bread, or soup. Or frizzy-haired Elaine shouting the line to the chef when she discovers his recipe secrets in an armoire. Brilliant!

So, it was no surprise that the lines of this famous episode were running through my mind as I headed to Nusa Kitchen recently to learn just how they make their soup – no sneaky armoire finds for me, I swear I was invited!

Arriving at Nusa's Old Street location

Nusa, which has two locations in London, prides itself on making fresh soup from scratch every day with only fresh ingredients. From Singapore Seafood Laksa, to Thai Chilli Tofu Broth, much of the inspiration behind the soup comes from the experiences of owner Patou Sekhon’s childhood in Singapore. Her son, Mark, was on hand to tell me the history and how they came up with their ideas.

“It was a bit of an accident. We said, “Let’s do food that’s hot.” We decided to give soup a go,” he explained.

Patou comes up with the recipes at home and then visits to teach them to head chef Michael Bahda, who was took me through the recipes.

The day begins, he said, at 5am when the team arrives to start making the soups in the basement of the Old Street location. All soup has to be done by the time the truck comes to pick up the supplies that will head over to the Adams Court location in the City. Often, the team makes 1000 litres of soup in a day! The “Soup Nazi” would be proud!

As it was Friday, I didn’t have to arrive at the crack of dawn because it is a prep day for the team since the shops are not open at the weekend. Instead, I pitched up a much more reasonable 11am to see the process of soup making from start to finish and help the team get prepped for Monday’s lunchtime rush.

After gathering the ingredients together for our two soups (Keema and Lemon Chickpea) Michael brought out two giant 55-litre pots and began frying the onions in each, while I stood by and took notes. He explained it is a very intense process and brute strength is needed to shift these pots when full.

Head chef Michael shows how it's done as he pours tomatoes into the big pot

I was surprised how similar the Keema recipe was to making a curry – after the onions, we fried garlic, ginger, cumin, chili, turmeric and bay leaves, before adding (salt-free) stock, 7.5 kilos of beef mince and water. Unlike a lot of shop-bought soups out there, the recipes use no added salt, which makes them healthier.

We went through a similar routine with the lemony chickpea soup – frying onions and spices, before adding wine and chickpeas and allowing to cook for a while.

Owner Mark takes a look at the soup while head chef Michael gives some a blend

The smells in the kitchen were intense – and only made my hungry tummy grumble more. The savoury spices floated through the air while the bubbling coconut milk of one of that day’s lunchtime soups lent a sweet flavour to it all. As we waited for the soups to finish, Michael gave me samples of some of the other soups that would be on offer the following week. As the soups are on a four-week rotation, any soups featured only have a short time to impress customers, who will hopefully remember their delicious blends down the line.

My favourite was definitely the spicy chicken with coconut milk and the Jamaican Jerk Chicken, which packed a proper punch.

After the soup had bubbled and boiled for around an hour, we were ready to blend it up and finish things off – with Michael adding cream, fresh lemon juice and coriander to the Lemon Chickpea for an added kick.

I rock out in a too-cool-for-school outfit while Michael and assistant Kamal work to move the heavy pot

The Lemon Chickpea soup soon became my new favourite – by adding the fresh lemon juice and coriander right at the end, Michael said it allows the flavours to really stand out, rather than having them boil away in the melee of ingredients. Stunning!

And, although my day at Nusa came to a close too soon, I went home all inspired by what I saw. And don’t worry, if you visit, they will only be saying, “More soup for you?” rather than “No soup for you.”

If you fancy making one of Nusa’s soups at home, try this to get your body feeling better post-Christmas!

Nusa’s “Body I’m Sorry” Soup:
1 l vegetable stock
50 ml Ponzu Dressing
50 ml Mirin
150 gm Organic Tofu
1 stick of Lemongrass
10 gm chillies
250 gm Chinese Cabbage
25 gm Star Anise
25 gm Ginger
3 Carrots
10 gm Bamboo Shoots
10 gm Water Chestnuts
20 gm Wood Ear mushrooms
2 Cinnamon Sticks
A bunch of Spring Onions
A bunch of Coriander
250 gm fresh Spinach
150 ml Chinese Vinegar
Bring vegetable stock to the boil.  Add ginger, chillies (coarsely chopped) and crushed lemon grass.  After about 10 minutes add mirin, chinese vinegar, star anise, cinnamon sticks and ponzu dressing.  Bring to the boil.  In the meantime, shred cabbage, dice carrots, dice water chestnuts and bamboo shoots. Soak the wood ear mushrooms for about 20 minutes or till softened before cutting them up into small pieces.  Finely slice tofu, spring onions and coriander.  Add all diced vegetables & tofu to hot broth. Let the vegetables soften, before adding spring onions and coriander.  SERVE WITH NOODLES & SPINACH.

Nusa Kitchen has two locations: one at 9 Old Street (EC1V 9HL) and the other at 2 Adams Court (EC2N 1DW).

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