The Joy of (Chinese) Cooking
January 4, 2019 12:23 PM   Subscribe

I need to brush up on my Chinese (mostly Cantonese) cooking. Give me your recommendations for cookbooks and other resources!

Firstly, I realize "Chinese cooking" is extraordinarily broad. I'm a good cook, we make generic stir fries frequently, and I have a small collection of general Chinese cookbooks that have no particular focus and try to provide recipes and techniques from the entire country in under 200 pages.

I'm looking for new resources (books especially, but websites would be great too) that have the following characteristics:
-Highly defined focus - one particular region (Canton/Guandong or Hong Kong especially), or only dumplings, etc.
-Little to no reliance on bottled/canned ingredients (soy sauce excluded)
-Techniques for making the various dumpling wrappers and home versions of those bottled/canned ingredients
-Suggestions for substitutions for hard-to-find ingredients are great, but I don't want a collection of American Chinese food. We have some good Asian groceries in the area, though, so I may be able to find a lot of ingredients if they are identified in English as well as Chinese or Korean.
posted by backseatpilot to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
This cookbook covers more than just Cantonese, but I think it's really close to what you're looking for: All Under Heaven. It's by an American expat who lives (or lived, I'm not clear) in China for many years, but grew up in the US, so a) she knows what ingredients we are likely to get here, and b) how to substitute for certain ingredients. It also is a deep dive into several various regions of China and their resultant cuisines; Cantonese is in there, for certain (although I suspect under a different name, but the book would clarify), but so are Sichuan, Hunan, Fujan, Hakkan, Hainan, Tibetan....etc.

I'm peeking in the excerpt at Amazon now, and don't see her expressly state that "Cantonese" cooking is included; but she does a really good job of explaining her system of organization in the foreword, so you can probably find what you're after, even if she is using a different nomenclature for it.

I'm actually making "use this book more often" one of my 2019 resolutions, so hi!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:35 PM on January 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Although none of them are about Guangdong specifically, all of Fuchsia Dunlop's cookbooks except for Every Grain of Rice (which is nonetheless excellent) are focused on a specific region of China: Sichuan Cookery [UK]/Land of Plenty [US] on Sichuan, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook on Hunan, and Land of Fish and Rice on Jiangnan (the lower Yangtze River region).

In addition, All Under Heaven by Carolyn Phillips is a China-wide compendium of recipes, but the whole book is about Chinese regional cuisines (the subtitle is "Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China") and the understanding of how Chinese food differs across the various parts of China is quite thorough.

Finally, what specifically are you thinking of when you refer to bottled/canned ingredients?

Because when I think of some basic Chinese cooking ingredients (across the Chinese cuisines), I think of things like sesame oil, rice vinegar, rice wine, sesame paste, various fermented bean pastes such as doubanjiang or tianmianjiang, fermented black beans, or hoisin or oyster sauce, all of which I get bottled or canned.

Those kinds of bottled/canned things get called for fairly frequently across the Chinese canon and I think very few, if any, Chinese cookbooks are going to give you recipes to make these kinds of things, because the vast majority of Chinese home cooks would expect to just buy them at a market.
posted by andrewesque at 12:38 PM on January 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

Oh, and I also recently went to an event at which the author of Cooking South of the Clouds appeared at. That book is a Yunnan cookbook and it looks pretty good, though I haven't cooked from it personally unlike the Dunlop and Phillips books, so this is just my impression.
posted by andrewesque at 12:46 PM on January 4, 2019

Ginger Scallion sauce is simple, easy to make, authentic, and outrageously delicious. Don't skimp on the salt.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:56 PM on January 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

I had a steady repertoire of Chinese dishes for years. This changed radically after I discovered the YT Channel Chinese Cooking Demystified. It was such a boost to my cooking. Seeing everything done takes so many questions away. They have more than enough simple dishes, but the recipes for sauces etc are really fun to make and they taste so much better. Most dishes involve some shopping at a Chinese store, but the also have a playlist called 'The Western Supermarket Club'. Every video has a link to reddit, where they publish extensive recipes.
posted by ouke at 12:59 PM on January 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

I grew up cooking southern Chinese food and the default cookbook for dumplings and more is the Wei Chuan Dim Sum cookbook.
posted by advicepig at 1:03 PM on January 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Another thought - the title of this book is a little condescending, but The Asian Grocery Store Demystified may be of use when it comes to tracking down ingredients. Although it does have a small collection of recipes at the back, it's mainly meant to be a guide to the ingredients themselves, with advice for brand names and a suggested "pantry stocking list". You mentioned advice about how to track down ingredients, and this may help with that goal.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:18 PM on January 4, 2019

Wait, that one is great, but this one is the Dim Sum one.
posted by advicepig at 1:19 PM on January 4, 2019

Response by poster: Finally, what specifically are you thinking of when you refer to bottled/canned ingredients?

The books that I'm familiar with rely heavily on things like canned vegetables, bottled hoisin/oyster sauce, that kind of thing. I want to either move away from that or learn to make those things myself, which I already do for Western cooking. (Excuse the gross generalization, but) Something less like Midwest Potluck and more like Escoffier, but for Chinese cuisines.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:52 PM on January 4, 2019

For Sichuan cuisine, I've had great results making the recipes from Mala Market Recipe Blog. Yum. They also sell some hard-to-source ingredients on their main web page.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:53 PM on January 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Fuchsia Dunlop's cookbooks give instructions for making things like chili oil from scratch. I don't know of anyone who makes hoisin sauce from scratch though; hoisin sauce is basically equivalent to soy sauce in terms of pantry staples. I mean, Western cooks don't make butter from scratch even though they could buy buttermilk and churn it themselves.

Chili oil and maybe even black bean pastes are kind of an in-between; most home cooks in China will just buy them premade, but it's reasonable to make them yourself if you're feeling ambitious. Canned vegetables -- if you're thinking of mysterious Chinese canned foods like preserved mustard tuber, that's also unrealistic for a home cook in the US to produce (in China you can buy them fresh at the market, but canned is also perfectly acceptable). If you're thinking of canned baby corn, then yeah, that's an avoidable shortcut. But I don't know of many authentic Chinese dishes that actually use corn, which is a New World food.

I have Dunlop's generalist Every Grain of Rice cookbook and find it a useful reference point when I'm trying to replicate my mother's home cooking. Frequently her recipes call for things that my mother would never bother to do, like braising meat for 2 hours vs. 30 minutes. If she calls for a premade ingredient, I would trust her judgment.
posted by serelliya at 2:07 PM on January 4, 2019 [8 favorites]

This isn't dedicated to Cantonese/Hong Kong cooking, but China Sichuan Food has some good recipes. Their dumpling one (especially the wrappers) is good. The Pantry section also has some recipes for various spice mixes/pastes/sauces
posted by astapasta24 at 2:26 PM on January 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Broader than just Chinese, but Andrea Nguyen's book Asian Dumplings is a great resource and has lots of Chinese recipes.

I also really enjoy the Dunlop books.
posted by imalaowai at 3:41 PM on January 4, 2019

Eileen Yin-Fei Lo has some of my favorite Cantonese recipes. See Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking (newest) and New Cantonese Cooking (I’ve only used the Chinese version so can’t vouch for the English). Her dim sum one has some dough recipes.
posted by inevitability at 6:00 PM on January 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

How to Cook and Eat in Chinese, the original Chinese cookbook for American audiences. This is the book that coined the term "stir-fry".

I've read a bunch of Chinese cooking blogs and books, but this is still the best I've found. I grew up eating recognizable variations on many of these recipes. It's organized hierarchically, first by technique, then by recipe, then by variation. Imagine, "stewing" -> "chili" -> "turkey chili", "three-bean chili", "beef and bean chili". And finally, it teaches a bunch of metadata about Chinese food: how to serve a meal informally for family vs formally for guests, the order and nature of courses, etc.

There is a very comprehensive section describing various ingredients and their American substitutions, which I think by now are mostly valuable for teaching people the flavor profile of the original ingredients. I don't think anyone today will have trouble finding, e.g., ham or dried scallops or pickled mustard root.

I'm also confused by your comment about bottled/canned ingredients. I guess you could, as some sort of feat of culinary autarky, pickle your own fresh mustard root or ferment your own black bean paste, but that would be a deeply weird, even inauthentic, way to prepare Chinese food.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 6:19 PM on January 4, 2019

Came here to recommend China Sichuan but astapasta24 beat me to it. Otherwise I also enjoy Woks of Life.
posted by Carillon at 10:19 PM on January 4, 2019

Yan Kit’s Classic Chinese Cookbook

The Dim Sum Book

I messed up my attempt at linking in my previous post, oops. These two books have a very Cantonese vibe and contain recipes I rarely see in other Chinese cookbooks.

I have never seen a recipe for hoisin or oyster sauce. For pickled mustard greens though, I like the recipe in The Hakka Cookbook
posted by GliblyKronor at 10:22 PM on January 4, 2019

Oh, thiiiiiiis might be interesting if you can track a copy down.

The Cultural Revolution Cookbook is by a woman who was a child and then adult during Mao's cultural revolution, and wrote it to collect some of the recipes her family and other families came up with to cope with the resultant hard times. You said you were hoping to stick to fresh ingredients and not rely so much on bottled pre-made sauces; these recipes do exactly that, largely because they're all home-cooking recipes devised by people who just plain didn't have access to many pre-made sauces and had to make do.

Each recipe also has a little sidebar factoid about the Cultural Revolution period; it's a fascinating read in its own right. May not be quite what you envisioned when you asked this question, but looking at how prolonged hardship affected the people and what they ate may be something to explore in its own right.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:14 PM on February 8, 2019

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