If you always thought cooking a Chinese meal was complicated and time consuming, it's time to think again. What if you could just whip up two delicious courses of Chinese food to celebrate Chinese New Year or to impress your Valentine during your lunch hour? In case you hadn't noticed, the two holidays often fall close together. In 2013, for example, Chinese New Year is being celebrated across the UK between February 10 and 17.
And speaking of your Valentine, what about taking a Chinese cooking class together? We asked cookery school expert and food writer Nick Wyke, founder of Looking to Cook, an online guide to cooking courses in the UK, to share his thoughts on the subject. He came up with a quick-as-a-flash cookery course that you can fit into an hour. So, whether you are a Londoner or visitor with a little time to spare, this program could be just the thing.
There’s a bit of a trend at the moment for express cookery classes that can be squeezed in to a lunch hour or right after work, and bit of a buzz about exploring the many different sides of Asian cuisines. So School of Wok is right on track with its hour-long Quick Fire classes, that range from wok cooking and street food, to longer Malaysian and Vietnamese classes.
The school is well placed between the heart of Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square, just down from Mexican restaurant Wahaca on Chandos Place. There’s a healthy footfall without the throng of nearby streets. Doors opened in May 2012.
The school has a new, uncluttered feel to it with high shelves punctuated by giant woks, plenty of space and light and a shop front which piques the curiosity of passers by. The kitchen has a flash pop-up ‘hood’ and enough room for eight people. A second, larger teaching kitchen downstairs was due to open soon after we visited.
The business is run by Jeremy Pang and chef Neville Leaning, who oversees the Thai courses. On my Quick Fire Wok class we grabbed aprons as the clock struck 6pm and cracked straight on with the class.
This included an intro by Jeremy to woks, a survey of ingredients, which had been prepped for us so we could concentrate on the cooking, a sniff and taste of different soy sauces, and a look at how to cook thick rice noodles: for four to five minutes in boiling water in a wok, then laid out on a tray with a splash of oil ready to be stir fried.
Jeremy tells us that we’re going to be doing 100 per cent of the cooking – not something you hear often at a cookery school. And that if we only take away one thing from the class it is that the basic marinade for beef, or indeed any main ingredient, is light soy sauce, sesame oil and a pinch of five spice.
We’re making chilli Hoisin green beans and dry fried beef ho fun. Armed with a smoking hot wok in one hand and a ladle in the other, it’s surprisingly hard work – like making a risotto on speed.
Jeremy guides us on the main techniques: the push back and fold over, the push round and the toss and flick – inevitably there’s spillage from the wok when I try ‘the flick’, which ideally should be one quick, smooth movement. I cooked the ingredients one at a time, starting with the onion and peppers, adding a little more oil around the top of the wok each time I added new ingredients for a more even coating and less greasy dish.
The result looks like proper Chinese food. We clean the woks by adding water and scraping off the debris with the wok still on the heat, then after removing the water, returning the wok to the heat to dry. “If you do this, your wok will serve you for years,” says Jeremy.
Towards the end of the hour, we sit down with a glass of wine and taste our two dishes. There’s plenty of flavor and enough to feed a family of four, so I get to have a take away, too.
School of Wok, 61 Chandos Place, London WC2N 4HG; website ; telephone +44 (0)207 240 8818. Classes in 2013 start at £45 per person for a one-hour Quick Fire course.