This is our 100th blog. This is such a milestone, J. and I wanted it to be one about something that was special to us. That is why it has taken so long to post. To make it even more special I thought J. should write it… So from J. and I thank you for your support of the first 100 entries, we are looking forward to the next 100.
C & J
Take any style of cooking or cooking technique. From any country. I’ll give you a second to think about that for a bit. No, really, think of any country or cooking style… Italian, French, Greek… you name it. Guess where they got their origins? China. That’s right… any type of modern-day cooking technique has come from the Chinese. Grilling meat over coals… they came up with that. You think the French came up with sautéing? Guess again. The Chinese came up with that in a little vessel called a wok. You thought boiling noodles until they were al dente came from the Italians? Chinese came up with that centuries before Marco Polo made his trip back.
For all of their amazing techniques, you’d think there would be a lot more authentic Chinese food here in the US. Unless you happen to live in San Francisco or New York and within walking distance to their respective Chinatowns, chances are what you know as Chinese food here in the US is fake. I hate to burst your bubble, but P.F. Changs or that chain with the smiling panda found in most airports are about as close to real Chinese food as those Gucci purses that just happen to be on sale for $20.
So when C and I had the opportunity to enjoy a banquet to end all banquets prepared by a Chinese grandmother, we couldn’t help but document the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Let’s be honest, grandmothers kick ass in the kitchen. That Italian grandma you have who came from the old country who makes that great polenta you like? Nobody can duplicate it. That Polish grandmother who makes the best pierogis? She’ll kick your ass with her kitchen skills. With this banquet, we were bowing down to the one true kung-fu master in the kitchen. Grand Master Qi Fen (for an apprentice like me, I must refer to her as master or shi fu)! Grand Master Qi Fen just happens to be a brand new grandmother after her daughter (SW – C’s sister in law) gave birth to a bouncing baby boy over the holidays, and she was gracious enough to prepare an amazing meal of 10 dishes for the whole family. I’m going to let that settle for a bit… that’s right… 10 dishes!
She spent the entire day shopping, prepping, and cooking the amazing meal and I had no choice but to take my place as the apprentice, knowing that I didn’t even come close to her kitchen prowess. That place just happened to be the kitchen stool next to her. Watching her knife skills, her seasoning technique, her marinating technique, ingredients she used, and most importantly, her ability to balance up to 5 dishes being cooked at the same time yet making sure each was closely watched.
Ever see a Chinese cook use a meat cleaver as precisely as a paring knife? It’s something else. You think you have good control with chopsticks? I’m half Korean and have been eating with chopsticks since I was 5. Grand Master was using long giant ones as if they were built into her wrist.
More importantly, watching Grand Master allowed me the opportunity to find out how the Chinese get those amazing flavors in to their food. I don’t mean to give up a secret here, but you only need a handful of ingredients to get great authentic Chinese flavor in your dishes: dark soy sauce, Chinese cooking wine, green onion, garlic, and salt. That’s it folks… you figure that out, you’re about 2% there in becoming the next Grand Master. The other 98% I think is attributed to years of experience and repetition, but what do I know?
I’m not about to give out recipes in this post… that would take an eternity and I think C would rather give out that information after we take a shot at a few of these dishes ourselves. I’m not about to name all of these dishes either but I’ll do my best in trying to describe them. On to the food!
Kung Pao Chicken – Cut chicken thighs marinated in dark soy, Chinese cooking wine, a little salt and green onions quickly cooked with Chinese chili flake oil and green peppers with peanuts. Who knew a dish in almost ever neighborhood Chinese restaurant menu would taste this good.
Pork with Capsicum/Peppers – Thinly sliced pork (sliced with a meat cleaver no less) cooked with thinly sliced green capsicum/pepper. I dare anyone to try and cut pork as uniformly as she did with a cleaver, and not lose at least part of a finger.
Mapu Tofu – Ground pork with spicy tofu. The dish to judge all Chinese cooks by. This one was flavorful and delicious. We have made this before – but we do it the cheats way.
Stuffed Pork Meatballs – I have no idea how those balls went from hollow fried spheres, to soft, flavorful stuffed globes full of pork. The dark soy/Chinese cooking wine marinade was excellent once again.
Pork Belly with 100-Year Old Eggs – Ever seen what the Chinese call 100-Year Old Eggs? These weren’t those but they sort of looked like them with the dark soy infusing to the egg whites. Soft pork belly slow cooked with that rich marinade.
Kick-Ass Fish – I challenge anyone to cook a flavorless white fish like tilapia and have it packed with as much flavor as Grand Master did in this dish. One of the better fish dishes I’ve had in my life.
Salted Cucumber – A simple dish to cleanse the palate. Crunchy cucumber cut uniformly with a giant cleaver.
Shrimp with Egg – Ever try de-veining 30 or more shrimp with a cleaver? Try doing it and let’s see how many fingers you’ll have left. Grand Master did that for every single shrimp (prawn for you Aussies) we had.
Snowpeas with Garlic – Crunchy snowpeas that went so well with rice.
Vegetable Medley – Gotta love that corn starch slurry to give it that classic Chinese shine!
Definitely a meal I won’t soon forget. I feel as if we’re indebted to Grand Master for this meal. Maybe one day I’ll get to make my famous (to a circle of about 8 people) BBQ ribs for her, although that won’t even come close to the spectacle she put on for us.
If Grand Master Qi Fen ever has a chance to read this, she’s invited to our house any day for dinner. If the meal we cook for her is even halfway as good as the meal she prepared for us, then I would consider that a success.