All Under Heaven Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China

Carolyn Phillips’ 500+ page book, All Under Heaven arrived in my mailbox today. The book is based on her blog, Madame Huang’s Kitchen and is organized around five broad regions of China and Taiwan (North & Manchurian Northeast, Yangtze River and its Environs, Coastal Southeast, Central Highlands, Arid Lands). In total, there are 300 recipes, and each is prefaced by one of the 35 regions it derives from and its title in English, pinyin, and Chinese characters.

You can think of the book as five regional cookbooks for the price of one. Each regional section starts with a discussion of the region in general, and then devotes a few paragraphs to subregions. There is a table of contents for each section, and it organizes the recipes into appetizers and small plates, soups, entrees, side dishes, starches and street food, sweets and beverages.

The back of the book has over a hundred pages of reference material including techniques, menus, and an awesome section “stir-frying on a wimpy stove” that helps on issues not addressed on my shelf of Chinese cookbooks.

That’s the background. What are your thoughts on the book itself, and have you tried any recipes?

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Sounds like a wonderfully thought out book: entertaining, informative and useful all in one.

Don’t know if I’d have the courage to tackle regional Chinese cooking.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating this book for years–I’ve been following her blog and was given a recipe to test for the book by McSweeney’s a couple years ago, and heard nothing for a while, but my copy arrived yesterday.

I really like her scholarly approach, while still focusing on delicious recipes. This interview gives a pretty good view of her process. http://diannej.com/2016/write-like-your-life-depended-on-it-says-author-carolyn-phillips/

Like her, I’d been mystified by references to the 8 great cuisines of Chinese cookery, with half of those referencing lucky 8 not naming them–then those that do are all clustered on the Eastern Coast (plus Sichuan and Hunan). True, this is where most people live, but her division of recipes into 5 regions that cover all of China and smaller sub-regions covers a lot of ground and makes a lot of sense.

I started paging through and happened to have the ingredients for Zhajiang Noodles, made with eggplant and sweet wheat paste (tianmianjiang). She finds some evidence of it being originally from the Northeast rather than specifically Beijing, and that it is also known there as zájiàng miàn (雜醬麵)—which translates to “mixed sauce noodles", making a bit more sense than fried sauce noodles.
The recipe and most of the headnote are actually found here:

The recipe was easy to follow, with enough notes that even those unfamiliar with the dish could put together. I’m familiar, but typically find it too salty, which I didn’t this time. (Though I might use less sesame oil next time). I’ll be following her suggestion to make it with pulled noodles (biang biang) in the future.

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Eggplant sounds like and interesting addition. I like that, when she goes off script for common dishes, she discusses her motivation. When I see a recipes that depart from what I’ve eaten in restaurants. especially in older cookbooks, my assumption is that the author is simplifying things in a potentially negative way.

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She’ll be at Omnivore Books in San Francisco this Saturday from 3-4 pm. Lots of other great Omnivore events coming up too
http://www.omnivorebooks.com/events.html

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I’ve tried a few recipes, some a while back from her website:

Recommended

  • Shanghai rice cakes with soybeans and mustard greens: excellent, I’ve made this twice

  • Drunken chicken : I liked the touch of goji berries

  • Cumin roasted potatoes: I accidentally forgot to add the cumin, and thought the seasonings were still great. I’d scale back the salt a bit.

  • Lettuce with three shreds: 1/4 cup sesame oil seemed like a lot. I instead used 2 Tbs. sesame oil and 1 Tbs. vegetable oil, which was plenty to bring out the fragrance of the ginger.

Not as successful

  • Dongpo pork : lovely texture, but I couldn’t get the flavor right. She uses several cups more braising liquid than other recipes so I should have sprung for a better quality rice wine.
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I made the Nanjing Saltwater Duck a day or two ago. It was delicious–even my cautious granddaughter loved it.

Now that I think I have some decent rice wine, I’ll try the drunken chicken. The store recommended on another post (corner of 5th avenue and 10th street in Oakland) offers a much greater variety of rice wines than any I have seen in the core of Oakland Chinatown. I found the black cardamom in the large market between 7th and 8th near Alice streets in Oakland. The book calls it 草果 (the package it came in called it 草菓).

Thanks for you recommendations on dishes to try. Dongpo pork may not travel well–I’ve never had a version nearly as good as those in Hangzhou. But it’s certainly worth a try.

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I tried the potsticker (guotie) recipe from this book. Had a few issues with the recipe - it called for one recipe of the hot water dough, and I only ended up using maybe a third of that recipe, if that. Unless the potstickers are supposed to be incredibly thick I think that amount of dough is off. Cooked one to see how it would come out, and it was pretty good. The filling could have been a little juicier, but I think I may have either overcooked it or used too lean a pork (the recipe calls for 30% fat if possible). Froze the rest.

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The recipe doesn’t ask to seal the potstickers?

The recipe calls for only the tops to be crimped shut, with a ~3/4 inch opening on each end.

Which region/ chapter is that guotie from? Shaanxi?

It’s in the chapter “The North & Manchurian Northeast,” and this recipe comes from Tianjin.

pot sticker is a variety of DIM SUM
I make them shut to pan fry then steam or with open top called Sio Mai which I steam

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold