Things

Inside Fuchsia Dunlop’s Kitchen

29th July 2016

Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Laura McCluskey

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The food writer shows us her kitchen god, recommends a favourite brand of tea and pulls out a cookbook she’s cherished since childhood

OBJECTS

Kitchen god
“The first thing I asked for, when I got my new kitchen designed, was a little shelf above the cooker for the kitchen god. You’re supposed to make offerings to him on the 23rd or 24th of the last lunar month, and you’re not supposed to argue in front of him because he goes and reports on you to the heavenly bureaucracy. You wipe his lips with honey and make offerings before he goes, to bribe him to say sweet things about you.”

Bacon-like stone
“This is the bacon-like stone,” Fuchsia says, pointing at a stone on the shelf that looks quite like a slab of bacon. “I don’t know if it’s agate or marble, but it’s got layers like pork. This is a quite crude one, but in the Palace Museum in Taipei they have a big stone that looks exactly like a piece of slow-cooked pork belly.” Is the resemblance to pork belly acknowledged? “Oh yeah. You get them all over China. The bigger and more realistic, the more expensive. You get slabs of bacon and huge hams – they just naturally have that pink colour.”

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Steamers
Fuchsia has a lot of wooden steamers in her kitchen. “The steamers on the right, the larger ones, they’re from the last artisans making them – an elderly couple who have a little workshop in Shanghai.” Wooden steamers are better than metal ones, she explains, because they don’t trap the condensation.

Jug for yak butter tea
“This is a particular kind of black clay tea jug from the place they now madly called Shangri-La, in the Tibetan area. They fire the pottery and then cover it in ashes and it goes black. It has this really weird shape and they make yak butter tea in it.” What is yak butter tea like? “When I’ve been a bit tired and a bit altitude stricken it’s very nourishing and nice, but it’s not my favourite thing.”

Wok »
The big black wok on Fuchsia’s hob looks like it’s seen a lot of action. She says she bought it cheaply in the basement of SeeWoo in Chinatown [see Address Book]. “The great thing about woks, you don’t need anything fancy. Avoid non-stick. If you use a normal one properly, it’s non-stick anyway. It’s carbon-steel and it gets a nice patina.” How do you use it properly? “Before you stir-fry, heat some oil until it’s really smoking hot, swirl it around, then pour it off and add a little fresh oil, and then it doesn’t stick.”

Bamboo baskets
“These horseshoe-shaped bamboo baskets are from Sichuan. I use them as colanders and for washing vegetables, but you can serve bread in them. They’re just very nice and you can stack them on top of each other. They’re all hand-woven and very durable.”

Cleaver
The cleaver Fuchsia uses to chop spring onions looks like an implement of war, but she insists it has more delicate uses. “Even though it looks very big and brutal, you can actually do tiny things with it – it’s much thinner than you think. I got it in Hong Kong – there’s a really good family-run shop in Kowloon that I go to. They’re not expensive, not like Japanese knives.”

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Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker »
“I’ve got a new pressure cooker, which is fantastic. You can make really good stock in about 20-30 minutes and stews that take 2-3 hours can be made in half an hour. You can do dried chickpeas from scratch in about 40 minutes. Kuhn Rikon are meant to be the Rolls-Royce of pressure cookers.”

Zojirushi rice cooker »
Is a rice cooker essential if you’re making Chinese food often? “I think it’s one of the most useful things,” says Fuchsia. “It just means you don’t have to think about it, you put the rice on and it’s perfect. I used to occasionally burn the rice or forget to do it at all. This makes it perfectly and keeps it warm until you need it.” She has a very basic rice cooker made in China by a company called Midea, but is eyeing up a Japanese brand called Zojirushi. “They’re supposed to be the best and can make perfect sushi rice, congee, brown rice and so on. Among food nerds, they’re the last word, but more expensive abroad so I think I should go to Japan and get one.”

INGREDIENTS

Postcard Teas »
When Fuchsia travels to China, she tends to bring back cookery books, Sichuan pepper – and tea. “If I’m buying tea in London, this would be my choice place.” Postcard Teas have a very beautiful shop in Mayfair but you can buy their excellent teas online.

Royal Umbrella Thai jasmine rice »
“This brand of Thai rice is very good for Chinese food.”

Pearl River Bridge Premium Deluxe soy sauce »
“It’s worth paying a bit extra for the deluxe version. I also really like the Clearspring organic tamari, which is more of a dipping sauce. Although it’s Japanese-style, it’s very like the traditional Chinese soy sauces, which in most parts of China are neither light nor dark.”

Organic rapeseed oil »
“As a cooking oil, I tend to use organic rapeseed oil, which is cheaper – and local, which is nice.”

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BOOKS

Leith’s Cookery Course, Prue Leith »
“I grew up with this book – this exact copy. An Italian lodger gave it to me as a present when I was 11 and just beginning to get seriously into Italian cooking. It was my bible in my teenage years, I learned all kinds of things from it: how to pluck a pheasant, how to make various kinds of pastry, crème patissiere, crème brulee, all these classics. I still refer to it.” – Fuchsia

The Classic Italian Cookbook, Marcella Hazan »
More Classic Italian Cooking, Marcella Hazan »
“I think Marcella Hazan’s books are fantastic.” Fuchsia points to a couple of battered volumes on the shelf. “You can see the ones I like best. The recipes all work, they’re clear, not overcomplicated, and contain lots of things which are very practical for cooking.

The Complete Nose to Tail, Fergus Henderson »
“I just think Fergus Henderson is a genius recipe writer. His style is very concise and minimalist, but witty and personal at the same time. It’s a beautiful book as well.”

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McGee on Food and Cooking, Harold McGee »
“So useful.”

The Pressure Cooker Cookbook, Catherine Phipps »
Fuchsia recently purchased a pressure cooker, which is revolutionising her life. “It can be a bit scary if you’re not used to it. I used this wonderful book as a sort of manual to got a handle on it: you get an idea of what it can do, cooking times and so on.”

Chez Panisse Desserts, Lindsey R Shere »
“I love the Chez Panisse desserts book.”

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Posted 29th July 2016

In Things

 

Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Laura McCluskey

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