Cookbook of the Week: Fuchsia Dunlop's Every Grain of Rice + A Quick Spicy Sesame Noodle Recipe
If you are a Fuchsia Dunlop fan (you are, we hope), you probably already have a copy of her new cookbook, Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking, and are halfway through a lunch of braised chicken with chestnuts, peas with dried shrimp, and sour-and-hot mushroom soup. Or, should you be trying to one-up L.A. chefs on their recent pork endeavors, maybe salt-fried pork belly with garlic stems (or substitute chives). It's going to be a very happy Chinese New Year for you.
W. W. Norton Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop
Has it really been 10 years since the release of Land of Plenty, Dunlop's excellent cookbook focusing on Sichuan cooking? And more than five years since she released Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes From Hunan Province? You can build a food blog in a day, but penning a truly great cookbook takes time. Lots and lots of good, old-fashioned time.
Every Grain of Rice takes a broader look at Chinese cooking as a whole, from the roadside cooking of Hong Kong street stalls to the dishes Dunlop has enjoyed at friends' homes in Sichuan province and in tiny restaurants throughout China (even a few quick, inexpensive dishes from her days as a culinary student there years ago). The diversity of the dishes -- and their simplicity -- makes this a remarkable book.
Most of the ingredients are easily accessible, at least in cities like L.A. with an eye toward culinary diversity. You'll need a few pantry staples like Chinkiang vinegar to make that eggplant with garlic and Chinkiang, as well as the many other dishes through the book that call for the Chinese rice vinegar made from fermented glutinous rice (you can substitute brown rice vinegar). But once you have the basics, the cooking methods for making something like a steaming bowl of buckwheat noodles with red-braised beef (p. 286) are pretty simple.
Simple does not mean boring. We're having a hard time deciding which recipe to try first, there are so many noodle, dumpling and stir-fry options. We'll likely go with that "Sichaunese numbing-and-hot-beef," simply because it comes with this handy nose-to-tail marriage advice:
Chris Terry / W.W. Norton "Smacked cucumber with garlicky sauce"
At a food conference in Chengdu a few years ago, I met the daughter of the couple who are immortalized in the name of the dish "man-and-wife lung slices" (fu qi fei pian). In the 1930s, her parents, a pair of street vendors, charmed the citizens of Chengdu not only with their fiery, lip-numbing snack of beef offal (including head, skin, tongue, heart and tripe) laced with roasted nuts and fragrant oils, but with their happy and harmonious marriage, which is why the dish ended up with the "man and wife" name.
If you're debating how this dish falls within the book's "simple Chinese cooking" subtitle (tongue, cow's head, heart?), Dunlop's variation relies on whole beef shin, or beef stew meat, for easier ingredient access. She promises her variation "has had a rapturous reception" whenever she has served it. After we try it, we'll let you know what happens next in that romance-novel dinner plot.