5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Still a top show,
This review is from: The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook (Hardcover)
Firstly, what a title - how come it had not been used before? A great tie-in that immediately tells the reader a bit about the book thanks to the worldwide association of Chairman Mao and his little red book.
In a way, this book might be a form of fairly-strong "guidelines" too that can foster a degree of determination and appreciation, albeit on a culinary level. Within this sturdy, steady book the author sets out to showcase food from Hunan, a province in China that is often overlooked at least in western eyes. In many ways even if you never have the intention to make your own Hunan (Chinese) food, this book could still be a great reference resource, helping explain a bit about just one of the "Chinese" food styles, how ingredients are combined, the art and methodology of food preparation and much more besides. Yet that would be a shame as you have a wealth of wonderful recipes waiting for you.
Firstly, there is a very detailed, enjoyable introduction that explains a bit about the province of Hunan. The author expertly and effortlessly mixes together information about Hunan and its relationships with other (Chinese) provincial neighbours. History, culinary history, sociology, politics and many -ologies that don't immediately spring to mind are dropped into the author's pestle and mortar and combined to make this wonderful introductory paste. Then it is time for round two, and the typical contents of a Hunanese larder are brought into the spotlight, showcasing common items that will be pressed into service when following recipes within the book. It was interesting to read the author's descriptions even of things that you think you fully understand, as there is always a little wrinkle, usage tip or other factoid to pick up. Ignore at your peril!
The art of cookery is the next chapter and the reader can begin to understand why certain ingredients are used and combined with other ingredients. As important as combining flavours can be, other methodologies are also important for a total overall balance of consistency, flavour, smell, taste... you get the picture. What looks like a bowl of meat stew and white rice might not be necessarily all it seems. This fairly lengthy chapter is a good overall primer that is likely to stand the reader in good stead when making other Chinese or Asiatic foods too. Sheer quality, patiently explained yet written concisely without a bit of fat on the bone.
Once you finally (!) get to the recipes - and remember unlike many books the text that precedes the recipes IS worth reading and reading well - the reader will find that A LOT of recipes await them. Split into appetisers and street food; meat dishes; poultry and eggs; fish dishes; beancurd dishes; vegetable dishes; soup dishes; rice and noodles; sweet dishes and finally preserves, stocks and other essentials, there should be something to suit and surpass every taste. Even after all of the recipes the information just keeps on coming with a glossary of Chinese characters, an explanation of Chinese dynasties, a fairly extensive bibliography and a great index.
The recipes themselves are often illustrated by good looking, to-the-point photographs that are not arty but a work of art in their own right. The dish is in focus, yet presented in a simple, fuss-free manner. Recipes are accompanied by some form of introduction, background or primer and then the usual split between ingredients and cooking instructions. There is often a separate breakout spot for variations that can be made on the given dish as required.
Sadly no approximation of preparation and cooking times though (regular YUM readers will know why we highlight this!).
Make no mistake this is no beginners book, yet in many ways it is. That is not a trick statement but this is a book directed at many levels, meeting many needs and covering them all with aplomb. You may require a bit of discipline to break what can be established bad habits, "forcing" you to read the background knowledge that precedes the recipes and not just finding something that could sound nice to cook. OK, you could do that and it might turn out nicely, but invest the time in a bit of background reading and this could transform things totally. Invest in yourself. Discover something that many others won't do and give this book some serious consultation.