Yesterday I spent the day at Mrs. Cheng’s house, the mother of one of my students. After picking up a last few bits and pieces at the market we started to prepare for several hours of intense cooking. But first, tea! A couple of cups of Pu’er tea and we were ready to enter the kitchen. Here is what I learnt…
Gong Bao Chicken 宫保鸡丁 (Gōngbǎo Jīdīng)
(for 3/4 people)
2/3 cups of peanuts (unroasted)
Large chicken breast
5/6 dried red chillies
3/4 spring onions (Roughly chopped in quite big slices)
1 carrot (cut into little “dings” or cubes)
Ginger (A big chunk, give it a bash with the knife and thinly slice)
Garlic (3 cloves, same as the ginger)
A teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorns
Baijiu (or a Chinese cooking wine)
The first thing to do is frying the peanuts! Mrs. Cheng used olive oil while cooking (she’s a recent convert) but you can use ground-nut oil or a vegetable oil. Top tip: put about 4 tablespoons of oil in the pan and put the peanuts in while the oil is still cold! Otherwise, you end up roasting the peanuts on the outside and they are still raw in the middle. Get the peanuts heated up, fry them for a short time and add about a tablespoon of baijiu. Fry them till the oil is spitting and they have slightly darkened in colour, drain off the oil and leave to one side.
Next, the chicken! Thinly slice the chicken breast into strips about a centimetre wide and then cube them. This is the ding in Gongbao Ji Ding! (ding meaning little cube, apparently you can refer to little babies as xiao ding ding or little ding ding) Drain any juices and then pour on a teaspoon of salt, sugar, a splash of soy sauce and baijiu. This gives you the “basic taste” and the baijiu “removes” any raw meat smells! Mrs. Cheng also added a little bit of meat tenderizer, that bit’s optional. Finally, cut up the chillies (people tend to snip them with scissors here).
Add about 4 tablespoons of oil to the pan, heat the oil up till its really hot (to check the heat you can do the chopstick test, put the end of a chopstick into the oil and watch the bubbles, if the bubbles are quite large your oil is ready!) throw in a teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorns, yes those zingy ones that make your mouth numb, fry them for about a minute or two and remove them. Next, add the finely chopped ginger, the garlic and spring onions. Followed by the chillies, the carrot, a teaspoon of salt and finally the chicken. Keep the ingredients moving around the pan. Once the chicken changes colour add the peanuts and continue to fry until the chicken is cooked! Whip it out the pan and enjoy!
Family Tofu (Doufu)
(for 2 people)
Firm-ish Tofu (slightly darker one rather than the very white wobbly one)
1/2 Spring onions
Ginger (a little piece)
Slice the tofu into slices about the the width of a finger. Put a couple of tablespoons of oil into the pan and heat until it’s quite hot. Place the tofu slices into the pan, but remember do no try to move them around the pan or you’ll end up with bits stuck all over the place! Turn the heat down and let them fry until they start to go golden. Then flip them over and fry until they are lovely and golden all over and remove from the pan.
Give the pan a wash, put about a tablespoon of fresh oil in. Give the spring onions a bash and chop them up into rough chunks. Pop them into the pan with about a teaspoon of finely chopped fresh ginger. Heat them up and then put the tofu slices back in. Here comes the interesting bit! Add a bowl of water and boil it! Why? Mrs. Cheng said that when you fry the tofu at the beginning it sucks up all the oil so to balance this you need to slightly boil the tofu so that it releases the oil within it but keeps the flavours. Magic! Add a teaspoon of sugar (brings the flavours out) and a splash of soy sauce and watch the water lessen. Once the sauce has become more syrupy you’re done!
Tofu & Pork Meatball Soup (Dofu Wanzi Tang)
(about 4 helpings)
Bean sprouts (about 4 handfuls)
Minced pork (about a a bowl full)
Tofu (The same tofu as in the Family Tofu recipe)
Ginger (a little piece)
1 Spring onion (thinly chopped)
1 clove Garlic (thinly chopped)
Oil (olive oil or a vegetable oil)
Prepare the ginger, spring onion and garlic and add to the pork. Add the tofu followed by 3 tablespoons of oil, a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of sugar, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, a pinch of black pepper and a tablespoon of baijiu. Mix together. Top Tip: Mix only in one direction, this way the mixture stays together and the ingredients bind becoming firmer, rather than mixing willy-nilly and ending up with a bowl of mush!
Give your bean sprouts a wash then put them into a pan of boiling water and bring to the boil again. Once boiling turn down the heat.
Now the fun bit! Get a a round spoon (like a soup spoon) and a bowl. Take a spoon full of mixture slightly smaller than an egg and start shaping it in the bowl. As it becomes rounder use the spoon to pick it up and throw it back into the bowl. Do this several times till it becomes a nice round shape that holds together. Then lightly place in the soup. Keep doing this till you have as many meatballs as you want. Make sure the heat stays lows so as not to break up the meatballs. Once they start to change colour give them a turn and turn up the heat to cook them through. Top Tip: Don’t put the lid on the pan or the soup will loose it’s colour. Season to taste and voilà, your soup is done. De-licious!