Martha Sherpa runs a tight ship.
I started strong. Our first task was to slice some ginger, and Martha used my translucent pieces as an example for the other students — a maid sent to class by her boss and a 20 year old kid from Hong Kong going to school in Boston sent to Martha by his mother to make him more well-rounded. She nodded approvingly in my direction.
But then it was time to de-bone chickens. I butchered the thing. No, that’s not right. Butchers know how to do this, and I clearly didn’t. Martha looked at my work and just shook her head.
The poor battered bird was for a dish of steamed rice, shitake mushrooms, and chicken, one of five recipes we made in the day-long “Chinese Wok Cookery” class. Having recently inherited a wok when a friend moved, this seemed like a perfect topic, though Martha offers a range of courses in her Mongkok studio, from Chinese to Thai, from dim sum to dessert.
We made braised yi-fu noodles with shitakes, yellow chives, and oyster sauce; steamed chicken with shitakes, cloud ear fungus and daylilies; Stuffed tofu and vegetable soup; and crispy fried fish with corn and egg sauce.
I learned a lot. I learned that knife skills are important for flavor as much as texture; that thinly sliced ginger permeates the whole dish rather than jutting out in big hot bites. I learned that the Chinese preference is for hard, springy meat (and fish) balls, and how to work the mixture to achieve this texture. I learned that tossing meat with a bit of starch before adding the rest of the marinade helps create a glaze when the meat is steamed that keeps it from drying out. I learned that “Asian sole” is a euphemism for catfish.
It was obvious after the day that most of my European-based kitchen skills were useless in this kind of cooking. In retrospect I think I got lucky with the ginger, because it was apparent my cleaver skills were lacking. “It’s not a French knife,” Martha said, laughing.
But I left armed with a stack of recipes and knowledge, a list of pantry items to stock, and a belly full of food that I can’t wait to try and make at home.
Martha Sherpa’s Cooking School on Argyle St. in Mongkok, Kowloon, by appointment only +852 2381 0132 or email@example.com Prices range from HK $1500 to $2600 ($193-335 US) for a full day. Visit the website for full schedule and pricing.
Read more about Martha Sherpa’s school at Gourmet.
See all my photos from Hong Kong on Flickr.