Land of Fish and Rice

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Land of Fish and Rice

by Fuchsia Dunlop
Photographs © Yuki Sugiura

Facts: W.W. Norton & Company, 368 pages, $35.00 (or Amazon Hardcover $26.23, Kindle $16.05)
Photos: 116
Recipes: about 162

The loquacious Fuchsia Dunlop is back with her sixth book on Chinese cuisine: Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes from the Culinary Heart of China.

This UK-born lady lived in Sichuan as a British Counsel scholar and was an East Asian analyst at BBC Worldwide. While living there, watching friends cook Sichuanese cuisine piqued her interest enough to enroll in the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine, thus becoming the first Westerner to train as a chef at the prestigious institution. It turns out, she was a quick learner.

Land of Fish and Rice is her first book celebrating the Jiangnan region. The only city most of us would recognize in the Jiangnon region is Shanghai, but Dunlop says “it is just a gateway… (to a region renown for) beauty of its scenery, the elegance of its literary culture, the glittering wealth of its cities and the exquisite pleasures of its food.” She devotes over 20 pages sharing with us the history of the region, its culture and the flavors of Jiangnon.

This book was written not only for cooks interested in broadening their repertoire of Chinese recipes, but also for those who want to learn more about the region. The author gives cultural notes as well as legend and lore (even in her headnotes). More than 160 recipes are included in thirteen chapters, and that ignores the 30-plus pages devoted to definitions and explanation of ingredients, techniques, equipment, etc.

Stating the “yield” in a book of Chinese recipes is tricky. When it can be specific, Dunlop makes note, such as “makes 12-14 buns” or “gives 4 substantial bowlfuls, but will serve 6 with other dishes as part of a Chinese meal.” Most of the recipe yields, however, are not specific because as we know from eating at Chinese restaurants, it’s generally family-style eating and depends how many dishes you ordered and how much the person across the table takes.

Here is a selection of recipe titles that might whet your whistle. My salivary glands began pumping as I read the Hangzhou Buddhist “Roast Goose” recipe…  Equally provocative are “Eight-treasure stuffed calabash duck,” “Hibiscus-blossom egg white with fresh fava beans,” “West Lake fish in vinegar sauce,” “Crabmeat, tomato and potato soup,” and “Shanghai eight-treasure glutinous rice” … just to name a few.

There is no doubt that Fuchsia Dunlop has written popular Chinese cookbooks and has a following. Prior to this book’s release on October 18 (in pre-sale!) it hit the #1 Best Seller list on Amazon.

Try the Shanghai Stir-Fried Chunky Noodles recipe below and tell us what you think!

chunky-noodlesPhoto by © Yuki Sugiura

Land of Fish and Rice
 
Shang Hai Cu Chao Mian - This Shanghainese dish is made with thick, bouncy noodles like fresh Japanese udon, which are given a dark caramel tint by soy sauce and freshened up with barely cooked greens. Pork slivers make a delicious addition, but vegetarians may omit them and still enjoy the dish. In Shanghai, the greens will be the tenderest little sprouts of green bok choy, known as "chicken feather greens"; at home I often use baby spinach because the leaves need to be tender enough to wilt quickly in the heat of the wok. According to some accounts, the recipe was developed by Shanghainese immigrants in Hong Kong. This is a meal in one dish and makes a quick, satisfying lunch. It serves 2 as a meal, 4 or more if served with other Chinese dishes.
Author:
Cuisine: Chinese
Ingredients:
  • 4 ounces (100g) lean pork
  • 15 ounces (425g) fresh Shanghai noodles or Japanese udon
  • 2½ tablespoons cooking oil
  • 9 ounces (200g) baby green bok choy or 2 large handfuls of baby spinach
  • 1½ teaspoons dark soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • Salt and ground white pepper
  • For the marinade:
  • ½ teaspoon light soy sauce
  • ½ tablespoon Shaoxing wine
  • 2 teaspoons potato starch
  • 1 tablespoon beaten egg or 1 tablespoon cold water
Method:
  1. Cut the pork evenly into thin slices, then into slivers. Add the marinade ingredients and mix well.
  2. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Add the noodles and cook for 2 minutes (fresh Shanghai and udon noodles are already half-cooked when you buy them, which is why this doesn't take long).
  3. Turn the cooked noodles into a colander and cool under the cold tap. Shake them dry. Drip over ½ teaspoon oil and stir in thoroughly to prevent sticking.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a seasoned wok over a high flame. Add the pork strips and stir-fry swiftly to separate them. When they are just cooked, remove from the wok and set aside.
  5. Clean and re-season the wok if necessary then return it to a high flame with the remaining oil. Add the noodles and stir-fry until piping hot, adding both soy sauces and seasoning with salt and pepper. Add the bok choy or spinach and continue to stir-fry briefly until wilted. Finally, stir in the pork. Serve.

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