Cooking requires a lot of planning and organising, but once you are organised, cooking isn’t a so daunting, even if you have to do it everyday with a full-time job.
There was a time when I would go to the wet market on Sundays in the morning, and then cook the meat dishes for the whole week, except for Fridays when we had fish which had to be cooked fresh. I would label the containers: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. Since I would arrive home close to dinner time, someone else who came back earlier would cook the vegetables or the soup. Dessert was usually fruit or something simple.
I learnt to cook several dishes at the same time making the best use of all the cooking appliances available. For example, the stove for a stew, a stir fry and a soup, and the oven for roasting pork and chicken at the same time. Since I was cooking for five, I didn’t have to cook so much. I would freeze the food that would be served later in the week and refrigerate the dishes which would be served in a day or two. We would have freshly cooked vegetables and soup everyday. Some dishes actually tasted better after a day or two, like curries when the spices were absorbed into the meat.
I don’t remember using a lot of complicated recipes. It was more a matter of what I found in the market that was fresh and at a good price. I kept the dishes simple, and used what I had in the kitchen for marinating. Occasionally, we would buy ready-cooked food. Somehow we managed.
Perhaps the craziest thing I did back in those days was to cook Peking duck. I asked someone who was going out to buy a turkey for our Christmas lunch, but she came back with a duck. I was quite horrified. I didn’t know if it was because she didn’t know the difference between a turkey and a duck. She said she did, but the turkey was too big for five persons. I knew how to cook a turkey, but had no idea what to do with a duck. Then I remembered that a colleague used to boast about his Peking duck recipe and how important a particular brand of hoisin sauce was. I asked around the office and someone actually had a copy of his recipe. I read the recipe and set to work. The duck had to be seasoned, the skin had to separated from the flesh and the duck had to be hung to air dry overnight. The next morning I had to roast the duck by kneeling in front of the oven and turning it until it was crispy. Then there was the pancake which had to be made from scratch, to be served with spring onion and cucumber. We had a guest over for lunch who said that the Peking duck was quite authentic. Personally, I thought it was a miracle, and told myself that I would never attempt such a risky venture again.
I had a few male colleagues who did the cooking when they got home from work. The head of the department I worked for said he had to cook the reunion dinner for Chinese New Year. I came to realise that they were very organised people. They worked very intensely in the office so that they could leave on time so dinner could be on time at home.
In more recent times, I have not had to cook under so much time pressure, but the experience of having to cook while holding a demanding job was good for me. Now I can tell younger friends that learning to be organised is the key to managing the kitchen.
By Chayo, Homskil Editor 1, 20 January 2021