Superchef Fuchsia Dunlop shares Beijing’s culinary secrets, with some of her favourite recipes from her latest book, “Every Grain of Rice”
You hit the Tarmac in Beijing – what are you craving and where can you find it?
I’ll probably have been fantasising about Peking Duck for most of the flight – the gorgeous, lacquered skin, succulent flesh, racy fermented sauce and refreshing leeks, all wrapped up in pancakes. There are many Peking duck restaurants in Beijing, but I don’t think you can beat the birds roasted at Da Dong.
You get that same craving in London- what’s your secret address for the best Chinese food?
A dim sum lunch at Royal China Club in Baker Street is usually exquisite.
With an unlimited expense account and a space shuttle we’d like to take you to the finest lunch in London and then dinner in beijing – where are we headed? Can we stop for tea anywhere?
I’d have lunch at Dinings, a tiny Japanese place in Marylebone, stop for a cup of tea and a chat at Postcard Teas, and then, in Beijing, go to Da Dong for sea cucumber and the Peking duck mentioned above.
You are a globally renowned chef who trained in China – what one thing did you learn in your training that you never would have expected?
That Sichuanese cuisine has 23 official flavours, 56 official cooking methods, and more than 60 names for different types of chunk, slice and sliver.
Is there any cusine you wish you had time to learn more about?
Japanese – it’s a whole other culinary world.
I hope you dont mind us asking but what’s your hot tip for impressing a date in the kitchen?
There are no general rules: you have to the individual tastes and predilections of your guest. But obviously don’t make anything that reeks of garlic or raw onion, or that requires exhausting last-minute preparations – you want to be able to give them your full attention!
Finally, could you take us through your last supper?
I’ll sit in a paviliion overlooking ricefields and a lake with my nearest and dearest around me, eating fresh bamboo shoots, Dongpo Pork, lightly-cooked Chinese greens that have just been picked, chicken soup and rice. Then we’ll eat peaches and loquats and drink Longjing tea as the sun sets outside.
Some of Fuchsia’s favourite recepies from “Every Grain of Rice”:
Bear’s paw tofu
Xiong zhang dou fu 熊掌豆腐
This exotic-sounding dish is actually just a version of the everyday Sichuanese dish ‘homestyle tofu’ (jia chang dou fu). It takes its name from the fact that the fried slices of tofu have a puckered appearance like that of bear’s paw, a legendary (and now notorious) banquet delicacy. Most Sichuanese cooks would add a little pork to the dish, frying it off in the oil before they add the chilli bean sauce, but it’s equally delicious without. You can shallow-fry the tofu slices if you prefer: they’ll be equally tasty, but may disintegrate in the sauce. With a dish of leafy greens and plenty of rice, bear’s paw tofu makes a very satisfying supper for two.
450g plain white tofu
200ml cooking oil, for deep-frying
2 tbsp Sichuanese chilli bean paste
3 garlic cloves, sliced
An equivalent amount of ginger, also sliced
3 baby leeks or spring onions, sliced diagonally into ‘horse ears’, white and green parts separated
1/2 tsp caster sugar
1/2–1 tsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp potato flour mixed with
2 tsp cold water
Cut the tofu into 4–5cm squares or rectangles, about 1cm thick. Heat the oil in a seasoned wok over a high flame to 180–190°C (350–375°F). Fry the tofu slices in a few batches for a few minutes until golden, then set aside. Pour all but 3 tbsp of the oil into a heatproof container. Reduce the heat to medium, then return the wok to the stove with the chilli
bean paste. Stir-fry until the oil is red and richly fragrant. Add the garlic, ginger and leek or spring onion whites and fry until they, too, are fragrant. Then tip in the stock and the tofu and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat slightly, season with the sugar and soy sauce and simmer for three to four minutes until the liquid is reduced and the tofu has absorbed some of the flavours of the sauce. Add the leek or spring onion greens and stir briefly until just cooked. Finally, stir the potato flour mixture, scatter it into the centre of the wok, and stir until the sauce has thickened. Turn out on to a serving dish.
Beef with cumin zi ran niu rou 孜然牛肉
Cumin is not a typical spice in mainstream Chinese cookery. It carries with it the aroma of the bazaars of Xinjiang in the far north west of the country, where ethnic Uyghur Muslims sprinkle it over their lamb kebabs and add it to their stews and polos (the local version of pilafs). It is, however, found in spice shops all over China, and non-Uyghur cooks use it from time to time. I came across the original version of this sensational recipe in a restaurant in Hunan called Guchengge, and it became one of the most popular in my Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. The only snag with the Guchengge recipe is that it uses the restaurant technique of pre-frying the beef in a wokful of oil. Here, I’ve reworked the recipe as a more simple stir-fry. The texture isn’t quite as silky as in the original version, but it’s much easier to make and still absolutely delicious, as I hope you’ll agree.
250g trimmed beef steak
1/2 red pepper
1/2 green pepper
4 tbsp cooking oil
11/2 tsp finely chopped ginger
2 tsp finely chopped garlic
1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)
2 tsp ground cumin
2–4 tsp dried chilli flakes, to taste
2 spring onions, green parts only, finely sliced
1 tsp sesame oil
For the marinade
1 tsp Shaoxing wine
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp light soy sauce
3/4 tsp dark soy sauce
11/2 tsp potato flour
Cut the beef into thin bite-sized slices. Stir the marinade ingredients with 11/2 tbsp water and mix well into the meat. Trim the peppers and cut them into strips 1–2cm wide, then diagonally into lozengeshaped slices. Add 3 tbsp of the oil to a seasoned wok over a high flame and swirl it around. Add the beef and stir-fry briskly to separate the slices. When the slices have separated but are still a bit pink, remove them from the wok and set aside. Return the wok to the flame with the remaining oil. Add the ginger and garlic and allow them to sizzle for a few seconds to release their fragrances, then tip in the peppers and fresh chilli, if using, and stirfry until hot and fragrant. Return the beef slices to the wok, give everything a good stir, then add the cumin and dried chillies. When all is sizzlingly fragrant and delicious, add the spring onions and toss briefly. Remove from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and serve.