Sunday, April 27, 2008

Shanghai Spring Rolls

I didn't realize how truly cool one of our Shanghai lunch (and cooking class) stops was until I got back and read how truly cool it was. I did learn from Michelle, our superb guide, that the Whampoa Club is in a most noteworthy building, which includes Jean-Georges’ Shanghai outpost. It’s at No.3 the Bund and was built for an insurance company in 1916 and is China’s first steel building. Its award winning renovation by Michael Graves (his first project in China) was finished in 2004.

A particularly interesting thing about this building is that it is the only one in Shanghai that is owned outright by a foreigner, Chinese-American Handel Lee. All the rest are leased by the government. A BUILDING may owned by the homeowner, but the LAND that it sits on is leased from the government for up to 70 years. CUR-RAY-ZEE!!!

So after our walk around the Bund, we went to the Whampoa Club for a cooking class followed by lunch. Wow, what a snazzy building. Very Art Deco.

Even the bathroom was noteworthy.

We went directly to a very spacious private room, which had been set up beautifully for a short cooking demonstration. Executive Sous Chef (not a title I’ve ever encountered in the West...or East for that matter) Hans Pan was a capable and skillful guide. The fact that he didn’t appear to speak one word of English was not in any way deleterious to our learning the steps of the recipe. Daniel, pictured in the suit, ably translated the chef’s directives.

The most important part of making the spring rolls is not overstuffing them. The Chef compared an attractive spring roll to an attractive man, not too big. Very apt.

The filling was mixture of minced pork, prawns,
black fungus, water chestnuts and shitake mushrooms. I had always known black fungus as tree ears and I must say that I prefer that name to this.

Chef Pan chopped and mixed everything together quickly and then set about filling his spring roll wrappers. After he had done a few, he directed us to fill and roll up the spring rolls ourselves. I won’t say that mine were the best…but I wouldn’t have been surprised by a thumbs up from the chef. He did walk around and watch what we were doing, but no individual assessments were offered. Maybe that’s the community first Chinese way…

The neatest part was dabbing on a thick flour paste onto a good inch at the ends of each spring roll. These were rolled to be open at the ends, not folded. But then we dipped the ends into a mixture of white and black sesame seeds. Most attractive. (Email me for the recipe.)

The Chef fried the spring rolls for us, the most challenging part of which was to give each person back her own spring rolls, which I believe he succeeded in.

After repeated inquiries about the type of oil he was using…I was surprised it wasn’t peanut oil, Daniel brought out some rapeseed leaves…I think…He didn’t know what it was called in English. Since China is a huge producer of rapeseed oil, I guess that’s a good guess.

The spring rolls were delicious and they didn’t taste in any way greasy. The paper that they were drained on had almost no oil on it. I think that’s a function of using enough oil to begin with and making sure that it’s hot enough. Chef Pan told us cook them until they float to the top and are golden brown, just a few minutes. He also told us that as they cook, the bubbling subsides. I would guess the oil was about 365 deg F.

After this nice snack of fresh spring rolls. We went into the beautiful dining room. Luckily, lunch came pre-ordered and individually plated. (It would have taken the 9 of us forever to have ordered off the menu.)

We had pork with watercress soup, wheat gluten with mushrooms (good!), poached chicken with soy sauce, egg white fried rice (my fav dish of the day) and coconut pudding and dragon fruit. I love the black specks in the dragon fruit, but I admit it’s just not sweet enough for me.

Here’s Chef Pan doing his thing:


Emiline said...

That's a cool video that you captured. Good thinking!

I'm very hungry for spring rolls now.


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Man this is making me hungry!

One of my castmates was in Hong Kong this week and complained it was "too much like NY". She was hoping for a more authentic experience. It sounds like she didn't have a guide who could really show her things that were unique.

Sue said...

The bathroom was cool, The spring rolls were awesome. The chef was hot. What else could I want?


That is really a shame about your buddy. I haven't been to Hong Kong, but my husband has told me about lots of scary things he's had to eat and dangerous boat rides to get there, so I'm sure there's definitely an unWestern experience available.