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Book Review: Chinese Unchopped

Book Review: Chinese Unchopped
It's full steam ahead for Liz o'Keefe as she attempts dumplings from Chinese Unchopped, the new book from London's School of Wok, Jeremy Pang.

Chinese Unchopped by Jeremy Pang
Quadrille, £20
Photography by Martin Poole

London’s School of Wok Jeremy Pang is one of those great teachers some of us are lucky enough to meet. He seemingly effortlessly guides and nurtures all ages and capabilities to wield the knife (or cleaver, mostly) and wok in style during his cookery classes, courses and food festival demos. Jeremy has now, rather cleverly, managed to transfer his easy manner and skill into an all-singing and dancing cookery book. Not always a natural transition for chefs and the like, thankfully for our inquisitive culinary minds Chinese Unchopped sends Jeremy’s passion flowing through the pages and into our kitchens.
 
Having chatted to Jeremy and been shown how to make the most of certain Chinese vegetables by the man himself, I could see how this broken down (or ‘unchopped’) version of cookery techniques and dishes is unique.
 
As a food writer, it’s terrible to admit, but cookery books can be a bit of a busman’s holiday. I love the idea of them and have so many, but getting round to cooking from a book of an evening feels a little lackluster after developing recipes and talking about food all day at work. So, it takes a lot for a cookery book to make it off the coffee table and onto a work surface in my place. But, as you have probably guessed already, Chinese Unchopped succeeded.
 
I know what you’re thinking; it’s hardly fair for someone who cooks for a living to go on about how easy and accessible a book makes cooking. So, that’s a cue for my happy helper: Matt. Matt is a keen at-home cook and was
Book Review: Chinese Unchopped
Liz O'Keefe's Dumplings
ready to ‘get wokking’, as Jeremy himself would put it.
 
The Book
First things first, Matt set about looking in the book at what we should cook – boiling it down to around five recipes and then we eliminated a few according to what ingredients we needed and timings, and so on. In general, these recipes aren’t that long and convoluted, as you might expect from Chinese cookery, so the latter choosing technique didn’t help that much – plus the accurate and almost moody food photography makes you want to eat everything. It is a tough life, indeed.
 
But despite the in-depth introduction, ingredients explanation and equipment at the front of the book, it is an easy book to dive into, as any higher-skill level techniques, like dumpling making, steaming and deep frying, are explained in sections throughout the book, and it’s pretty easy to find the extra info about certain things at the front as you go along. ‘Swapies’ are offered for some items in recipes, yet not for others quite indiscriminately, but a quick look at numbered pictures of all the sauces, dry goods and ingredients you could need at the start of the book, and an educated guess can sort out what it could be replaced with. It’s also clear, that even though this book makes Chinese food simple, it doesn’t simplify it. If you are going to cook with this book, it really is best to get the right food stuffs, if you can.
 
We made a quick journey to a Chinese grocery, but still had to replace the wood ear mushrooms for a dried mushroom mix and Chinese chives for regular ones, so it could be worth ordering a couple of things online two or so days before you plan to cook, depending on what’s in your area.
 
After much deliberation whilst becoming rather hungry, Matt chose to make Poached Cod Fillet with Wood Ear Mushroom and Spring Onion Broth, the Flash-Fried Morning Glory and the Cucumber Pickle from the Crispy Duck Breast with Pancakes (a more moist, quicker take on traditional shredded crispy duck, you probably know and love), and I decided to be a show-off and have a go at the Shiitake and Chive Dumplings, making the pastry from scratch.  
 
Another technique explored at the start of the book is the ‘wok clock’, which is basically a handy at-home version of the French cookery concept mise en place, where everything is prepared and ready to be used in place, before you start cooking. With the wok clock, you prepare your ingredients according to the recipe instructions (a lot of Jeremy’s recipes refer to the clock) from 12 o’clock in order of use. It does make it easier to cook, but make sure you take into consideration it could take you quite a long time to chop everything up. A healthy preparation time is included in the recipes, but sometimes people are inclined to think, “it won’t take 30 minutes for me to chop a couple of things up”, but it probably will and we ate much later than if we were preparing as we cooked. It is worth doing though, and as Jeremy says in the book, it makes the whole experience “much neater” and a more “straightforward process” when actually cooking.
 
Full Steam Ahead
I’d say with confidence that the Shiitake and Chive Dumplings would be a joy for any foodie to prepare – I really enjoyed the process. From making the pastry and filling, to making the dumpling, there’s a clear voice talking you through it, with very realistic hand-drawn style illustrations to guide you through it. There’s steaming tips in the front of the book that have literally changed the way I will steam at home from now on – so, thanks Jeremy! The prospect of steaming is not such an arduous one now.
 
The Poached Cod was warming and tasty, and the egg white coating on the fish was simple to do and made all the difference to the consistency of the cod in the broth. We added some rice noodles to the broth to make it a bit more substantial and served our Cucumber Pickle in cups of iceberg lettuce. The Morning Glory was just like a restaurant’s and thoroughly enjoyed. Most importantly, it was fun to do – it was interesting foraging around for the ingredients and we were introduced to a few sauces and items that we’d never used before. It’s safe to say that Chinese Unchopped won’t be seeing that coffee table again. The adventure has just begun…
Book Review: Chinese Unchopped
Raw Dumplings
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5 August 2015
By: Liz O'Keefe
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