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wokking it!

Having been lucky enough to work in China in Shanghai and Chengdu and stay for long periods in Shanghai my love of the food of China has become deeply embedded in my own cooking. Working with chefs opens a world that very few tourists, unless they are very adventurous get to explore. Add to that staying with Chinese friends in the French Quarter opened even more doors. The mystified stares after a month turned to friendly waves, and where once in lieu of language market sellers would scornfully hold out a tomato or a carrot or perhaps a potato, pushing it into my hand with a nod, they would hold out anything that had just come to the market that might be weird and wonderful. A black chicken, a slithering eel, monkey head mushrooms, funny round creamy fungus with velvety furry heads. It delighted me to have finally won some kudous in their obsessional world of food. Even the man who made the Emperor’s pancakes on the spot dangling the sticky dough from his hand, working in unison with his colleague who peeled them from the scorching hot steel relented in the end and let me take his picture, but laughed hysterically when I indicated he should let me have a go! I do now have a recipe for the dough but my skills remain pathetic!

you guessed it far right, laughing at the suggestion I should have a go…scared of the competition……not!

What I have come to love most about the Chinese kitchen is the preciseness of the food, the funny rules, but most especially that a good Chinese cooks takes what they have to hand and makes something delicious with it. None of this happens by accident, they buy the freshest, the most seasonal and like the Japanese will opt for a small piece of perfect pork rather than a chunk of an inferior pig.
During the hairy crab season in Shanghai they stand for hours with the street sellers arguing about which is the best crab, picking up these poor bound creatures, one in each hand and weighing them one against the other. Cooking them with my friend Spring I was amazed that she was willing to pay $4 AUD each and a bit disappointed when I realised we were only getting one each (they are not that big). Yet, even though I could have easily eaten three, the flavour lingered longer because my desire to eat more was never sated. Four dollars per person is a lot when you can still eat in a local restaurant for a couple of dollars, but these delicious crabs are something of an annual treat and although there were plenty of cheaper offerings, Spring rightly picked crabs that were full and sweet fleshed. If you are in Shanghai during the season they are found from the humblest to the most expensive restaurants and nearly always so simply cooked. Cooked so simply with vinegar in the steaming water, they were stunning.

from left to right air drying Peking duck and black chicken and crisping the skin of the Peking duck – in Chinese haute cuisine only the skin of the duck it eaten explaining why it is so very expensive

Crispy fried eggs I thought we might have to wait for an egg to drop from the chicken’s bum, but my mate knew exactly where to find really fresh eggs and took the time and trouble to show me the difference between a fresh and old egg. The fresh egg bubbles and froths and the bottom is crisp and crunchy, the stale egg barely bubbles and the bottom is rubbery rather than crisp and crunchy. They came with chopped chilli, coriander, sometimes the yellow more delicate garlic chives and a little light soy; and of course plain rice. It remains a favourite meal, and is really fast and fabulous.

blindingly obvious a luscious fresh crispy fried egg CLICK HERE to find out how and don’t even bother unless you’ve got a fresh egg!

Stir–fry, as a cooking technique in contemporary Australian cooking has become a misnomer for just about anything, but it is very rarely a real stir–fry. The precision and order of a restaurant that serves thousands a la carte in a single sitting is managed like an army. The work in teams of two one behind is the prep chef, who cuts the dish’s ingredients and pushes them forward for the wok chef to cook it is so impressive hundreds of people in a screaming and shouting environment and everything going to clockwork. These blokes have biceps like athletes from years of tossing the woks.
The home cook gets into terrible trouble and trying to make a stir–fry for four on an ordinary domestic stove is an impossibility. Perhaps the most important thing for the home cook to understand if that even with a turbo wok burner the wok chef would most likely not cook more than four plates in a single hit. Prolonged cooking is not a stir–fry! If you really want to cook a stir–fry at home go to your barbecue shop and buy a wok burner.

the people behind Galaxy Guidesfood editor and publisher
Ann Oliver

champagne editor
Kaaren Palmer


Jan Bowman
Political comentator, briliant photographer…farmers’s market obsessed…Brisbane based.

Olivia Stratton Makris
Masters of Gastronomy, NYC, Spain and constant assistance and editorial suggestion…Adelaide based.

Michael Martin…Northern America 2016.Photographic assistance Kym Martin…Adelaide based.

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copyright © text, recipes and images Ann Oliver & Kaaren Palmer 2016.