Monday, January 30, 2012

Chinese Kitchen: Shanghai

During my Chinese New Year Break I decided to take advantage of my time off to use my Christmas gift card for cooking classes. One such was Shanghai cuisine, a rival cuisine to my current hometown of Beijing. Shanghai cooking tends to be sweeter due to their heavier handed sugar use. A recipe that calls for 1/2 tsp of sugar in Beijing will call for 2 tsp in Shanghai. Shanghai food also tends to have milder flavors. They use less garlic and leeks, and opt for the fresher spring onion, and their sauce tends to be rice-, rather than wheat-based.  Click below to read more about my class. 

I was introduced to several new foods during this class, including the large round item in middle of the picture below: bamboo shoot. This one has been precooked, but if you buy them in July when they are fresh you have to boil it prior to using it in recipes.

Next to the bamboo in the picture above is a pile of dried sliced rice cakes. These have to be soaked overnight before use. I was skeptical during prep time but found them surprisingly good in the stir fry below. Most Chinese dishes I've seen are very colorful; not this one, but it makes up for it in its variety of tastes and textures.
Stir Fried Rice Cake - Shanghai Style
The last new item for me was cuttlefish. I've had it accidently in a few dishes while in Beijing, and have not enjoyed the rubbery texture. During this class we learned how to score it, which served to both tenderize the meat and make it curl up into interesting tube shapes. I was so skeptical about this dish, I had decided that I would take one bite, but then not feel bad about not eating it.  However, the cuttlefish ended up being very tender and the combination of flavors was so enticing I went back for more. Too much prep work for an everyday meal, but it may be fun for a special occasion.
Stir Fried Cuttlefish with Ginger and Spring Onion Sauce
During this class we spent a lot of time talking about knife skills and cutting techniques. The size and shape of the ingredient is often an important element in Chinese cooking. Traditional Chinese medicine talks about the balance of hot and cold and, for some, these beliefs shape how they cut the food. For example, if the ginger is young enough, they leave the skin on to make sure to include the cool outer layer with the hot inner layer in each bite. Carrots and pepper are cut at an angle to release more of their juices during cooking. Mushrooms are cut diagonally to expose more white to absorb the flavor of the dish and to decrease cooking time. Overall, you get the majority of the parts of the vegetable in every bite. While I know very little about Chinese medicine, I do know my family eats, and enjoys, way more vegetables since moving to China. 
Paksoy with Shitake Mushrooms

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