I’ve made no secret of the fact that, although I’m a keen eater, I’m not such a confident cook. Don’t get me wrong, I can cook – just about – but it tends to be when I’m on my own, when I’m doing something tried and tested, or when I’m following a recipe to the letter. Even then, it can go wrong if there’s any kind of curve ball thrown at me. I don’t have the confidence to chuck a load of stuff in a pan like Mr Manning does, or to whip up a quick meal from what I’ve got in the fridge like my own mum does, or to casually bake a cake or some scones like the other Manning women do.
The contrast of this lack of confidence in the kitchen with my enthusiasm for eating, talking, looking, and thinking about food has become a bit of a running joke. So it was no surprise when my former colleagues bought me a voucher for Jamie Oliver’s cookery school Recipease as a leaving present.
After much speculation on where I should begin my newfound hands-on approach to food, Mr M and I decided a good place to start would be the “knife skills” lesson. After all, I won’t be able to do much cooking if I can’t prepare the food in the first place. Obviously, I can actually peel and chop stuff, but I thought it might help to gain a bit of confidence in the kitchen. If I can wield a chef’s knife with style, perhaps the rest will follow.
So, as part of our foodie London day (the other part being the visit to Marcus Wareing’s The Gilbert Scott), we made our way to Notting Hill to take on our class. The modern, glass-fronted Recipease is a shop downstairs and cafe upstairs, with an open demo kitchen on both floors. We were upstairs, and after a quick drink to calm our nerves, were kitted out with aprons and introduced to Jas, our teacher for the morning.
With only six of us on the course, we had plenty of time, space and attention to take it all in – including the rather intimidating array of knives she had spread out in front of her. Jas started off with an explanation of each different knife and what it’s for, as well as the importance of sharp knives.
Apparently the key to doing a decent job with a blade is confidence – standing confidently, not being scared to use a big badass chef’s knife, and using the right technique for the job. We were told we were going to create a nice Szechuan chicken stir fry salad using our newfound skills. This would involve lots of fine chopping of marinade ingredients, then more slicing and dicing of the necessary vegetables.
Jas started off with the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli, showing us the best way to finely dice an onion, followed by how to easily peel and crush garlic using the knife, and how to peel and chop ginger (did you know you can peel ginger using a teaspoon? No, neither did we). We also chopped up our chilli. Turns out there’s a few different ways of chopping – the ‘rock chop’, where the knife doesn’t really leave the board, but just rocks backwards and forward; the ‘tap chop’, the one that makes a lot of noise; and the ‘cross chop’, where you coarsely chop something, then pivot your knife in a half moon shape to get it finer.
Mr M’s regular cooking role in our house and at work obviously paid off as he blitzed through his marinade ingredients to approving nods from our teacher, while I made it through, but far slower. Like any new skill, I guess practice makes perfect. In went the chopped marinade ingredients with soy sauce, honey, and lime juice, followed by some diced chicken breast (prepared for us, thank goodness).
Next up, our veg. This was all about putting our skills into practice, so we rocked and tapped (not much need for cross chopping here) our way through red cabbage, carrot, spring onion, pak choi, and mooli, a kind of giant radish common in Asian cooking. Again, we learned new ways of doing things – ribboning carrots using a peeler to get them nice and thin; using the green ends of spring onions as more of a salad-ey garnish; putting red cabbage in a stir fry! In true Jamie Oliver style, Jas waxed lyrical about the importance of the different colours, and the different textures we were creating for our dish using different ways of cutting up the veg.
Prep done, we fried the chicken off in some vegetable oil, adding the veg and some noodles that had kindly been cooked for us. Once it was done we dished up, trying to pile it up stylishly in the same effortless way Jas had. On top went a bit of the leftover marinade mixed with some sesame oil, followed by some coriander, the bits of green garnish we had kept, and some sesame seeds.
Imagine my pride at producing something this good from start to finish! I imagine it’ll be my go-to meal until I learn something else, but the skills I’ve learned with a knife are ready for plenty of practice. Today stir fry salad, tomorrow a three course meal!
Just in case you want to try it, here’s the recipe as best as I can remember (and obviously all credit goes to Jamie Oliver and his Recipease team).
For the marinade:
A fresh lime
For the stir fry:
Egg noodles, boiled and tossed in sesame oil
Fresh coriander, chopped
1. Peel and finely chop the ginger, garlic, and half the onion. Finely chop the red chilli, it’s up to you whether you want to include the pith and seeds or not.
2. Mix together with four tablespoons of soy sauce, one tablespoon of honey, and the squeezed juice of the lime. Add the marinade to diced chicken (or whatever else you want to use), saving a small amount of marinade, and mix in using your hands. Put to one side.
3. Slice the remaining half of the onion and the red cabbage. Peel the carrot and either form ribbons using a peeler, or cut into matchsticks, or chop into chunks. Peel and chop the mooli, chop the pak choi into strips. Cut the spring onion diagonally, saving the green ends for later.
4. Heat some vegetable oil over a high heat and fry the chicken. Once it’s cooked, add the vegetables and noodles, stir frying until cooked but still crunchy.
5. Pile onto a plate, putting remaining spring onion on top along with the fresh coriander. Mix the sesame oil into the remaining marinade to create a dressing and pour on top and sprinkle sesame seeds on top.