April 23rd, 2012


Days Eleven and Twelve: Chinatown Tribute

Today's two dishes are Chopped Chicken with Pickled Green Peppers and Crispy Peanuts 山椒碎米鸡 and the well-known Tai Bai Chicken (tai bai ji, 太白鸡). Reportedly, famous 8th-century poet Li Bai favored the last dish, so it became known under his pseudonym Tai Bai. How typical of Chinese culinary history: the gentry patrons achieve notoriety for their great taste while the actual cooks remain nameless.
For Tai Bai Chicken we dress and dice a chicken thigh, chop pickled chilies and green onion, use crushed ginger, star anise and a bay leaf to marinate the chicken cubes.

The second dish calls for a bit more chopping: we mince pickled red chilies, slightly crush peanuts, chop green onion, pickled greens (芽菜) and pickled green peppers known as yeshanjiao 野山椒.

These pale little chilies are rather hot!

The time in Chinese kitchen is usually divided like this: 85% chopping and 15% actual cooking in the wok.

Tai Bai Chicken: tender, savory, slightly hot.

Chicken with green chilies: hotter, but also more gloopy. Teachers always spend some time explaining how to make each dish more 'upscale' to charge more. You can lay the edge of the plate with steamed buns, use rabbit meat instead of chicken and replace peanuts with cashews or expensive pine nuts.

Our afternoon cooking exercises call for crates of chicken thighs and breasts, bunches of onion and buckets of cooking oil.

Ready! Tai Bai Chicken is a world-famous dish frequently found in Chinese restaurants abroad, so it's not surprising that our class embarked on a little 'Chinatown homage' (to my chagrin). On the next day we cooked a couple typical takeaway stir-fries, all characterized by soy-and-vinegar sauces, starch-coated meats and only a little chili heat.

Dress and dice a chicken thigh, slice garlic and ginger, chop the green onion...

...add cubes of asparagus lettuce (wosun 莴笋) and mashed pickled chilies (plate on the left). Parallel to that, get ready for the second dish: cut a piece of pork tenderloin into slivers, match with strips of bell pepper. Both dishes require that the meat is marinated for a few minutes with soy sauce, salt and lots of starch diluted in water.

The cooking is lightning-fast. First dish: Lazi Chicken Cubes 辣子鸡丁 (not to be confused with Laziji that is dry, chewy and 'mala' – and much more to my taste).

Second dish: Pork Slivers with Bell Peppers 甜椒肉丝.

Sometimes it feels we are at photography school.