Put down the pamphlet, step away from the phone and frankly forget all about ordering a Chinese takeaway tomorrow for Chinese New Year. Take a leaf out of our books and learn how to make your own delicious oriental feast instead.
Launched by in 2012 by TV chef Jeremy Pang, School of Wok in London’s Covent Garden specialises in oriental food from Thai to Korean.
And a great way to begin your ride on the Oriental Express is with the Authentic Chinese Cookery class that we took.
Greeted with some jasmine tea and a square of brownie by our friendly teacher Mel, we settle in straight away.
There are just eight in the class and we pair up to work together on certain dishes.
First off, we make the bread casing to bake our Beggar’s Chicken. Legend has it that this dish got its name when a beggar stole a chicken and hid it away in a hole in the ground. It got covered in dirt and clay but he went ahead and cooked it anyway and noticed that the shell kept the chicken beautifully moist.
So in the modern version, you make a dough to wrap round the chicken which will harden and help steam the chicken inside, making it deliciously succulent.
Once the dough’s made, we stuff the chicken (poussin for us so it cooks more quickly) with a mix of diced mushrooms and pork loin that Mel and her team have already prepared. Then we wrap a banana leaf around it and parcel up the whole thing in dough before it goes in the oven.
Next, Mel instructs in some essential knife skills. It’s great fun wielding the enormous – and terrifyingly sharp – chinese cleavers as we try to slice garlic, ginger and spring onions as delicately as our teacher can.
She lets us into a great tip too – use a teaspoon to peel ginger. You’ll end up wasting far less than you would using a knife and you keep more of the nutrients found just under the skin.
Next up, we make wontons. Mel shows us two different shapes – money bags and gold cups.
We all peer over to see how she does it and she explains how to twist and fold the circles of dough and fill them with the minced pork and garlic filling.
Then it’s our turn and after some floundering, we all end up with some pretty decent looking shapes.
Now that the cleavers are safely out of the way, Mel suggests we have a refreshing beer and a quick wonton snack. Piping hot and freshly cooked, we’re all agreed that they taste wonderful.
After our break, it’s downstairs to try out the woks. We make egg fried rice and once again, there’s fascinating insight from Mel about how you should crack the egg first, drag it to the side of the wok, before mixing it with the rice -which should always be day-old.
Finally, we make another truly authentic dish – Ma Po tofu – or ‘pock-marked woman’s tofu’. It’s a spicy Szechuan dish made from minced pork with diced tofu on top.
With our chicken out of the oven, we’re ready to come back up and try the fruits of our labours.
We hack open the chicken to find a steaming, tender bird inside, the off-putting sounding ‘pock marked woman’s tofu’ is a delight of zingy, spicy, pork given just enough relief by the cooling cubes of melting tofu.
We can’t get enough of the wontons, the rice and the side-dish of blanched greens with goji berries and by the end, we’re all truly stuffed.
The class was so well-thought out and planned, there was no time wasted but we never felt rushed as we moved from one task to the next. The instructions were clear and Mel was always on-hand for extra help and to answer questions.
We leave – despite the full bellies – with a doggy bag of leftovers, feeling inspired to cook more chinese food at home and brimming with excitement about our new skills.
The three-hour Authentic Chinese Cookery class costs £95. Find out more and book at www.schoolofwok.co.uk
To get a taste of what it is like, School of Wok has shared their recipe for Crispy Wontons
8 tiger Prawns, peeled & deveined
3 Chinese mushrooms (soaked in hot water overnight)
1 clove garlic
1 handful of coriander
2 spring onions
2 leaves of Chinese leaf
15-20 wonton pastries
2 tbsp light soy sauce
Pinch of sugar
Sesame oil to cover
- Finely chop the vegetables and place in a large prep bowl
- Finely dice the prawns (if using) and add to the prep bowl
- Season with soy sauce, a pinch of sugar and cover with sesame oil
- Mix well
- Place 1 tsp filling in the centre of the pastry
- Using the tip of your finger wet all sides of the pastry with cold water
- Fold bottom corner over the filling to the top corner and press pastry down to seal all sides (to form a triangle)
- Holding the base of the filling with your thumbs, pull the 2 corners of the triangle towards each other, overlap the ends and then press together to form a ‘trough’ shape
- Place aside and fold all wontons the same way
- Deep fry the wontons at 180°C until golden brown. They usually start to float once cooked as there will be air inside the parcels
- Serve with sweet chilli sauce on the side