The Food of Sichuan by Fuchsia Dunlop

The Food of Sichuan

What’s the USP? The Food of Sichuan is a revised and updated edition of Sichuan Cookery, originally published in 2001. It’s an authoritative and comprehensive investigation of the styles, techniques and ingredients of a lesser-known regional Chinese cuisine with over 100 recipes, 50 of them new to the revised edition.

Who is the author? Fuchsia Dunlop is recognised worldwide as a leading authority on Chinese cuisine and is the first westerner to train as a chef at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu. She is the author of four other books, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province; Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A sweet-sour memoir of eating in China; Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking and Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes from the Culinary Heart of China. 

What does it look like? In a word, appetising. The food, often simply presented in a bowl, is photographed with the minimum of fuss and styling so that you can easily and clearly see how your fish stew with pickled mustard greens should look. The photographs of rural Sichuan village life are breathtaking.

Is it good bedtime reading? A 50-page introductory section covers the story of Sichuanese cuisine and its kitchen, larder and table, there are lengthy introductions to each of the 14 recipe chapters (which includes everything from cold dishes to hotpot and preserved foods) and each recipe has its own substantial introduction so there is plenty to read and enjoy when you are not tackling the recipes themselves.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? There is no question that you will need access to a good Asian supermarket or specialist supplier if you want to cook extensively from this book. However, Dunlop reassures her readers that a dozen basics, many available at the supermarket including soy sauce, fermented black beans and Shaoxing wine ‘will set you up for making most dishes’.

What’s the faff factor? Bearing in mind that The Food of Sichuan is nearly 500 pages long and includes a chapter describing ‘The 56 Cooking Methods of Sichuan’, that is not a straightforward question to answer. For example, barring the 30-minute marinating time, spiced cucumber salad from the Cold Dishes chapter will take just moments to prepare whereas duck braised with Konnyaku ‘tofu’ is a more intricate and time-consuming dish.

Although Dunlop describes numbing-and-hot hotpot as ‘a wonderfully easy and delightful way to entertain’ the recipe does cover four pages of text and includes recipes for the stock and soup base that forms the centre of the dish, along with suggestions for ingredients to dip (she suggests at least 8-12 different ones such as thinly sliced chicken, pigs kidneys, lotus root and a variety of mushrooms) as well as seasoning dips.

Broadly speaking though, ingredients lists are usually quite short and methods that include techniques such as stir-frying and deep-frying will be familiar and easily achieved.

How often will I cook from the book? That may partly depend on how much you enjoy the famously numbing sensation of Sichuan pepper, which a good proportion of the recipes include. However, as Dunlop points out, ‘the most salient characteristic of Sichuanese cookery is its audacious combinations of different flavours…such as sweet and sour ‘lychee flavour’, delicate ‘fragrant-boozy flavour’ and fresh, light ‘ginger juice flavour’ which are not hot and spicy and so ‘those who do pa la -‘fear chillies’ – will still find plenty to entice them within the pages of this book’.

Killer recipes? Bowl steamed belly pork with preserved vegetables; fragrant and crispy duck; boiled fish in a seething sea of chillies; pot sticker dumplings with chicken stock; Mr Xie’s dandan noodles; silver ear fungus and rock sugar soup. 

What will I love? The quality of the writing, the depth and breadth of the research and the sheer reassuring heft of the thing that tells you this is the only book on Sichuan cooking you’ll ever need.

What won’t I like? There are some aspects of Sichuan cuisine that western palettes may find challenging, such as ‘liangfen’, jellies made from pea, mungbean, rice and sweet potato starches and served cold, or a spicy stew thickened with jellied pig’s or duck’s blood.

Should I buy it? If you love Chinese food (and spice) and want to learn more about what Dunlop claims is ‘one of the great cuisines of the world’ then you can’t go wrong.

Cuisine: Chinese
Suitable for:
Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating:
Five stars

Buy this book
The Food of Sichuan
£30, Bloomsbury

Cook from this book

Coming soon

A Cookbook by Matty Matheson

Matty Matheson

What’s the USP? The first book from Vice TV star and the most famous Canadian chef in the world Matty Matheson. Despite the title, this is a culinary memoir as well as a recipe book.

Who is the author? Matty Matheson is a Toronto-based chef and restaurateur and former roadie for heavy metal band At the Mercy of Inspiration. Until  2017, he was executive chef of Parts and Labour and sister restaurant P&L Burger. He is the curator of Matty Fest a new food and drink festival launching in September 2019.

Matheson’s career took off in 2013 when he recorded the Hangover Cures and Keep It Canada series of videos for the Munchies YouTube channel which led to the Vice TV channel series It’s Suppertime and Dead Set on Life (both of which are available to view for free in the UK on the ALL 4 website here and here). In early 2019, he announced the launch of his self produced web series Just a Dash which is due to air in autumn 2019.

At the age of 29, Matheson suffered a heart attack after a sustained period of alcohol and drug abuse but eventually became sober. His larger than life personality and post-modern approach to food television that simultaneously celebrates and undercuts the form can be seen in this video, recorded for Gozney ovens website where he demonstrates his mother’s broccoli-chicken cheddar curry casserole, the original recipe for which, he says in the book ‘was probably on the side of a can or a box’ (it’s also a glorious dish).

What does it look like? Part recipe book, part family photo album, part Canadian travelogue, the book is beautifully put together. Food photography by Quentin Bacon (excellent name for a food photographer by the way) is simple, unfussy and lets Matheson’s cooking speak for itself. Matheson grew up in the less than picturesque town of Fort Erie, Ontario but Pat O’Rourke’s urban landscapes have a bleak magnificence to them.

Is it good bedtime reading? Divided into two parts, Matheson tells first the story of his family life and the food cooked by his grandparents, parents and in-laws. In the second part, he recounts his career from culinary school through formative experiences at Le Select Bistro,  La Palette and Oddfellows (all in Toronto) to his appointment as head chef of Parts and Labour and his transition into a media figure, all told with unflinching candour and a healthy dose of salty language.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You’ll need an excellent butcher to track down things like a whole lobe of foie gras to make seared foie gras with rice pudding and warm date marmalade, veal sweetbreads to cook blanquette ris de veau and veal shank and ox tongue to recreate Matheson’s pot-au-feu, but unless you are in Canada, finding elk loin to serve with carrots, celeriac and pickled blueberries may prove very tricky.

What’s the faff factor? That depends largely on which part of the book you’re cooking from. The Family recipes are a little more straightforward than those in the Cooking School and Restaurants chapter, but many are quite time consuming to prepare.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? There are the usual ‘bunches’ of herbs but apart from that there are no real issues and even the American cup measures come with precise ml equivalents.

How often will I cook from the book? Some of the more simple and approachable recipes could well become firm favourites such as baked rigatoni and blackberry coffee cake but you will probably have to plan well ahead to cook many of the dishes.

Killer recipes? In addition to those already mentioned, I would add lobster pie, molasses bread pudding, rabbit stew, pot roast, rappie pie (a crispy, layered grated potato and chicken bake), Italian wedding soup, Nashville hot chicken, pigtail tacos, lamb dan dan noodles and the P&L burger.

What will I love? Matheson is funny, entertaining and self-aware throughout. For example, in his introduction to the recipe for Sausage and Potatoes he says, ‘If you don’t want to make sausage, you don’t have to. Just buy good Italian sausage from a butcher like a normal human being. No one has time to do something like this, or who even has a sausage stuffer or meat grinder. Why is this even in this book? Do people even cook from cookbooks?’

What won’t I like? Some readers may not appreciate the bad language.

Should I buy it? Matty Matheson is the most interesting and exciting American food personality since Anthony Bourdain and his first book is as compelling as his on screen appearances. An absolute must buy.

Cuisine: American
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
Five stars

Buy this book
Matty Matheson: A Cookbook
£25, Mitchell Beazley

Pasta, Pane, Vino by Matt Goulding

pasta-pane-vino-1

What’s the USP? Not a cookbook but rather a culinary travelogue through the regional cuisines of Italy.

Who’s the author? Matt Goulding is co-founder of Roads and Kingdoms a travel, food and politics website. Goulding is also the author of Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture and Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan’s Food Culture. Goulding’s correspondence with the late Anthony Bourdain about Italy and Goulding’s plans for the book form the foreword. 

What does it look like? At 16.5cm by 19.8 cm, Pasta, Pane, Vino is a cute, squat volume. Clocking in at 352 pages, it’s also a weighty tome, packed with 200 colour photographs portraying the chefs, farmers, fishermen and other figures behind Italy’s culinary traditions, as well as the food, landscapes and cityscapes of Rome, Puglia, Bologna, Sicily, Naples, Sardinia , Piedmont and Lake Como.

Is it good bedtime reading? This is definitely one to keep on the bedside table, to send you off dreaming of carbonara in Rome, pizza in Naples and spaghetti alla marinara in Sardinia.

Killer quote: ‘In the end, it’s not a book about grandmas and their sacred family recipes (though they have a few delicious cameos); it’s a book about a wave of cooks, farmers, bakers, shepherds, young and old, trying to negotiate the weight of the past with the possibilities of the future’.

What will I love? Goulding is a writer from the top drawer. He not only knows how to construct a sentence and turn a memorable phrase (for example, the opening line of the book – ‘Long after the sun has set behind the Palatine Hill, after the sands of the Colosseum have been swallowed by shadows, after the tint of the Tiber has morphed from acqua minerale to Spritz to dark vermouth, you come upon a quiet piazza on a meandering cobblestone street…’), he’s also really done his research. Unless you know Italy extremely well, you will discover things about the country’s culinary scene you didn’t know before, from a hidden gem of a trattoria in Rome to the best time to visit Ballaro market in Palermo and much, much more.

What won’t I like? It’s difficult to find fault. In addition to the main body text of the chapters, the book is peppered with double page spreads such as ‘Anatomy of a dish’ (explanations of items like bistecca al la Fiorentina and caffe that are particularly significant to regional Italian cuisine), and ‘Postcards’ (an overview of destinations like Matera in southern Italy and Ragusa in Sicily not otherwise covered in the book)  which add variety and value and help break up the main text. You could argue that the only thing missing are some authentic recipes from each of the eight destinations covered, but that’s nitpicking.

Should I buy it? Do you like food? Do you like travel? Do you need everything spelled out to you?

Cuisine: Italian 
Suitable for:
Culinary tourists 
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Five stars

Buy this book
Pasta, Pane, Vino: Deep Travels Through Italy’s Food Culture (Roads & Kingdoms Presents)

Together: Our Community Cookbook by the Hubb Community Kitchen and HRH The Duchess of Sussex

together our community cookbook

What’s the USP? Recipes written by a group of women who were gathered together in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire to cook for their families and neighbours.

Who’s the author? The authors are all members of the Hubb Community Kitchen based at Al-Manaar, The Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre, London and include Cherine Mallah, Oxana Sinitsyna, Munira Mahmud, Halima Al-Hudafi, Intlak Alsaiegh, Aysha Bora, Faiza Hayani Bellili, Leila Hedjem, Claren Bilal, Amaal Abid Elrasoul, Sanna Mirza, Ahlam Saeid, Mama Jay, Jay Jay, Gurmit Kaur, Hiwot Dagnachew, Jennifer Fatima Odonkor, Dayo Gilmour, Lillian Olwa and Honey Akhter.

What does it look like? The attractive, vibrant dishes are simply presented, reflecting the rustic nature of the cooking. Portraits of the women cooking at Al Manaar gives a sense of the community they belong to and help nourish.

Is it good bedtime reading? Aside from the foreword by HRH The Duchess of Sussex (AKA Meghan Markle) this is a recipe focused book.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? The book reflects a wide range of culinary traditions including Algerian, Lebanese, Moroccan and Ugandan and there is the odd specific ingredient such as Argan oil, Persian dried limes, dried barberries and Egyptian short grain rice that may mean a search on line or considering an alternative, but the vast majority of ingredients will be readily to hand.

What’s the faff factor? There are some recipes with long ingredients lists (often down to the use of numerous spices) or with several elements, but in the main, the dishes are simple and approachable.

How often will I cook from the book? Together is unlikely to gather dust on your shelf and is exactly the sort of book you might reach for when you you’re looking for inspiration for a weekday meal, or a more time consuming weekend cooking project.

Killer recipes? Egyptian lamb fattah; carrot and onion chapatis; Yemini bread; Moroccan chickpea and noodle soup; Russian semolina cake 

What will I love? The sheer variety of dishes, some of which you may not have encountered before such as Mahamri (African beignets – fluffy, doughnut like buns flavoured with cardomom and coconut milk).

What won’t I like? At 128 pages, it ends all too soon.

Should I buy it? All profits from the book The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex for the benefit of the Hubb Community Kitchen. That alone is a good enough reason to get yourself a copy.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: 
Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
Five stars

Buy this book
Together: Our Community Cookbook

Sole, Jerusalem artichoke, black truffle by Mauro Colagreco

Sole Jerusalem artichoke Black truffle - Copyright Eduardo Torres

SERVES 4

FOR THE SOLE
Sole, 2 from 300-400 g
Jerusalem artichokes, 500 g
Sunflower oil, 500 cc
Dairy cream, 100 cc approx.
Shallot, 1
Chive, 10 g
Large mushrooms, 2
Extra virgin olive oil, 20 cc
Beurre noisette, 100 g
Hazelnuts, 50 g
Mushroom powder (dried and ground)
Black truffle (autumnal)
Pimpernel, 12 leaves
Sea salt

FOR THE LIME GEL
Lime juice, 250 cc
Agar-agar 3.5 g

PREPARATION

SOLE
Fillet the soles and set aside. Wrap the Jerusalem artichokes in aluminium foil and oven roast at 180°C for approximately 40 minutes, until done. Remove the foil, make a slit on top and squeeze to extract the pulp. Retain the peel and dry it at 60°C. Set aside. Transfer the pulp to the Thermomix, add 50 cc of cream for every 200 g of pulp, process, then strain. Transfer to a 1-charger siphon and reserve in a 50°C bain-marie.

Brunoise-cut the shallot. Mince the chives. Brunoise-cut the mushroom stems. Add the shallot to a heat hot suaté pan with olive oil, then add and brown the mushrooms. Remove from heat, season with salt and add the chives. Set aside.

Cut two slices of mushroom and dust with the mushroom powder. Dry at room temperature. Cook the sole for 5 minutes in a 70°C combi oven at 30% humidity. Matching up the edges, lay one dorsal fillet atop the lower fillet.
Toast the hazelnut in butter in a saucepan until the butter is browned (noisette).
Fry the Jerusalem artichoke in 180°C sunflower oil.

LIME GEL
Mix the lime juice and agar-agar in a saucepan, bring to a boil and whisk for 2 minutes. Once the mixture has cooled, process in a blender until it has a gel-like consistency. Transfer to a squeeze bottle.

PLATING
Set a base of sautéed mushrooms on a plate and, on top, arrange the sole, two dots of Jerusalem artichoke foam, some of the crisped Jerusalem artichoke, beurre noisette and hazelnuts atop the sole, mushroom slices and black truffle slices. Finish with two dots of lime gel and pimpernel leaves.

Cook more from this book
Turbot Celeriac Sorrel
Grouper rosemary sorrel

Read the review

Buy this book
Mirazur (English)
Catapulta, £70

Grouper Rosemary Salsify by Mauro Colagreco

Grouper  Rosemary  Salsify - Copyright Eduardo Torres.jpg

SERVES 10

FOR THE GROUPER
Grouper (from 2.5 kg), 1
Extra virgin olive oil, 100 cc
Thyme, 1 sprig

FOR THE ROSEMARY SAUCE
Shallot, 20 g
Butter, 20 g
Dairy cream, 500 cc
Rosemary, 4 g
Spinach, 200 g
Leek greens, 25 g

FOR THE GRAPE GEL
White grape juice, 500 cc
Ascorbic acid, 1 g
Agar-agar, 11 g

FOR THE WILD SALSIFY
Wild salsify, 20
Milk, 1 l
Butter, 500 g
Star anise, 1
Cardamom, 2 grains
Black peppercorns, 3

FOR THE SPANISH SALSIFY
Spanish salsify, 1
Ascorbic acid
Shallot, 5 g
Butter, 1 knob

PREPARATION

GROUPER
Fillet the fish, remove the spines and cut into 80 g portions. Transfer to a vacuum bag with the olive oil and thyme, seal and cook in a steam oven at 65°C for for 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the bag to an ice bath. Place the fish skin-side down into a hot sauté pan and cook until it takes on a good colour. Remove the fish and let it rest skin up for a minute and a half. Place skin down under a salamander to finish cooking.

ROSEMARY SAUCE
Sweat the minced shallot in a pot with a little butter, add the cream and reduce by half. Add the rosemary sprigs and allow to infuse for 5 minutes. Taste to check if the cream has the desired flavour, if so, discard the rosemary. Transfer the cream to a food
processor, add the spinach and leek greens and process. Pass through a fine strainer. Chill quickly so the sauce doesn’t oxidise and change colour. Reserve.

GRAPE GEL
Use a juicer to extract 500 cc of juice from white grapes. Heat 300 cc of the juice in a saucepan with ascorbic acid, add the agar-agar and, stirring constantly, boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, add the remaining grape juice, and chill.

WILD SALSIFY
Peel each wild salsify and, before peeling the next, place into the milk. Blanch them in boiling milk for 30 seconds, remove and transfer to a tray with the butter, star anise, cardamom and black pepper. Oven roast at 130°C, turning every 10 minutes, until
golden brown. Set aside.

SPANISH SALSIFY
Peel the Spanish salsify, use a Japanese mandoline to slice thinly and soak in the water with ascorbic acid. Glaze with the finely minced shallot and butter until the slices are pliable enough to roll.

PLATING
Arrange two wild salsify on each plate, two grape halves (previously blanched in boiling water for 10 seconds, shocked in ice water, peeled and seeded) and the grape gel. Brush the plate with rosemary sauce, add a salsify roll, rosemary flowers atop the salsify, one white grape per portion and then the grouper.

Cook more from this book
Turbot Celeriac Sorrel
Sole Jerusalem artichoke black truffle

Read the review

Buy this book
Mirazur (English)
Catapulta, £70

Turbot Celeriac Sorrel by Mauro Colagreco

Turbot Celeriac Sorrel - Copyright Eduardo Torres

SERVES 4

FOR THE CELERIAC PURÉE
Celeriac, 300 g
Butter, 100 g
Milk, 50 cc
Salt

FOR THE SMOKED SAUCE
Extra virgin olive oil
Garlic, 1 clove
Dog cockles (cleaned and drained), 1 kg
Water, 100 cc
Melted butter, 700 g

FOR THE TURBOT
Turbot fillet with skin (min. 700 g approximately), 1
Clarified butter

PREPARATION

CELERIAC PURÉE
Peel and cube the celeriac. Cook the cubes in butter, without allowing them to colour. Add the milk, then cover the pan with baking parchment. The celeriac must be cooked rapidly and needs to be soft. Process in a blender (such as Vitamix) until smooth. Season
with salt.

SMOKED SAUCE
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, add the crushed clove of garlic, dog cockles and water, and cook for 15 minutes. Pass the cooking liquid through a fine strainer; the yield is approximately 700 cc. Add the 700 g of melted butter to the cooking liquid and transfer to a baking pan. Place the pan in a smoker using copper beechwood for 20 minutes. Reserve in a deep but not wide saucepan.

TURBOT
Bake the turbot for 8 minutes in a 75°C combi oven set at 10% humidity. When done, remove the skin and cut into approximately 90 g portions. Brush with clarified butter.

PLATING
Rapidly sauté 50 grams of sorrel in olive oil, then arrange it in the centre of the plates. Set a quenelle of the celeriac purée on the side of the sorrel and the fish atop. Use a hand blender (such as Bamix) to emulsify the very hot sauce and distribute it around the fish. Finish the plates with wild sorrel leaves and fleur de sel.

Cook more from this book
Sole, Jerusalem artichoke, black truffle
Grouper rosemary salsify

Read the review

Buy this book
Mirazur (English)
Catapulta, £70