Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

[Event] Taste of China Cooking Demonstration

Did you know that Dublin is twinned with Beijing? Well I didn't, or not at least until I visited the Dublin Chinese New Year website.  This festival of Sino-Irish culture is now six years old, and the 2013 festival was the biggest to date. One of the final events in the schedule was a Taste of China cookery demonstration hosted by Julie O'Neill of Shananigans Blog and Kevin Hui of China Sichuan restaurant in Sandyford. Given that the demonstrated dishes would come from a Sichaun restaurant, I was sold. I clicked through the online ticket office faster than I would get through a plate of Chinese green beans.

The only major obstacle was that the demonstration kicked off at 12pm on Sunday. At that time, I'm normally surfacing from my Saturday cocktail induced stupor. Still though, the lure of Chinese food was strong, and Sunday morning found me rather uncharacteristically bounding up the stairs to the Cooks Academy on South William Street. This was my first time at this venue, and I was very impressed by the bright and airy workspaces. A welcoming glass of prosecco definitely helped ease me into the mood.

Julie kicked off the event with an introduction to Chinese cooking (a massive subject in its own right) and a overview of her trip to China to visit her son and daughter-in-law. We laughed at her stories and we all felt the warmth of her welcoming Chinese in-laws. It served to remind us that meals bring and bind families together, especially in China where food is truly embedded in everyday life. For me, Chinese food, particularly Hunan or Sichuan, is soul food. No other cuisine makes me feel so content and satisfied. Considering I grew up with bacon and cabbage, this is some realisation. 
The interior of the Cooks Academy
Our first dish was fish fragrant pork shreds. The name is a little misleading as there is no fish in this dish but instead the name refers to the ingredients. As Sichuan province is landlocked with fish in limited supply, the aromatics typically used to flavour fish are instead used with other ingredients, hence the name. A key component of this dish is a picked red pepper sauce, which takes 3 weeks to mature in the fridge. (I've already got a bowl sitting in my fridge, tightly sealed to prevent the aromas from leaking out.) Thankfully, the team had provided us with pre-made sauce and we followed the instructions to produce an incredibly fragrant dish with lots of garlic, ginger and tender pork. I really can't wait to crack out my own version of the 3 week sauce and cook it myself at home. If you're not inclined to wait that long, some Sichuan chili bean paste can be used instead. 
Fish fragrant pork
Our second dish of the day were waltip dumplings filled with a chicken & prawn mixture. We watched as Ricky & Andrew got to work making the stiff but simple pastry, followed by the filling. The real fun came in watching Rick deftly portion and roll out the dumpling pastry with deft, practiced motions. A quick dab of filling and then the dumpling was sealed up with some serious pleating action. Cooking is a family activity in China, and children are often set to making the dumplings from a young age. 
Watching Ricky seal up dumplings
Then it was our turn. First thing that we learned was the importance of keeping the pastry short and dry. Our effort was a little too soft but we decided to go ahead and use it anyway. I attempted to roll the wrappers in the same inwards rolling manner as demonstrated by Ricky, but I found it faster and easier to switch to a regular rolling technique. Once I had my little pastry circles ready, it was time to add a little dab of filling and start to crimp the dumplings. I started out using a simplified pleating technique, making sure to put an attractive bend in the dumplings. The challenge was consistency, but I eventually produced four reasonably identical versions. My efforts at the more complicated crimping technique were definitely not as successful! The dumplings were poached in hot water for about 5 minutes, before being fried in a hot pan until one side was golden and crispy.
Top: pastry ready to go. Bottom: prawn and chicken filling
Top: my dumpling efforts. Bottom: Ricky's  pro dumpling
My poached and fried dumplings
The demonstration was scheduled to run for four hours, and I genuinely did not notice the time disappear. It was wonderful to get a chance to cook these dishes myself, with guidance from Ricky, Andrew and Kevin. The session has inspired me to pull out my selection of Chinese cookbooks and produce more dishes at home. There are many Asian supermarkets around the country now, including the Asia Market on Drury Street making many Chinese ingredients easily purchasable. Julie provides a list of basic Chinese ingredients and equipment on her blog, making it even easier to try some Chinese cooking at home. 

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