On my last trip to Shanghai, I decided to take a Chinese cooking class. It was January and I was looking for stimulating activities to do inside, so I took some time to research what was available and find a class that was taught in English. Cooking classes and food tours are are always on my agenda when traveling and, considering how often I’ve been in Shanghai the past three years, I’m surprised it’s taken me this long. Last January, I joined my friends at UnTour Shanghai for their Night Markets Tour, which I highly recommend and definitely want to do again, but when it’s a little warmer. Hey, I’m from California, we’re freezing when it’s colder than 60 degrees.
I totally scored with the Chinese Cooking Workshop and highly recommend it if you’re in Shanghai and want to learn to cook some of the native cuisine. Chef Mike leads the classes and he is a wonderful teacher: patient, knowledgeable, efficient – we made three dishes in 2 hours, and has a gentle sense of humor, which puts you at ease. Plus, he speaks very good English and a little Japanese which he has learned from Japanese expats who attend his classes.
Besides, the Szechuan class I selected – the assertive spiciness of dishes from the Sichuan province has always been my favorite – the school offers instruction in the cuisine of Shanghai, Huaiyang and Guangdong, and a Dim Sum class.
We started with the ever popular Sour and Spicy Soup – or Hot & Sour Soup as it is often called here in the states.
Mike explains that the cuisine is meant to “tantalize your taste buds” and because the Sichuan province is hot and humid, the people eat spicy food which causes them to sweat and cools them off. There were black and needle (enoki) mushrooms, tofu, thinly sliced pork, and egg white in a broth flavored with chili sauce, Sichuan peppers, cinnamon, cumin, salt, black pepper and a little sugar. To make things easier, Mike says most cooks buy the paste which contains all the components of classic Sichuan sauce and can probably be found in Asian markets here. (Just beware, most of these types of paste flavorings are very high in sodium.)
For each dish, Mike would demonstrate the wok technique and the order and amount of ingredients to add. Then, we would try our hand at the wok. Naturally, he moves at lightning speed, but we were not unfamiliar with wok cooking, so did quite well. The second dish was Szechuan Sliced Pork with Vegetables with sliced pork (not as thinly sliced as for the soup), soybean sprouts, Chinese celery, green onion, ginger, cooking wine, salt, sugar, and the “hot pot” paste. The dish comes together very quickly and is pleasantly spicy with lots of texture and big flavor. What was most surprising was how different the Chinese celery is from the celery we buy – slender, bright green stalks have a pleasant snap and crunch with no stringiness.
Our third dish was unbelievably simple and Mike demonstrated how to properly prepare fresh squid (aka calamari) for cooking. Squid is readily available, inexpensive and not very difficult to cook.The naturally chewy texture of squid is appreciated by Chinese and Japanese people, but not so much by westerners. The most common mistake is overcooking squid which makes it tough. For High heat stir-frying, grilling or deep frying, squid will take somewhere between 30 seconds and 2 minutes.
First you peel the outer skin off, then score the flesh vertically and horizontally. When you pick up the calamari steak, you’ll see how the cuts make tiny bite size pieces which makes it easier to eat and the chewiness more palatable.You can also use a kitchen mallet to tenderize squid after removing the skin. Gently pound the squid a few times, being careful not to tear the meat. If time permits, you can soak the calamari pieces in lemon juice. A bath in this acidic juice will help make your meat more tender.
Cooking the squid took mere minutes. Oil was added to the wok along with chopped ginger, garlic and green onion. Stir or toss quickly, add a pinch of salt, cooking wine, pepper and corn starch. Give it another toss, serve and eat! Best lunch ever 🙂
- 100 grams lean pork, sliced thin
- 25 grams soybean sprouts
- 10 grams Chinese celery*
- Hot Pot seasoning paste
- Low-sodium soy sauce
- ¼ cup cooking wine
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon rice vinegar
- Using a sharp knife, cut the pork into ¼ inch slices. Heat the wok on high heat.
- Stir together the cooking wine, salt, pepper and corn starch. Set aside.
- Coat the wok or skillet with cooking oil. Add the green onion, ginger and a ladle of water. About ½ cup. Stir in a chunk of hot pot paste (about a tablespoon will result in medium spicy) and soy sauce. Add celery and sprouts and cook for about two minutes, stirring or tossing a few times for even cooking. Add the pork and cook for another minute or two until pork is barely pink.
- Transfer to a plate, pour the cooking liquid over.
Chinese Cooking Workshop
Room 108-109, No.2 Dong Ping Road by Heng Shan Road
Shanghai Metro 1 – Heng Shan station or Metro 10 – Shanghai Library station