Fuchsia Dunlop's Land of Fish and Rice

Fuchsia Dunlop’s book on Jiangnan, the area south of the Yangtze that includes Shanghai, just came out. The book is carefully researched, and a great read. There aren’t many English language books devoted to this region’s cooking, so Dunlop’s treatment is an important work in terms of background and recipes.

What have you tried? Some recipes are online.

Here are some stray observations before I start cooking:

  • This is a must-buy for fans of Shanghainese food. Other than the eighty pages Carolyn Phillips book All Under Heaven devotes to the Yangtze River and its surrounds, the only two English language Shanghai cookbooks I know of are of Taiwanese origin— a crazy expensive out-of-print one by Wei Chuan, and Shanghainese Homestyle Cooking by Angela Cheng, daughter of Pei-Me Fu. I own the latter, and there’s a huge overlap between the dishes covered in Cheng and Dunlop’s books. Of the two, Dunlop’s book is a better learning tool— there’s more background information and the recipes have more verbose discussions of technique. The audiences are different too— Dunlop doesn’t pay much attention to offal and there’s nothing with fish heads, sea cucumber, eel, or cuttlefish. I’m guessing this is more a function of audience interest than ingredient availability.

  • Building upon Jiangnan’s Buddhist vegetarian traditions, Land of Fish and Rice has a ton of vegan recipes, and many recipes suggest alternatives to make them vegan. She even has a recipe for vegetarian Wuxi Eel. Dunlop’s book Every Grain of Rice is also great for vegetarians (for my taste, I find her Revolutionary Chinese Cooking (Hunan) to be more vegetarian accessible than Land of Plenty (Sichuan)).

  • There are some omissions from the book that Dunlop attributes to ingredient availability, and she treats these with explanation. For example, because packaged bamboo shoots are inferior, she only uses bamboo in dishes where it’s not the central ingredient. I can respect that. In other places, she’s found good alternatives and acknowledges the ingredient it’s based on. Kale is used to substitute shepherd’s purse, and fresh tong ho (garland chrysanthemum) is used in a salad similar to what SFBA restaurants make with frozen malantou (Indian aster). In one recipe she uses baby spinach instead of chicken feather vegetable. Incidentally, she points out that “chicken feather vegetable” are sprouts of Shanghai bok choy. That explains why some SFBA restaurants call it “baby bok choy” (I’ve never seen it for sale to the public).

  • Seasonality aside, I think everything in the book can be made with ingredients I’ve seen in the Bay Area. On the other hand, Sichuan ingredients have been trickier to find.

  • Hangzhou West Lake Fish uses pink Zhejiang vinegar rather than black Zhenjiang vinegar. Hangzhou is in Zhejiang province, so perhaps that makes sense. Any insights? My other books use black vinegar.

  • The back of the book lists the Chinese names for ingredients. Armed with a cell phone photo of the item’s Chinese characters, this will be a lifesaver for communicating with employees at Chinese markets.

  • Holy crap, she has a recipe for pan fried soup filled buns, Shengjian Mantou, adapted for a cast-iron skillet and the photo looks really good. These are the variety where the pleat-side gets fried.

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I haven’t started cooking from this one yet, but you’ve rekindled my interest.

Perhaps most recipes for Hangzhou West Lake Fish use black Zhenjiang vinegar because it is relatively easy to find a decent version. I’ve had a sharp eye out at all the Asian markets for the past couple years and haven’t found any red vinegar that isn’t just rice vinegar with red color, sugar, and sometimes flavoring added, let alone a true rose Zhejiang vinegar. Please post here if you find any decent red rice vinegar. (To be fair, the dyed ones taste fine, but not special, exactly what you would expect from a lightly sugared rice vinegar).

Post if the Shengjian Mantou work out. My attempt at making them (not from Fish & Rice) didn’t rise at all, and ended up like thick, fried XLB. I used a recipe from New Shanghai Cuisine by Jereme Leung, a book I picked up used. It’s not that great, and I’ve now checked out a few books from the Marshall Cavendish imprint and they seem to focus on Singapore chefs and the books are a bit more style than substance, and quite light on explanation and instruction.

Oh, I’m glad you said something before I accidentally got the food coloring stuff. I’ll see what Sunset Super and New May Wah have next week.

Some restaurant, is it MY China in SF?, serves their Xiao Long Bao with a red vinegar that I ignored. That would be a missed opportunity if it were Zhejiang vinegar and I didn’t bother to even try it.

If I can find the right vinegar, I’ll try her pickled ginger with both plain rice vinegar and red rice vinegar and do a blind taste test.

She uses red rice / rose vinegar in the following dishes (thank you, eatyourbooks.com) :

West Lake fish in vinegar sauce (Xi hu cu yu)
“Squirrel fish” in sweet-and-sour sauce (Song shu yu)
Shanghai soy-pickled radish (Jiang luo bo)
Shanghai pickled radish skin
Sweet-and-sour pickled ginger (Tang cu pao jiang)
Slow-cooked pork hock with rock sugar (Bing tang yuan ti)
Shaoxing “small stir-fry” (Shao xing xiao chao)

Shengjian Mantou sounds like a Christmas project, so you may have to wait a few months for a report :slight_smile:

Hyperbowler, thanks for the great review! I loved Every Grain of Rice - her tomato and egg dish is a regular in our house during tomato season. For me, any cookbook that gives me just one recipe that becomes a family favorite is worth having. I just ordered this new book, thanks for the heads up.

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Right you are! At sunset super, I saw three red vinegars, none from Zhenjiang. All were from Hong Kong or Guangdong, and had additives. They also don’t carry 雪裡紅, snow vegetable aka salted mustard greens.

I really hope you find some good red vinegar, but I’ve been turning around bottles for the past three years without luck. Though there is hope, as I’m pretty sure my current search was kicked off when I finished off a bottle that didn’t have red dye.
As for the snow vegetable, based on the pictures in the book which are all vibrant green, you’re best off making this yourself using the recipe included. I’ve seen my Chinese neighbors placing mustard leaves out to dry a bit, and I’ve made my own–it’s one of the easier and quicker ferments.

I just made lu wei xiao xiang gu, black mushrooms cooked in chicken stock, and it was delicious. I’ve always liked this simple dish of black mushrooms and this version was just right–plenty of umami from the stock and mushrooms, yet still clean tasting. I used my own fairly gelatinous stock and the final broth reduction step went from liquidy to gummy fairly quickly, but was easily saved with a couple more spoonfuls of broth. Will make again.

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I’ve never fermented something outside a fridge, and that sounds like a good set of training wheels. I’ve seen a dark green slimy looking shrink-wrapped thing labeled as snow vegetable, but the fresher stuff she calls for is in the refrigerator section and I think its pretty good. I created a thread about finding ingredients in the SFBA and posted a pic of two local brands.

That mushroom dish sounds great. I bet the mushrooms wicked up a ton of flavor. Do you eat it as is, or as an accompaniment to something else?

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The launch of this book timed well with my desire to pull new vegetarian dishes into rotation. Land of Rice and Fish had several easy to make recipes that fit the bill, and will be even better when I can add seasonal ingredients to the mix.

A note on ingredients:

  • I’ve switched from Pearl River light soy to San-J tamari, which is less salty and has greater depth of flavor-- it makes a huge difference on vegetable dishes. Dunlop recommends Clearspring tamari, but I’ve never seen that anywhere.
  • I’ve been using Pearl River’s mushroom soy when recipes call for dark soy, and Better than Bouillon instead of homemade stock.
  • I’ve switched from heads of garlic to pre-peeled garlic cloves— I’ve had it with green sprouts and garlic peel sticking to my cleaver.
  • I get double peeled frozen fava beans at Middle Eastern stores. As a bonus, they seem to have fresh favas later in the season than Asian grocery stores.

Here’s what I’ve cooked:

  • Celtuce spring onion oil : Celtuce stopped being available a few weeks ago, so I took Dunlop’s suggestion of substituting daikon, which I cut with a mandolin into slivers. I then poured hot oil over the scallions, and its combination with daikon developed an amazing, slightly nutty flavor. I can’t wait to try this with celtuce next year! She uses that same technique of pouring hot oil over aromatics in Every Grain of Rice for greens, and it brings out lovely flavors without risk of overcooking-- it’s one of the best take-aways from her books.

  • Cool steamed eggplant with a garlicky dressing: On a home stove, I find most wok-based Chinese eggplant dishes to come out greasy, so I was excited to try the steaming approach. I steamed the eggplant, placed the aromatics on top followed by hot oil oil, and then mixed in the sauce. The hot oil technique spread flavor through the dish, and the eggplant batons held their shape more so than a typical stir-fry. This was delicious and gave me stove space to use my wok for another dish. And unlike a wok-based dish, it was easy to double the recipe-- I made separate batches in the bottom and top of a two-tiered bamboo steamer set.

  • Stir-fried fava beans with spring onion: Salt and green onion highlighted the natural flavors of favas. I like that it doesn’t use much oil and that it offers a more subdued fava preparation than her (delicious) recipes that use preserved/salted vegetables. I made a few alterations because fresh favas aren’t available anymore. I defrosted a 14 oz. bag of double-peeled frozen fava beans, which is equivalent to about 25% more than the recipe called for in fresh fava beans. As a result, there was still plenty of liquid left by the time the favas became tender, so I removed them to a plate, reduced the liquid, and brought them back into the wok to finish.

  • Spicy-stir fried tofu with pickles: I liked the complimentary textures of the tofu and king oyster mushrooms, and the light level of umami. The size/shape and cleanliness of king oyster mushrooms makes them the easiest mushroom to work with-- from opening the book until plating, it took 20 minutes the first time I made the dish, closer to 15 the second time. I had better results when I squeezed the greens of excess moisture before putting them in the wok. Next time, I may try this in a cast-iron skillet to develop char.

  • Quick cucumber salad: This is a very refreshing cold salad and is similar to the sweet and sour smashed cucumber recipe in Every Grain of Rice. It has no oil and jacks up the sugar, garlic, and vinegar in the dressing. I find that a heavy meat cleaver breaks up the cucumber skin better than a thin vegetable cleaver.

  • Slippery cucumber salad: As she says, the cucumber does take on a floppy, slippery texture! This lacks the hearty crunch of the Quick Cucumber salad, but can pickle in salt for hours and might be better for a dinner party when you don’t have time or counter space to deal with smashing cucumbers 10-20 minutes before serving.

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Its on Amazon:

I tried making the Shanghai stir-fried chunky noodles a couple times (上海粗炒面) from this book. Very quick and easy. Didn’t follow the recipe exactly the first time and it came out a little salty. Second time was better when I actually measured the liquid ingredients. Still missing something from the versions I’ve had in restaurants though, maybe MSG.

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Oh, interesting— she says the recipe was, by some accounts, developed by Shanghainese immigrants in Hong Kong. Is this type of preparation available in Shanghai? I was surprised to not see it on menus when I was there!

I really like restaurant versions of Shanghai wide noodles that char the hell out of cabbage and have noticeable wok char on the noodles. The char is not easy to do on a home stove. Would a dash of sugar help? Instead of MSG, you could replace the dark soy sauce with mushroom soy. Or, following her Hong Kong mention, use some oyster sauce. Come to think of it, the sugar, oyster sauce, Shanghai noodle combination is in the recipe for the wasabi noodles at The House, an Asian fusion restaurant in SF’s North Beach.

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That’s interesting re: Hong Kong. Maybe it’s just that the versions I’ve had here were prepared by Cantonese cooks. Haven’t been to Shanghai unfortunately, have only had renditions of it here in CA. Her recipe doesn’t have cabbage in it, only baby bok choy or spinach, though I have definitely have seen napa cabbage in the versions I’ve had here. Sugar and/or oyster sauce seems like a good idea, maybe some garlic would bump it up too.

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Yesterday I made my second batch of Nanjing Saltwater Duck. The first was quite good; I think the second is even better. I saved the cooking liquid from the first try, froze it, and used it yesterday. I refreshed it by add ing a bay leaf, one star anise, and a little salt. Highly recommended (the recipe, that is).

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Nice! How salty was it, and did you hack through the leg bone or remove the meat and then slice it?

The meat wasn’t salty at all. I didn’t hack through the leg bones–I was afraid they would shatter. So I took the meat off the bone, sliced it, and saved the bones for the stock pot.

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I’m tempted to get this book even though I really don’t want to buy anymore cookery books! groan I do have 2 other books of hers but never cook from them, I just like to read them.

The Washington Post has 3 recipes to try if you don’t have the book.

I do this with all my cookbooks except 660 Curries. I read them for entertainment, but don’t actually cook from them!

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Same here more often than not! Except for Every Grain of rice, I’ve used Dunlop’s books more for navigating restaurant menus than for cooking.

I had a fun time going through Land of Fish and Rice alongside a menu from Little Shanghai, a San Mateo restaurant which has wider breadth than most local Shanghainese restaurants. It’s cool to read backstories of dishes and her personal take.

BTW, if you have a list of 660 Curries recipes that you frequent, please start a thread (I’m looking to make some speedier recipes).

While I’m writing, I’ve cooked some other dishes:

  • Mashed fava with snow vegetable: Interesting dish— except for the mashed potatoes with blueberry some Beijing restaurants serve, this is the only mashed Chinese dish I’ve had. I made this with fresh fava beans as a snack, and think it would be best as a side dish to other, textutally contrasting but not assertive flavors. The seasonings are very subtle, you need to pay attention, so much so that putting the mash on a saltine distracted from it. Even though I enjoyed it, I don’t think I’ll make this again – –the yield is small and there’s a lot of fava bean peeling. I also prefer the whole bean texture you get in her other fava bean dishes.

  • Plain stir fried greens : I’ve made this twice, and will continue to make it whether I’m making a Chinese meal or not. It’s a foundational recipe that I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never made before. Like her tatsoi recipe earlier in the book, the simplest greens recipes in my 1970s and 1980s Chinese cookbooks have garlic or other seasonings added to them, and require water/broth to finish cooking. This recipe uses only Shanghai (green) bok choy, oil, and salt and its simplicity allowed me to focus on the greens, rather than avoiding burning garlic or the timing of adding other ingredients (which I’m prone to when I’ve got the rest of the meal on my mind). Kudos to Dunlop for appreciating its simplicity and utility.

  • Bok choy broth with pickle: a quick briney/pickley soup ideal for a weeknight, or to lighten up a rich meal. I’d probably make this in a pot rather than a wok next time. Zha cai, which they sell in buckets at the Asian market and fresh stock would have made this even better— I was perfectly happy using vegetable Better than Buillion and a foil packet of Sichuan preserved greens (zha cai).

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I thumbed through Phaidon’s recent release, China The Cookbook, and the Hong Kong authors state that red vinegar is red because it is dyed. However, other sources say that red yeast rice produces the hue. Why the discrepancy?

There are a number of safety issues listed for red yeast rice according to its Wikipedia entry, and its relation to statin drugs caused it to disappear from the market for a few years. I’m going to assume the health concerns, combined with the cheap production alternatives food dyes offer, are why we shouldn’t expect to see traditional Zhejiang vinegar become available in the US.

Speaking of China the Cookbook, please start a thread if you’ve used it and have comments. I’m not generally a fan of Phaidon’s breadth over depth approach and their poor job at recipe testing, but am interested to hear whether this one has recipes that make it worth it. I enjoyed its introduction, but found that space prevents it from offering the detailed cultural and historic gems that make Dunlop’s books and All Under Heaven so interesting. But 600 recipes is 600 recipes …

Dunlop had a good interview on The Eater Upsell.

On the popularity of Sichuan cuisine:

"And quite a lot of Sichuanese chefs now lament the fact that the dishes that have become the international smash hits are things like lazi ji, Chongqing chicken in a great pile of chilies, or shui zhu yu, that slippery sliced fish in a great cauldron of sizzling chili oil. They’re certainly part of Sichuanese cuisine, but they’re not the only part. People think maybe they shouldn’t be taken to represent the whole. And also, that kind of cooking doesn’t require very high culinary skills, it doesn’t require very expensive ingredients. You can create drama very easily. "

On Jiangnan cuisine:

“We’ve talked about how you can fling a bunch of chilies and Sichuan pepper and call it Sichuanese, but this cuisine is less easy to stereotype and sum up in a word or two. Also, perhaps, it’s more difficult to do well. You do need good ingredients. It’s a bit subtler like that”

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Bessarabsky Market, Kyiv. Ukraine
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