Coming from three generations of Chinese chefs it’s no wonder that Jeremy Pang followed suit, albeit after a degree in biochemical engineering and a stint in marketing. The exciting flavours and techniques of Chinese home cooking were enthusiastically demonstrated by Jeremy’s father; his children watched in awe as “he skipped across the kitchen with cleaver, board and wok”, working far too quickly for them to follow what he did. Once dinner was on the table he quizzed them about the ingredients, developing their palates and training them to focus on what they were eating.
Jeremy didn’t let the secretive nature of Chinese chefs stop him from learning all about Chinese cuisine nor passing it on to enthusiastic students. After studying at Le Cordon Blue Institute, working in several restaurants and travelling across South East Asia, Jeremy launched the School of Wok, first as a mobile cookery school and later in its current Covent Garden premises. His focus for the school is to demystify the techniques and recipes of Chinese cooking.
Years of developing classes for the school have taught him how to unravel recipes and present them to students in an easy-to-learn way. In Chinese Unchopped, Jeremy brings together his key lessons in an accessible, attractive cookery book.
First come Chinese Kitchen Essentials – chapter one covers key equipment, providing guidance on selecting and using a cleaver, how to season and care for a wok and handy notes on steamers, ladles, strainers and chopsticks; next are techniques for preparing ingredients with step-by-step photos on slicing and dicing.
Jeremy divides his introduction to a Chinese Pantry: Level 1 ingredients – those he considers essential to Chinese cooking – are readily available in Western supermarkets; Level 2 items – for those ready to delve further into the cuisine – may require a visit to specialist Oriental grocery stores. Noodles, rice, sauces, dried and preserved goods, spices and cooking oils are all revealed.
Cooking processes are often lighting quick, so there is a strong focus on preparation, which Jeremy identifies as critical to success. He advocates his signature Wok Clock, a simple way of remembering to lay out your prepared ingredients in the order that you will use them.
Once you are ready to start cooking, recipes are presented by technique with chapters on stir-frying, deep-drying, steaming, poaching and braising, roasting and double cooking. Last is a collection of salads, pickles and sides.
Recipes are taken from across China; from Cantonese roast duck legs to Sichuan-style aubergine. Influences from Thailand and Malaysia inform dishes such as salted egg fishcakes and crispy langoustines with coconut shallot crunch. You will even find versions of Chinese takeaway staples such as sweet and sour pork, salt and pepper squid and crispy chilli beef.
Plenty of less familiar recipes will appeal to those looking for something more adventurous, from Grandma’s lionhead meatballs to charred pineapple chicken in sweetened black rice vinegar, five-spice lotus leaf chicken with Chinese sausage, kampo’s pork belly and yam with hoisin spring onion sauce and pickled lotus root and spinach.
Cookery books on specific cuisines tend towards the encyclopaedic approach, supplying such a bewildering number of recipes that it’s easy to feel a little daunted. As you’d expect from a book written by an experienced teacher, Chinese Unchopped is a refreshing change, imparting the essentials by showcasing methods, each with a carefully selected set of recipes.
Bold colour photographs and hand-drawn sketches illustrate the book beautifully, making the instructions accessible and achievable. A nice feature is the ‘swapsies’ provided in many of the recipes, suggesting alternatives for one or more of the ingredients, if not available or a little too spendy.
Chinese Unchopped is above all a practical book that will soon have you rustling up aromatic Chinese feasts in your home kitchen.
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Kavey Eats received a review copy of Chinese Uncooked by Jeremy Pang from publisher Quadrille.