A Comprehensive and Fascinating Guide to Chinese Home Cuisine – China: The Cookbook
I am the sort of cook who tends not to follow recipes. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy reading recipe books, I do. But, for the most part, I improvise a lot (with varying degrees of success). My own recipe for a low-calorie chicken stirfry is a good example. A love of the written word, however, means I am more than happy to have a recipe book by my bed to browse before I go to sleep. Anything from Elizabeth David to Claudia Roden.
Then there are bibles. Cookbooks that all chefs and cooks should own. Starting with the Larousse Gastronomic, which I remember reading avidly when I was about eight years old, completely mystified that such food could exist. One such book which should be on every cookbook shelf is definitely The Silver Spoon, a collection of family recipes from Italy , this is the English edition of the bestselling Italian cookbook of the last fifty years, Il cucchiaio d’argento. To the best of my knowledge a similar cookbook in English about Chinese food didn’t exist until now. Phaidon, who publish The Silver Spoon in English, commissioned husband and wife team Kei Lum Chan and Diora Fong Chan, China’s most acclaimed food writers, to produce China: The Cookbook
Summarising in one volume the home cuisine of China, the country with the highest population in the world, must have been something of a challenge. Kei and Diora, who are based in Hong Kong, explained to us that they had researched and tested over 1,200 recipes, travelling across China to understand the regional cuisine fully before returning home to check each recipe properly. And the result is a stunning cookery book, with around half that number of recipes, each dish categorised by region and sub-region. There’s a short history of Chinese food culture as an introduction to the book, followed by an explanation of the eight main regions, each with their own sub-regions.
The recipes themselves are refreshingly accessible. One of my main issues with recipe books is that sometimes I open them and sigh, realising that I might just have to invest in a whole new larder of food if I am going to make anything at all. Here, just skimming through I can find dishes with nothing more exotic than some sesame oil or light soy sauce. Of course, there are some challenging dishes – both in terms of cookery skills and taste. I’m not convinced that I want to try stir-fried pig’s tongue from the Hakka region or that I’d know where to find Dace (a type of fish) to stuff. But for the most part, I think I’d happily tackled the dishes and wouldn’t need to destroy the entire kitchen in the process!
I was lucky enough to take part in a cookery demonstration with Kei and Diora recently, at the School of Wok. And, part of the event did involve us making our own lunch using recipes from the book. I’m sharing my favourite, the Fujian style fried rice. Here, the only ‘hard to find’ ingredient is the dried scallops, which you WILL find on Amazon and may also be able to buy from a good Asian supermarket. I’m planning on trying the dish myself substituting some XO sauce, which I understand is made with dried scallops, chilli and dried shrimps so I’ll update this post when I’ve done just that. One trick which I particularly like from this cookery demonstration was the mixing of egg into the cold rice, rather than the kind of wok scrambled egg mixture I’ve used before.
We also enjoyed a rather wonderful wok steamed whole fish, cooked to perfection by Jeremy Pang from the School of Wok, Pork Dumplings and Sauteed Cabbage. All very delicious dishes which seemed healthier and lighter than their ‘takeaway’ equivalent.
Now, this is a recipe book I think anyone with an interest in Chinese food NEEDS. And, it’s perfect timing – with Christmas just over a month away. Why not order yourself a copy for Christmas anyway!
In the meanwhile, I’m leaving you with the recipe for my favourite dish of the event – Fujian Style Fried Rice
- 4 dried black mushrooms
- 2 dried scallops
- 2 boneless skinless chicken thighs chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 650 g cooked long grain rice rinsed, lumps broken up and drained
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 150 g uncooked prawns shelled, deveined and chopped
- 2 chinese broccoli stems sliced (Chinese broccoli is very like tenderstem)
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornflour
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
Put the mushrooms in a bowl and cover with cold water. Leave to soak for at least 20 minutes, until softened
Remove the mushrooms and squeeze dry. Discard any stems. Chop the flesh and set aside
Soak the dried scallops in a small bowl in 120 ml of cold water for 15 minutes. Drain and remove the small hard muscle. Tear into shreds and put to one side. Reserve the soaking water
Mix the chicken with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and leave to marinate for 10 minutes
lightly beat the egg in a large bowl, add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt and then mix in the cooked rice, stirring gently till all the grains are coated with egg.
heat 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a wok over a high heat. add the rice and stir fry for 2-3 minutes. Remove to a serving plate and set aside
Heat the remaining oil in the wok over a medium-high heat, add the garlic and stirfry for 30 seconds, then add the chicken mushrooms, scallops, prawns and chinese broccoli. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes till all the ingredients are cooked.
Add the soy sauce, sugar and scallop water and bring to a boil.
Mix the cornflour with 2 tablespoons of water in a small bowl, stir this mixture into the wok. Bring to a boil, stirring for 30 seconds to thicken the sauce.
Drizzle in the sesame oil, toss well then pour the mixture over the fried rice. Transfer to a serving dish and serve immediately.
With many thanks to the School of Wok, to Kei Lum Chan and Diora Fong Chang and to Phaidon for hosting this event