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Feb 20, 2007 10:49 AM

Fuchsia Dunlop's Land of Plenty - report

This was the alternate to February's book of Hot Sour Salty Sweet. I'm going to use this new post to report on dishes that I made to supplement meals from that book. Please feel free to add on.

So, I needed a fish dish for Chinese New Year and I decided to go traditional. I made the Whole Fish Braised in Chili Bean Sauce (pg. 259).

This was great. I used a red snapper that was about half a lb. smaller than called for. Essentially, you take a whole fish, slash the sides and marinate in salt and sherry. Then you dry fry the fish in oil and set it aside to make the sauce. I used a 12 inch skillet and still had a difficult time getting the tail to fit in the skillet. Hence, the redness and bent tail.

For the sauce, stir fry chili bean paste, ginger, garlic until fragrant, then you add in chicken stock as well as soy sauce and sugar. At this point, add the fish to the sauce mixture and simmer for about 8 minutes. The fish comes back out and cornstarch, black vinegar and scallions are added to the sauce. Finally, put the sauce on the fish and serve. Absolutely delicious and the fish was extremely tender. Practically mouth melting. Also, the sauce went exceptionally well with white rice.

Tonight, per the author's suggestion, I am going to add tofu to the leftover sauce. Can't wait.

Picture of the fish:

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  1. Wow! That looks mouth-watering. I'm going to have to buy that book. Looks delicious Beetlebug.

    1. Thanks for the report - I've been thinking of getting this and this is a good motivator to do it sooner rather than later!

      1. Leftover fish sauce with an addition of tofu (pg. 261) - In the above post, I neglected to describe the deliciousness of the sauce. There is something about the mix of the chili paste with the ginger, garlic, sugar and chinese black vinegar. It hits all the taste buds so they burst open with flavor. So, when I had leftover sauce, I was thrilled. I followed the suggestion of lightly simmering one block of tofu in lightly salted water. This was added to the sauce and I simmered it for a significantly longer than the few minutes suggested by the book. I wanted that sauce to completely permeate the soft silky tofu. This way, when I looked at a piece of tofu, it would be light brown through and through. Boy, was it tasty and blended beautifully with rice.

        I also made two vegetable dishes to go with the above. Well three because I also stir fried pea pod stems too.

        Pock Marked Mother Chen's Bean Curd - ma po do fu (pg. 313)

        This was also great. I went a little tofu crazy for dinner and I had a hard time deciding which bite of what I should take next. If I should always be so lucky.

        Anyway, I wanted to make this dish to contrast with the HSSS version of it. I really liked the HSSS version but this was head and shoulder's above it. It's not a fair comparison because they are from two different countries or region. But, this version had so much for flavor. Part of which was from the chili bean paste AND fermented black beans AND dried chilies AND sichuan peppercorn. Really, how could this dish fail?

        Essentially, you fry up ground beef until it is slightly browned and crispy. Add the chilli bean paste, black beans and crushed dried peppers. Stir fry until it is fragrant (your mouth will start watering hear and your taste buds will start screaming, when, when, when). Add chicken stock and the tofu and let it simmer with sugar, soy sauce and salt. I simmered for a longer period of time to let the flavors fully infuse the tofu. Lastly, add scallions adn the corn starch and serve. Again, this sauce was great and the tofu practically melted in my mouth.

        For both tofu dishes, I used fresh silken tofu. The kind that practically disintegrates when you look at it.

        Dry Fried Eggplants (pg. 300)

        I was skeptical when I made this dish. I mean, it is so simple in the ingredients and didn't have things that I would have thrown in with the dish. The ingredients were just eggplant, salt, green pepper and sesame oil. No onion, garlic, herbs or anything.

        I used Chinese eggplant that I sliced thin. I dry fried it in a large skillet until the eggplant began to soften and change color. I continuously stirred to prevent the eggplant from sticking to the pan. Then I added a bit of peanut oil as well as the green pepper and stirred until the pepper started to cook. Lastly, I tossed in sesame oil. This was also delicious and completely different than what I expected.

        The order to the pictures:

        Ma Po Tofu
        leftover fish sauce with tofu

        22 Replies
        1. re: beetlebug

          Since you specifically mention the Chinese black vinegar, would you be willing to expound on that ingredient a bit? How is it different or special? I checked this book out of the library and am hemming and hawing about actually making something out of it because of the investment in ingredients. Specifically, in fact, I kept looking at that ingredient wondering whether I would use a total of 1/4 cup across all the recipes I tried and never think to use it again, with 8oz. of vinegar lurking in my pantry for time immemorial! What do you think of Chinese black vinegar?!

          1. re: Smokey

            Chinese black vinegar has a distinctive taste, almost "sour"- here's a recent thread with lots of good ideas for using it:


            1. re: Smokey

              I debated on buying this ingredient also. I had your same concerns and not a lot of space in my kitchen. But, as I was flipping through the book, a considerable amount of recipes used this ingredient. When I went to the Chinese grocery store, a 500 ML bottle was only $1.09. So, I figure for that much, why not?

              The bottom line - I like the vinegar. Smelling the vinegar, it is vinegary, but less so and slightly thicker than red or white wine vinegars. It's also pitch black. It also smells slightly fermented and has a not unpleasant pungent smell to it. Looking at the ingredients list, it only has water, glutenous rice and salt. I suspect it must be fermented to get to that dark color. I also figure that it will never go bad.

              My husband did comment that my vinegar collection was expanding and taking up a lot of space. But, he really likes the food and, for $1.09, I can live with his one comment on kitchen space hogging. (big smile). My general rule of thumb is that if I can make a substitute, I will do it. For example, anything that calls for Shaoxing rice wine, I subbed in sherry instead. But I don't like to omit condiments in Chinese cooking.

              There were some recipes that did not require a lot of ingredients. The dry fried eggplant is one of them. Looking quickly through the book, many of the veggie recipes are ingredient simple - a bit criteria for me on a weeknight (last night not withstanding. I'm still celebrating the new year so meals have been more elaborate.)

              1. re: beetlebug

                Wow, thanks beetlebug for the thoughtful reply and Rubee for the link to the past thread (which I had completely missed). I really appreciate your cost/benefit analysis, as well as the full realization that there is some, ahem, partner snark factor that one needs to be concerned about.

                I want to go to an Asian market anyway to pick up some Asian eggplants (that HSSS dish is just calling out my name!), so will be perusing aisles for some of this as well.

            2. re: beetlebug

              Wow, beetlebug, that stuff looks amazing, all of it! The ma po tofu tho, MAN! You know, I have been meaning to try some HSSS recipes, but I have found that they require too many ingredients that I probably will never use again, where as Land of Plenty, I find, has shorter, simpler ingredient lists, some of which I already have around. You have inspired me, I will still have to pick up a few things (black vinegar) but not as many.

              1. re: prunefeet

                The dishes do, indeed, look incredible.

                Beetlebug, you've inspired me to stop reading Land of Plenty, which I got last week, and start cooking!

                Now I just have to figure out where to start.

                1. re: FlavoursGal

                  Wow. Beetlebug, I followed your lead and made the fish in chili bean sauce. It was incredible. I used red snapper as well, and my husband and I gobbled up a 2 1/2-pounder, devouring every morsel of flesh and then tackling the bones. My husband happens to love my cooking and compliments me on it, but this particular dish had him raving on and on and on. The sauce was bold and exciting, spicy and complex. The next time I make this dish, I might use fish heads (for flavouring the sauce) and fillets, and serve it with a soup spoon. The idea of this as a stew is presently making my mouth water.

                  I used the leftover sauce to top wok-fried prawns the following night.

                  I've just bought Ms. Dunlop's Revolutionary Chinese Cooking, and I look forward to trying out recipes in this book, as well. I'll probably start with her General Tso Chicken, of course.

                  1. re: FlavoursGal

                    Isn't amazing how such a simple dish can generate so much flavor? Actually, my favorite part of the leftovers was the tofu infused with the sauce. I mixed it up with white rice. Pure comfort food and absolutely scrumptious.

              2. re: beetlebug

                I mostly make that eggplant to put on sandwiches, with or without the pepper (and sometimes with green chili). Try it sometime.

                And I love black vinegar, it's totally worth it. Just don't get the Taiwanese version, which is very very different and tastes like Worchestershire sauce.

                1. re: beetlebug

                  Hey beetlebug, would you be willing to take pictures of the brands you bought for the chili bean paste and fermented black beans? I read Fuschia Dunlop's description of the ingredients, went to the store on Sunday, and still could not figure out what exactly I these were. There were so many kinds of paste that included chili and bean. Or just tell what brands you got? I would be so grateful!

                  1. re: AppleSister

                    AppleSister--You know, on a different site, I finally saw a photo of what fermented black beans look like and discovered that they look totally different from what I thought (and what I had purchased!). They're actually sold in a bag, not a tin or jar and they are not a paste. Black bean sauce is something different (albeit similar enough that it can be used in a pinch, or so I've been told). Did you go to an Asian grocer? I ask because I don't think I've EVER seen fermented black beans for sale in my local chain grocery store, and I live in a neighborhood that actually has a decent-sized Chinese population.

                    Good luck!

                    1. re: Smokey

                      I went to a huge grocery store in Chinatown, NY, Hong Kong market or something like that, and my problem was that there were too many things that had the words "fermented" and "black bean," and "chili," "bean," and "paste" on them. I should have written the Chinese characters down from her book.

                      Well, whatever I bought worked great last night. Definitely the hardest part was buying the ingredients.

                    2. re: AppleSister

                      Ms. Dunlop suggests Chili Bean Paste (dou ban jiang) from the town of Pixian outside of Chengdu that is made with fava beans, not soybeans. The Pixian Paste that I use is one brand of what she suggests that is imported to the U.S. and tastes really good:


                      Regarding Fermented Black Beans (dou chi) she recomends those from the County of Yongchuan, dry not in brine. The best that I've found are pictured below. Be sure to rinse the black beans in cold water to remove the excess salt or the final dish will be too salty.

                      1. re: sel

                        Thanks to everyone for their help!

                      2. re: AppleSister

                        Hi Applesister,

                        Sorry for the late reply but I've been offline for the last few days. I will be happy to take pictures of the sauces and will post them later today. Reading some of these responses, I suspect I used "incorrect" ingredients but they still tasted great.

                        1. re: beetlebug

                          Here are the pictures of the sauces. The black beans I used did come in a jar. According to the ingredients list, there are chilis in there, but it is not the predominant flavor. Sorry for the picture quality, but taking pictures of jars and bottles is significantly harder than just taking the pictures of food. I had to turn the flash off, otherwise the labels would be one big bright light. At least I learned how to use my camera ;-)

                          1. re: beetlebug

                            Order of pictures above:

                            Chinese Black Vinegar
                            2 pictures of Soybean paste
                            Fermented black beans.

                            Even though I bought the jarred variety v. the dried variety, the characters are the same. I guess it's the ones jarred in brine that the author sort of discourages us from buying.

                            1. re: beetlebug

                              Wow, beetlebug, thank you so much for taking the time to post these!

                            2. re: beetlebug

                              Interesting, so you went with Chunkiang vinegar? I spent a bunch of time at my local Asian (predominantly Chinese) market this weekend looking at labels, trying to divine what I thought was most what I wanted (does that make any sense?!). I ended up choosing something that simply said "black vinegar", although I'm not sure of its quality!

                              1. re: Smokey

                                I did. At my Asian (also primarily Chinese), there wasn't a lot of selection for the black vinegar. The merchandise variety varies every visit. Plus the author specifically mentioned this variation. Plus, it was a dollar ;-)

                                I'm sure your black vinegar will be fine. There are so many other flavors going on in these dishes that all the condiments complement each other.

                                1. re: Smokey

                                  Just NOT one made in Taiwan, totally different flavor.

                                  1. re: Aromatherapy

                                    Nope, it wasn't made in Taiwan! I actually remembered your earlier comment and put back something that said it was made in Taiwan!

                        2. OK - anyone have an idea how to make the Ma Pa Do Fu without ground beef or pork? I am not really a vegetarian, but I tend that way and try hard to avoid beef and pork. DO you think ground turkey would work? Other purely veg options?? I always struggle with this in Chinese cooking - I find it one of the reasons we don;t cook much from HSSS b/c most of the recipes are pork/beef heavy. I'm dying to figure out ways to get around this.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: jcanncuk

                            I make the Ma Pa Do Fu recipe in 'Land of Plenty...' often. I would just leave out the mammal meat if I did not consume mammals. This recipe will stand on its own as a veg. dish! I always suggest increasing the amount of Sichuan Peppercorn that is listed, lately it seems to be MUCH less potent! Also if you can find real Pixian Broad Bean Chili Past the recipe will be closer to what you would possibly find at it's source in Sichuan!


                            1. re: jcanncuk

                              According to the recipe from LOP, you can omit the meat. But, I don't see why ground turkey wouldn't work.

                              I agree with increasing the sichuan peppercorn, I doubled it and I still didn't get the tingly sensation.

                              1. re: beetlebug

                                I agree that ground turkey would work well. I'd recommend buying ground thigh meat rather than breast meat - better texture and flavour.

                                1. re: FlavoursGal

                                  I've used ground dark turkey meat and it does work.

                                  1. re: Aromatherapy

                                    Excellent! I'll try this as soon as I get out and get this book! I like thigh meat better in general as well - will get my fave butcher to grind me some....

                                    1. re: jcanncuk

                                      jcanncuk, Whole Foods in Hazelton Lanes carries ground turkey thigh meat - no need to get it ground specially if you're anywhere near Yorkville.

                                      1. re: FlavoursGal

                                        I always get my turkey meat from Cumbrae's, but not sure if it's thigh or not (I suspect not). I'm in the West , but there is Whole Foods in Oakville and I'll try there - thanks!

                            2. I love the Ma Po Du Fu, but I have to say, if you haven't tried Sichuan peppercorns before add them carefully and slowly. My husband, who's only slightly less adventurous than me, ate one bite and refused to go near the dish again. I found the tingle and the flavor pretty rough at full strength too, but definitely worth getting to know. I'm working up to it since I know full well I acquire the taste for new flavors pretty quickly.

                              The same thing happened with Chinese black vinegar. I nearly gagged the first time I dipped a finger in. Now I simply cannot live without it.