Tips & tricks of hong kong style cooking

Tips & tricks of hong kong style cooking

By
Jeremy Pang
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
978-1-84949-992-7
Photographer
Kris Kirkham

Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, so cooking, whether at home or as a chef on the streetsides of the city, must be done with efficiency in mind. This is a city where apartment sizes are likened to the size of large parking spaces, where space is limited, and home kitchens are often a secondary thought, or else there would be nowhere to sleep. Limited space in kitchens means that there are no ovens; sometimes fridges and freezers are hard to fit into the tiny kitchens, so Hong Kongers find themselves either eating out more if they can afford to, or going to the market on a daily basis to save space and still be able to cook fresh food. Despite first appearances, the lack of space also lends itself to some clear positives: Hong Kong cooks and chefs have an amazing sense of resourcefulness when it comes to cooking. Every single surface in the kitchens or streetside tables is used to prep or cook, stacking ingredients, prepped or not, on top of each other, using height, not length, to make more room. So long as there is space for a wok, cleaver, chopping board, and possibly a steam basket stored on top of the wok, you can make a banquet worth bragging about.

Here are some general tips and tricks that I have picked up from Hong Kong chefs. Their tiny kitchen layouts, efficient use of each part of every ingredient or leftover, and quick, high-heat cooking that seals flavour into the ingredients within minutes are all noteworthy skills well worth mastering in order to create a true Hong Kong kitchen.

Cook once eat twice

Saving food from an ethical point of view may not be a clear-cut direct message for Hong Kong people, but it is ingrained in Chinese culture that we must never waste, and that every food that can be eaten, must be eaten. This book is an attempt to create more fun and learning in the kitchen, but I also hope it serves as a good and honest representation of how Hong Kong people like to eat, and how we value our food. My wife, Dee, often wonders how I manage to bring out a meal from what appears to be an empty fridge, but the real trick is that we always have a very full freezer, and an even more full pantry with good Tupperware at the ready! Therefore it’s no magic trick to make another meal out of good home-cooked leftover dishes and a few dry, fermented or saucy ingredients – it simply requires a bit of resourcefulness coupled with a dash of creativity.

Any of the dumplings, baos and sharing dishes from this book are likely to present you with leftovers (unless you really are a big eater). So don’t hesitate to utilize your freezer to make numerous meals for the rest of the week, or even a whole table full of banquet or party food when your friends come over next. Remember, true Chinese-style eating is all about having a variety of foods on the table; the little bits and bobs can really add up to a memorable and satisfying meal, saving you room in the waste bin and hard-earned cash as well.

Double frying & double cooking

Much like all other Chinese cuisines, stir-frying, steaming and deep-frying formulate the basis of Hong Kong cuisine, in addition to our love of roast meats. Pre-blanching of meats or vegetables, whether in hot oil or hot water, speeds up the cooking process by creating an immediate seal around whatever ingredient is being cooked. This initial seal and ‘first cook’ not only keeps the meat or vegetables nice and tender, but it also caramelizes any natural sugars around the edges of the meat if fried, and brings out any fatty impurities if blanched in water. It is also a less ‘faffy’ way of sealing every side of the meat in a frying pan, which requires having to turn every piece over time and time again to get the same effect. Once placed back in the wok the second time round to finish off a dish, the ingredients will then soak up the sauce for a stir-fry, with more of a caramelized finesse. This double cooking technique in Chinese cuisine is also used as a tool to speed up the finishing of dishes. For example: if you blanch sliced asparagus, green beans or broccoli for 1–2 minutes in advance, then cool them immediately in cold water, the vegetables will cook much quicker when flash-fried into a steaming hot sauce later on, enabling you to turn a stir-fried vegetable dish out in seconds rather than minutes, while maintaining a fresh and natural crunch.

When blanching anything during the double cooking process, a wok mesh strainer will help to do the job in one swift swoop. I call these tools ‘spiders’: they are essentially giant flat sieves with a large web-like metal mesh surface and a bamboo handle, which allow you to pick up a wokful of ingredients in one go.

Double cooking does not have to be unique to Chinese cooking. Once you get used to the benefits of cooking this way, it’s a great cooking technique that can be used either to speed up the cooking process, crisp up or seal whatever you are cooking, enabling you to move on to the next step quicker and more efficiently.

The wok clock

Repetition is definitely not in my eating nature, as I’m the type of person who must eat a different meal each day of the week or else get bored. However, when it comes to cooking and teaching, I find that repetition of simple learning techniques helps a lot. Since writing Chinese Unchopped, the Wok Clock has proved a popular tool for preparation and organization and keeps the cooking in mind at all times, as opposed to losing track by re-reading the recipe over and over again. And when it comes to cooking in small spaces, much like in Hong Kong street stalls, organization of your prep is by far the best way to keep your kitchen tidy.

At School of Wok, we like to prepare our ingredients in an organized manner, using a round plate as a clock that Nev, my business partner, and I like to call the Wok Clock. This organization is not exclusive to wok cooking, but ‘Wok Clock’ is just a simple phrase to remember and should help with organizing all types of cooking at home. Once you have prepared all your ingredients, start to place them in their cooking order, beginning at 12 o’clock, working your way all around the plate. Whether you are cooking a stir-fry or a slow-cooked curry, it works. As a general rule of thumb we tend to start with the base ingredients (onions, garlic, ginger) and firmer vegetables, then move on to the meats or other proteins, followed by the sauce or braising liquid. It’s that simple! I remind you to use this Wok Clock method many times throughout the book. Once you get into the habit of doing so, you’ll find cooking as a whole to be a much neater and more straightforward process, freeing you up to relish the joys of preparing dishes and learning new techniques rather than scampering to consult your recipe books.

Using base sauces, sides & extras

You will find throughout the book that there are various recipes that use base sauces: either directly from the pantry, ones which use additional chilli sauces or oils to be used as condiments, or in conjunction with other fresh ingredients to create a completely new recipe. Getting your head around Chinese sauces can be quite daunting, but the easiest way to explain them is to see the sauces as vehicles that help to accentuate the natural flavour of the raw ingredients you are cooking. Chinese sauces and condiments are usually quite powerful in flavour. As a general rule of thumb they are there either to sit on the side for added flavour, or within sauces and marinades to accentuate depth of flavour from natural ingredients, whichever part of your palate you are trying to hit.

For example, Chiu Chow chilli oil (whether homemade or not), is a strong, spicy-flavoured condiment. Just a quarter or half a teaspoon, mixed with some light soy sauce, oyster sauce, a little pinch of sugar and some chicken stock, will lighten the spice. And while the mild essence of chilli could help to cut through something as delicate as a scallop, or help to balance out the meatiness of a dumpling, it is unlikely to ‘burn’ your delicate tastebuds, even if chilli is not your usual go-to ingredient. Balance is key!

Throughout the book, you will find different uses of base sauces and condiments, and you may find it interesting to experiment with tweaking recipes here and there once you have gained the confidence from cooking the recipes once or twice. The ability to switch and change sauces is where Hong Kong diner chefs really work their magic. In a Hong Kong street kitchen, all the sauces will be lined up right next to the wok burners, next to the salt, sugar, white pepper and other condiments, for the chefs to pick out small quantities with the tips of their wok ladles as they are cooking. Part of the fun of cooking is in the experimentation, so don’t be afraid to play around!

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