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

Welsh Rarebit by Fergus Henderson

Welsh Rarebit - photo credit Jason Lowe

To serve at least 4, depending on the dimensions of your toast

Welsh Rarebit is a noble version of cheesy toast. Everyone loves cheesy toast! Our Rarebit is a proud thing and, if we might say so, extremely popular. So it is odd that Fergus gleaned this recipe from a chef who had previously worked at Buck’s Club, which was well known at the time for selling the worst rarebit in London.*

A knob of butter
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 teaspoon English mustard powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
A very long splash of Worcestershire sauce,
and a bottle to serve
200ml Guinness
450g mature strong Cheddar cheese, grated
4 pieces of toast

Melt the butter in a pan, stir in the flour, and let this cook together until it smells biscuity but is not browning. Add the mustard powder and cayenne pepper, stir in the Worcestershire sauce and the Guinness, then gently melt in the cheese. When it’s all of one consistency, remove from the heat, pour out into a shallow container, and allow to set.

Take a piece of good white bread and toast on both sides. Allow to cool just a little, then cover one side with the rarebit mixture to about 1cm thick – if you find that it doesn’t spread with ease, press it on with your fingers. Put on a baking sheet and place under the grill until golden and bubbling – grilling to just beyond your comfort threshold, to allow the flour to cook out.

When it comes to eating, irrigation channels are essential: make a gentle criss-cross pattern on your hot rarebit with a knife, creating the perfect flood plain for the Worcestershire sauce.

* There is another thing that we might add, if you are amused by a little mathematics. At St. JOHN Smithfield we sell an average of forty-five Welsh Rarebits per day. Taking into account annual closures, in this, our twenty-fifth year, we will have sold somewhere in the region of 405,000 rarebits. By the time we are thirty we will have surpassed the half-million mark. Onward!

Extracted from The Book of St John by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver (Ebury Press, £28 hbk) Photography by Jason Lowe

Buy this book
The Book of St John: Over 100 Brand New Recipes from London’s Iconic Restaurant

St John

Cook more from this book
Grilled Lamb’s Hearts, Peas and Mint by Fergus Henderson
Salted Chocolate and Caramel Tart by Fergus Henderson

Read the review 

Grilled Lamb’s Hearts, Peas and Mint by Fergus Henderson

Grilled Lamb's Hearts, Peas and Mint - photo credit Jason Lowe

To serve 6, or 3 as a main course, 1 good-sized lamb’s heart will suffice as a starter, 2 each as a main course

Choose your peas wisely and avoid oversized starchy bullets; the smaller and sweeter the better. There is a brief overlap between pea season and grelot season; in this glorious time you would be foolish not to use grelots as delicious substitutes for spring onions.

6 lamb’s hearts, butchered and marinated
(see the book for details)
8 spring onions, trimmed and cleaned
3 heads of little gem lettuce, washed and separated
2 large handfuls of freshly podded peas
A handful of pea shoots per person,
snipped at the stem
A large handful of extra fine capers,
thoroughly drained

For the mint dressing
1 large bunch of mint, picked and
stalks retained
80g demerara sugar
200ml malt or red wine vinegar
100ml extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper

First make the mint dressing. Bash the mint stalks with the back of a knife and place in a small pan with the demerara sugar and vinegar. Bring to a simmer for just long enough to melt the sugar, then set aside to cool thoroughly and infuse. Once ready, finely chop the mint and strain the cold vinegar over the leaves. Whisk in the olive oil, seasoning to taste.

To cook the lamb’s hearts you will need a cast-iron griddle or barbecue. Your hearts should be room temperature, not fridge cold, and the grill should be ferociously hot. Season boldly and place the hearts on the grill, cook for a minute and a half each side, then set aside to rest. A rare heart is a challenge, so aim instead for a blushing medium within. Now season and grill the spring onions in much the same way, charring with intent.

To serve, slice the hearts into slivers about half the width of your little finger, being careful to retain the delicious juices that are exuded in the resting. Place the little gems, peas, pea shoots and capers in a large bowl, then introduce the heart, resting juices, spring onions and mint dressing. Serve with chilled red wine.
Much like the ox heart on page xxx, this salad is also a noble bun filler.

Extracted from The Book of St John by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver (Ebury Press, £28 hbk) Photography by Jason Lowe

Buy this book 
The Book of St John: Over 100 Brand New Recipes from London’s Iconic Restaurant

St John

Cook more from this book
Welsh Rarebit by Fergus Henderson
Salted Chocolate and Caramel Tart by Fergus Henderson

Read the review 

Salted Chocolate and Caramel Tart by Fergus Henderson

Salted Chocolate and Caramel Tart - photo credit Jason Lowe

To serve at least 16 – this is a very rich tart, you will not need very much

Here is an expression of the gradual erosion of chocolate. Fergus notes that the increasing challenge of finding a chocolate bar that does not contain salt is an example of a good idea going too far. For years his loyalties have lain solidly with Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut Bar – affectionately called ‘Fnerr’. But of late, he laments, he has begun to recognise its rough edges. Fergus and Fnerr have parted ways. In spite of (or maybe evidenced by) a little recent saturation, the combination of chocolate, caramel and salt
is still a good idea, and so here is our tart. A very rich tart, you will not need very much.

Base
200g plain flour
45g cocoa powder
7g bicarbonate of soda
180g demerara sugar
25g caster sugar
5g Maldon sea salt
225g unsalted butter, softened
225g dark chocolate, chopped finely –
the pieces should be smaller than
a chocolate chip

Caramel
225g caster sugar
70g unsalted butter, cut into chunks
80ml double cream

Chocolate filling
500g double cream
40g glucose
400g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
40g butter
Sea salt, for sprinkling
First make the tart case. It is easiest by far to use a machine for this. Mix together the flour, cocoa powder, both sugars and the salt, place in a food processor with the butter, and whizz until a loose dough forms. At this point add the chocolate and mix again. Wrap in cling film and allow to rest for half an hour or so.

If you are making the pastry any further in advance, take it out of the fridge in good time – you need the softness of room-temperature dough for it to work. When ready, butter and flour a tart case and roll the pastry between two sheets of baking parchment – the shards of chocolate would tear cling film, but the dough is too sticky to be rolled loose. Line the case with the pastry, rolled to around 4mm thick, line the pastry with foil or cling film, fill with baking beans and bake in a medium oven for 25 to 30 minutes.

When you remove the case from the oven, wait 10 minutes before removing the beans, otherwise the hot, soft pastry may tear. Once you have done so, press the base and sides all over with the back of a spoon while it is still warm – the aim here is to smooth the interior ready for the caramel,  pushing down the inside corners which may have risen and rounded a little in the baking.

Once the case is cool, make your caramel. It is essential to move quickly when the caramel is ready, so ensure that all your ducks are in a row before you start. Place the sugar in a scrupulously dry pan and melt over a medium high heat. Do not stir! Stirring will result in a crystallised disaster. Swirling the pan a little is allowed. By the time the sugar has dissolved you should have a good colour, trusting that it can be quite dark and still be comfortable. Throw the butter in first and follow with the cream, whisk them together quickly and, at the very moment that they are smoothly incorporated, pour it into the case immediately. With speed, pick up your tart case and move it around, tilting it to ensure that the caramel covers the entire base. Leave aside to cool.

Finally, heat the cream with the glucose and take it just shy of a simmer. Place the chocolate and butter in a bowl and pour the hot cream over the chunks in three stages, stirring gently to incorporate – the first will melt the chocolate, the second will loosen the mixture and the third will make the smooth ganache. Then pour the chocolate mixture into the tart and leave to cool and solidify. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and serve with crème fraîche.

Extracted from The Book of St John by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver (Ebury Press, £28 hbk) Photography by Jason Lowe

Buy this book
The Book of St John: Over 100 Brand New Recipes from London’s Iconic Restaurant
St John

Cook more from this book
Welsh Rarebit by Fergus Henderson
Grilled Lamb’s Hearts, Peas and Mint by Fergus Henderson

Read the review 

The Shore by Bruce Rennie

The Shore

I was very honoured to be asked to contribute an introduction, alongside Michelin-starred chefs Nathan Outlaw and Martin Wishart, to The Shore, the first cookbook by Bruce Rennie, chef proprietor of The Shore restaurant in Penzance. Although I do not benefit financially from my association with the book, it has proved impossible for me to write an entirely impartial review of The Shore, not least because I am a fan of Bruce and his cooking and have got to know him through visiting the restaurant and interviewing him. So instead of a review, here is my introduction from the book. I hope it will entice you to pick up a copy of the book, or even better, take a trip to Penzance to try Bruce’s food for yourself.

As soon as I heard about The Shore back in 2015, I knew it was going to be worth the 600-mile round trip from my home in Brighton to eat there. It wasn’t just that the restaurant was in Cornwall, a regular holiday destination for my family for over 25 years, or that I love Cornish seafood. It wasn’t even that the chef had worked in some impressive establishments including the Michelin-starred Restaurant Martin Wishart, one of my favourite places in Edinburgh.

The thing that really told me that The Shore was going to be something special was that it was a one-man operation. Because no one in their right mind runs a restaurant kitchen by themselves. At last count there were roughly a million easier ways to make a living, including being employed by someone else to run a restaurant. So, you only do it if you are driven to it; you have a culinary vision and a need to express yourself through food. In my experience, that always adds up to an exceptional experience for the customer. It was true of Shaun Hill at The Merchant House in Ludlow in the 90’s and early noughties, and its true of Bruce Rennie and The Shore.

From a starter of fillets of John Dory, cooked on the plancha with to-the-second precision and so perfectly triangular they looked like they’d been filleted with a scalpel, to a ‘plinth’ of Blackberry semifreddo with pistachio sponge and apple that was almost architectural in its design (Bruce studied architecture before deciding on a career in the professional kitchen), that first meal at The Shore was faultless. To top it all off, Bruce was not only cooking but helping to serve the food as well, moving nimbly between kitchen and dining room, engaging with the customers while ensuring he was never
away from the stove for too long.

I interviewed Bruce the day after that memorable dinner and discovered that not only can he cook, but also has a talent for storytelling and can talk the hind leg off a donkey. It was only when I found out that he is also very handy when it comes to DIY and carried out the refurbishment on the restaurant and kitchen himself that I began to deeply resent the breadth and depth of his Renaissance-man skills. No one is allowed to be that talented.

I was lucky enough to bag a seat at Bruce’s guest dinner at J Sheekey Atlantic Bar in London in 2018 as part of a series of pop ups to celebrate the restaurant’s 10th anniversary which also included Mark Sargeant of Rocksalt in Folkestone and Simon Hulstone of Michelin starred The Elephant in Torquay. Seemingly unconcerned by the unfamiliar surroundings, Bruce delivered food that was every bit as good as it had been in Cornwall; no mean achievement, and something he’d also pulled off at a guest night at The Gallivant in Rye in 2016.

You might expect someone so obviously focused and determined to be a somewhat straight-backed, tightly wound sort of personality, but Bruce is endearingly eccentric. After a long and very good lunch in London, I said goodbye to Bruce outside the Shepherd Market pub where we’d enjoyed one or two for the road and watched him remove his shoes and socks and walk off barefoot through the crowd (which is also his preferred state of dress for cooking in The Shore kitchen).

The publication of Bruce’s first cookbook means that I can at last attempt to recreate a little bit of The Shore’s seafood sorcery in my own kitchen. In reality, I know I’ll still have to make that 600-mile round trip to taste the real thing, but I also know that it will still be worth it.

Cuisine: Seafood
Suitable for: Professional chefs

Buy this book
The Shore
£25, A Way with Media

The Garden Chef with an introduction by Jeremy Fox

The Garden Chef

What’s the USP? The Garden Chef explores the growing (pun intended) worldwide phenomenon of top chefs cultivating their own produce for their restaurants in on-site kitchen gardens. The book includes ‘recipes and stories from plant to plate’.

Who is the author? The book has been created from the contributions of chefs from 40 high-end restaurants around the globe which most notably include Simon Rogan from L’enclume in England, Ben Shewry from Attica in Melbourne, Alice Waters from Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Michel and Cesar Troisgros from Trisgros in France. The introduction is by Jeremy Fox of Bridie G’s in Santa Monica who is also the author of the brilliant cookbook On Vegetables, also published by Phaidon and which is cookbookreview.blog five star-reviewed.

What does it look like? Expect a riot of raised beds, a plethora of polytunnels and a great deal of gathering in the fields. The accent is as much on ‘garden’ as it is ‘chef’. The majority of the 80 recipes are illustrated and the food does look great, but it’s rather overshadowed by all the greenery.

Is it good bedtime reading? The chef or chefs of each restaurant (some are run by duos including Michael and Iain Pennington at The Ethicurean just outside Bristol and Gaston Acurio and Juan David Ocampo of Astrid Y Gaston in Lima)  are given a full page to espouse their horticultural and culinary philosophies, earning The Garden Chef space on your bedside table.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You’ve seen the Indiana Jones movies, right? Unless you cultivate your own incredibly vast and comprehensive kitchen garden, be prepared for an amazing adventure where you’ll raid the lost ark, discover the temple of doom and embark on the last crusade to track down sangre de toro potatoes, kalanchoe blossfeldiana and Mexican pepperleaf, among many, many other obscure ingredients that you definitely won’t find at your local Asda.

What’s the faff factor? These are recipes aimed fair and square at the professional chef community. There are dishes achievable for the home cook, but really they are not the main reason you would buy this book; it exists primarily to document and give a window into a particular aspect of the modern restaurant scene.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? If you are up for attempting them, the recipes are detailed enough to follow to successful completion.

How often will I cook from the book? That depends. How often are you in the mood for something like chef Ana Ros’s ‘Rabbit That Wants to be Mexican Chicken’ where you’ll need to wrap rabbit mousse in whole chicken skins and serve with rabbit sauce flavoured with star anise and chilli, roasted carrots, apricot gel, carrot top pesto and hibiscus flowers?

Killer recipes? Don’t get me wrong, the book is full of delicious things you’ll want to eat like The Quay’s Tennouji white turnip, blue swimmer crab and Jersey Wakefield cabbage with fermented cabbage juice and brown butter dressing, but you’ll probably want to go to the restaurant and try them rather than cook them yourself, even if that does mean flying half-way around the world. Doable recipes include white and green pizza from Roberta’s in Brooklyn and cream of vegetable soup from The Sportsman in Seasalter.

What will I love? If you’ve been looking for inspiration to create your own kitchen garden, be it for your restaurant or your home, then you couldn’t ask for a better book. There are even garden tips and the chefs favourite heritage varieties to give you a kick start, although if you want step by step guidance on how to actually get out there and do it you’ll need to look elsewhere.

What won’t I like? The decision has been taken not to include any images of the interior of any of the restaurants, which gives the book a feeling of incompleteness. This is partly understandable, given that the thrust of the book is on the chef’s activities outside their restaurants rather than in them. However, after reading the book, you might well be interested in planning a visit to one or more of the places included and wonder what you are letting yourself in for. Of course, you can google the restaurant’s website and reviews for images, but that’s sort of beside the point; you can google images of many of the restaurant’s gardens and dishes too if you are minded to.

Should I buy it? It’s a great book but may have niche appeal. If you are a keen gardener or aspire to be one, as well as a foodie, you will dig (pun intended) this book. If you want to know more about an influential trend that is helping to define to the current global high-end restaurant scene, this is also a must-read.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Professional chefs/Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
Three stars

Buy this book
The Garden Chef: Recipes and Stories from Plant to Plate
£29.95, Phaidon

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