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eG Foodblog: Prawncrackers (2010) - Cooking with Panda!


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Was it a bit too obvious? I mean a panda in a wok could practically have been anyone really! But it is me and it's now my turn to contribute to the much loved eG Foodblogs. I was asked a couple of years ago by Pam R to do one but could never find the time because of work and study commitments. If anyone knows about the UK Actuarial exams then you will know how involved they are, if not, trust me they are - very much. Well, i'm still studying for my qualification but Pam's timing has been good and having just sat a couple of exams I feel I can make a good stab at food blogging this week. Thanks also to Grace, Foodmuse, for contributing last week. Hope I haven't overlapped too much, it is Monday here in the UK.

A little about me first, I was born and bred in Brum (that's what we Brummies call our hometown) to Hong Kong Chinese immigrants in the 70s. I'm in my mid-30s now as is my wife who shares a similar upbringing to me. We both love to eat but it's me in particular that loves to cook too. Seeing my mum cook fresh food everyday when I was growing has given me a lifelong appreciation of home-cooking. So this week, I hope to pay some of that forward and do week of Cooking with Panda! If you've ever read my posts on Cooking forum then you'll know that will pretty much try my hand at cooking anything and of course take a photo of it before it's devoured. Please have a look at the Food Gallery cum diary by clicking on my tagline sometime for the kind of stuff I like to cook and eat. This week should be no different, I'll cook some favourites and maybe try out some with new ideas. I think it's so much more personal and of course unique to do a cooking week so I'll try to fit as much as I can in and resist the temptation to visit the many fine restaurants we have in the city (maybe next time!)

I have only a loose plan for the week, today and tomorrow I'm in work so the evening meals will be very simple. Wednesday and Thursday I've taken off so we'll see what's good at the market and build some meals around that. Friends have been invited round so these two days will see me stretch my culinary muscles a little. Friday, back in work so I may have a break that evening. Saturday and Sunday, who knows? I'm open to suggestions...

It's 8am now and so I have to dash to work. I never have breakfast before going out, so it's going to be a very low key start to my food week. So please in the meantime ask me all the food related questions you have of me and we'll get the ball rolling. Looking forward to this week and to all your responses.

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Ah the panda wok is only a couple of weeks old, that’s why it’s not grungy at all. I’ve had one wok since I went away to University, a smallish 11” one that is just perfect when I’m cooking for just the two of us. On occasion for bigger meals I’ve borrowed my mothers wok so I’ve been on the lookout for one just like hers for a couple of years now. Hers is a 14” pan with two small metal loop handles, the classic basic wok shape. Can you believe that I’ve scoured the country but could not find one? It was only when she revealed she bought hers from an Indian shop that I realised hers was a karai, not a wok at all! Looking at it again, it is slightly fatter, the sides become more vertical than the classic sloping Chinese wok shape. But still no luck I couldn’t find it in any of the many Indian/Pakistani shops around here either.

No, I found my perfect wok a couple of weeks ago in Manhattan! Williams-Sonoma in the Time-Warner centre of all places, not even in Chinatown, among the $600 Mauviel copper pans was this $20 wok. Probably the cheapest pound for pound item in the whole shop, I didn’t hesitate and snapped it up. Yes, I went shopping in New York on holiday and I brought home a wok. Such are the priorities of your average egulleter. As for seasoning it, I've never done anything special. Give it a scrub, bang it on the heat to dry till it turns blue and give a wipe with oil while it's still hot.

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No, I found my perfect wok a couple of weeks ago in Manhattan! Williams-Sonoma in the Time-Warner centre of all places, not even in Chinatown, among the $600 Mauviel copper pans was this $20 wok. Probably the cheapest pound for pound item in the whole shop, I didn’t hesitate and snapped it up. Yes, I went shopping in New York on holiday and I brought home a wok. Such are the priorities of your average egulleter. As for seasoning it, I've never done anything special. Give it a scrub, bang it on the heat to dry till it turns blue and give a wipe with oil while it's still hot.

What makes it perfect for you? "Love the wok you're with" is my motto; the only prerequisite I had when picking mine out was that I could heft it with one arm. I can, but just barely.

As for eGullet priorities while travelling...I got pulled over in customs this year in a Malaysian airport for carrying out a bag of red rice I'd picked up at the market. The guard wanted to know if I knew how to use it properly and made me wait while she wrote out a recipe. I almost lost a year off my life in fear before I figured out what she was doing!

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I'm open to suggestions...

When I learned you were up next, like a week ago, I asked at my local British Butcher and Frootique if they carried any real Birmingham food. He showed me packages of Balti curry, Typhoo tea and some cheese who's name escapes me. Maybe you could show us some great grub of the Region that's important to you.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Chris, the best day to go to the Birmingham Wholesale fish and poultry market is on a Wednesday. So i'm planning an early morning trip to snaffle up some seafood and cook a Cantonese meal for my friends that night. The weather is atrocious at the moment so I hope the fish can get to Brum on Wednesday. It's actually a funny week for markets, the usual farmers market in town are on the first and fourth weekends so not this week. Which is a shame because I'd have loved to cooked up some game birds as November is good for wild duck, partridge, pheasant and pigeon. But then there is so little time and so much to cook.

Peter, yes, all curry connoisseurs know that Birmingham is the curry capital of the Western hemisphere and the Balti was invented here. No one cooks Balti at home so if you really want to see a one I may be tempted to take a break from cooking and take visit to the legendary Balti triangle. As for local cheeses i can't think of any expect for Ozzy Osbourne...

I agree with you Erin, the perfect wok is the one I have now! I deep fry in a wok and I was always terrified that I would knock the long handle of my old wok, so i knew that the new one must have the small metal loop handles. So far, i've deep-fried tokatsu, cooked dry fried beef ho fun in it and stir-fried some greens. It's handled those pretty well but I'm still getting used to it. Tonight will see it's toughest challenge yet - egg fried rice.

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"Peter, yes, all curry connoisseurs know that Birmingham is the curry capital of the Western hemisphere"

I think there are probably about 230,000 folks in Bradford who might dispute that statement!

Roll on, I'm looking forward to this blog.

Edited by Dave Hatfield (log)
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Monday my fridge is usually desolate, a wasteland, as Tyler Durden would say - a fridge of condiments but no food. Bottles of hot sauce, ketchup, mayo, olives, pickles, capers, anchovy, all the usual suspects. Of the 'fresh' ingredients there are a few bits of scallion, a couple of eggs and of course garlic, ginger and chillies always. There's a compartment of preserved stuff too - cured suasages, pancetta, dried shrimp. So what to cook tonight? Luckily I have provisions in the freezer for such occasions and I took out some char siu last night that I made a couple of weeks ago. This was from half a tamworth pig that I butchered not long ago. My freezer is good for pork at the moment so you might probably see a fair bit of pig on the menu this week.

Anyway, tonight i'm going use up the last bits of fresh stuff in the fridge and make char siu egg fried rice. It felt a little strange photoing my food prep as it just seems so mundane but for one week only I'll do my best to document. As most of you know I'm all about getting the money shot and eating before the stuff gets cold!

I'm pretty sure I'm the only person i know who makes egg fried rice by mixing the egg with the cooked rice first. Not sure where I got this idea from but I've been doing it for donkeys, every grain is coated and cooks evenly. On the highest heat possible I fry a little garlic, ginger and scallion first then add the char siu to heat through a little. Everything is pushed to the side and the rice mixture is plopped into the centre of the wok. The char siu is shifted to the top of the rice and it's all flattened out so just the rice is in contact with the wok. When the bottom has set a little it's time to mix everything through and keep tossing and stirring till it's done. A good glug of light soy is added along the way, and some peas and sweetcorn from the freezer. That's it, call me Cantonese but I like this very basic egg-fried rice! No need add sesame oil, oyster sauce or chilli sauce whilst you're cooking. Though I do like a dollop of chilli oil to eat with it. The wok handled it perfectly, no sticking at all - this could be the best wok ever Erin. Btw, for all you knifenuts out there tonight's knife is the 210mm Takeda Gyuto :wink:

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What a good idea about mixing the egg in with the rice before adding it all to the wok. I usually add the eggs on top of the rice in the wok and stir to incorporate. So, you mix up the rice and eggs THEN add it to the wok?

Do you think the addition of peas is a European thing? I know, in HK, my Mom used to add diced green beans and scallions, but it was only after we came to Canada that she added peas - availability.

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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I'm pretty sure I'm the only person i know who makes egg fried rice by mixing the egg with the cooked rice first. Not sure where I got this idea from but I've been doing it for donkeys, every grain is coated and cooks evenly. On the highest heat possible I fry a little garlic, ginger and scallion first then add the char siu to heat through a little. Everything is pushed to the side and the rice mixture is plopped into the centre of the wok. The char siu is shifted to the top of the rice and it's all flattened out so just the rice is in contact with the wok. When the bottom has set a little it's time to mix everything through and keep tossing and stirring till it's done. A good glug of light soy is added along the way, and some peas and sweetcorn from the freezer. That's it, call me Cantonese but I like this very basic egg-fried rice! No need add sesame oil, oyster sauce or chilli sauce whilst you're cooking. Though I do like a dollop of chilli oil to eat with it. The wok handled it perfectly, no sticking at all - this could be the best wok ever Erin. Btw, for all you knifenuts out there tonight's knife is the 210mm Takeda Gyuto

I always struggle to get soft, fluffy curds of egg with my fried rice. Lately I've compromised by making an omelette first, then breaking it up and adding in the rice. I'm going to try your method next.

I have the same fear of knocking my wok askew while frying, but all the woks in the shop where I bought mine had long handles as well. I figured I was just chicken, and everyone else knew more about handling their wok with safety than I did. Glad to see I'm not alone. I'm always really careful to swing my wok handle round to the side when I'm deep frying now, but one of these days....

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Panda/Prawny,

I have a very similar wok bought 20 years ago from a market vendor in Hong Kong. I actually bought 4 or 5 of them and brought them home in the bottom of my suitcase (used them as Christmas gifts). I think they cost less than $5 US each. It's been used at least once a week for 20 years and looks somewhat grungy, but it works a charm! :wub: I've had others ask where I got it. Now, I can point them to the WS website.

The lady I bought the wok from was SO cute! When I told her I wanted 5 woks, she gestured at me to wait. She scuttled up a ladder into a loft (really just a big shelf) above her stall and then called to me to take the woks she was handing down. I also bought 2 metal stirring implements from her. I don't know what they are called. One is like a big, round, flat spoon. The other is more like a shovel, with a sharpish, flat end. I use them all the time for lots of purposes besides wok cooking. I bought a lot of other stuff from her (I made her day lucky, as it was early in the morning when I visited her). But, most of the other items have been lost in moves or are buried in the bottom of a drawer. I remember some very cut cutters, like are used for bentos in Japan. But, they are gone.

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Thanks Nickloman, I've never been to the Harborne market so I may take you up on your offer. If you are definitely going I will PM you later in the week. As for Berkswell cheese, you know i've never tried it? Berkswell is where my butcher is so I've been to the village plenty of times. I'll keep my eyes peeled for the local cheese next time i'm there.

Dejah, yes mix up the egg and rice thoroughly just before you're ready to fry. You don't want the rice sitting around getting soggy. Please try this method and tell me if it works for you. I never cook it any other way now. Peas are just so convenient, tipped straight in from the freezer, it's invariably part of my fried rice ritual. I don't know if it's a European thing but I always seem to recall peas being in there.

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Prawn, yours have always been the posts that grab my attention and respect. I am so glad that you are letting us into your world on this intimate level, a humble thank you. Now.....on to your wonderful tastes!

Brenda

I whistfully mentioned how I missed sushi. Truly horrified, she told me "you city folk eat the strangest things!", and offered me a freshly fried chitterling!

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... char siu egg fried rice...

I'm horribly ignorant when it comes to Chinese food, Prawmcrackers. Can you say what the dark red dressing on the finished rice is ? Is it the same as:

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?

I was given this as a take-away gift at a fancy Chinese restaurant recently (it's only open a few months and I think they are bottling it themselves). It says "special edible la-yu", and, I think, "sesame" and "chili", and suggests serving on rice or salad.

Edited by Blether (log)

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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