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Pre-1980 authentic US Sichuan cookbooks?


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Pre-1980 authentic US Sichuan cookbooks?

eatzalot | Dec 17, 2010 02:49 PM

1. This is a specific historical query for US-sold pre-1980 cookbooks of authentic Sichuan recipes. To illustrate, I describe two examples below. Another title I tried to get at the time, and I don't have exact title or date. (This query is spun off from a recent and, to me, enlightening* thread, "Szechuan Trend?")

The particular book I seek had a good recipe for Kung-Pao (Gong-Bao) Chicken, a dish that (originally from Sichuanese recipes) became fashionable in the US in the late 1970s. After casual introductions to Sichuan cooking from chefs practicing it in California (1968-1978), this specific recipe, cooked by someone else, awoke my interest in spicy Chinese food (which continues), and led to always keeping at least dried hot peppers at home. It was a 1970s or maybe '60s US-published cookbook by a name like Joyce Chen. Maybe NOT literally Joyce Chen: her 1962 US Chinese cookbook, with decent recipes for things like red-cooked beef, is weak on hot spicy dishes. Then again, the book I seek might be a later title of hers. Even in '62, Chen complained about US Chinese cookbooks "so 'adapted to American kitchens, grocery stores, and tastes' that the dishes they describe are not really Chinese at all."

Any recommended, authentic, PRE-1980 US-sold Sichuan cookbooks are of interest. I'm hoping for advice about books that people own and preferably have cooked from (not just titles seen online).

2. Two of the good US Sichuan cookbooks in those days are Robert A. Delfs, _The Great Food of Szechwan_ (Kodansha International, 1974, ISBN 0870112317 or 4770004443, published in US and Japan), and Chiang, Schrecker, and Schrecker, _Mrs. Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook_ (Harper & Row 1976 and 1987, ISBN 006015828X), which I've cited on CH before. Both are available used.

To illustrate the style of these two books, here's a little about their accounts of the Sichuanese dish Ma-po Dou-fu (Tofu), more formally "Chen Ma-Po Dou-fu" as Delfs has it. Both Delfs (translating Chinese sources in Asia) and the Schreckers (who had returned to the US) were US scholars of Chinese studies. Mrs. Chiang was a Sichuanese cook who collaborated with the Schreckers to publish her family recipes.

For reference, Fuchsia Dunlop (_Land of Plenty,_ UK, 2001) offers an "official" modern Sichuan cooking-school recipe built on bean curd, ground beef, hot bean paste, fermented black beans, Sichuan citrus "peppercorns" (hua jiao), leeks or scallions, and optional additional hot peppers.

Both 1970s US cookbooks employ a core recipe very similar to Dunlop's (even to the proportions, generally, and Dunlop's use of "everyday" rather than enriched meat stock). Delfs (US, 1974) incidentally gives more specifics on the dish's creator, Mrs. Chen of Chengtu, than
Dunlop or any other cookbook I've seen. Delfs also lists common variations: pork instead of beef, and optional additional garlic, ginger, fermented black beans, mushrooms, wood ear, or sesame oil. With more humor than Dunlop, Delfs acknowledges that his recipe too was represented in China as "the authentic and original Ma-po Dou-fu," but "you can take that statement as seriously as you like." Chiang (US, 1976), in her family recipe from Chengtu, specifies either pork or beef and adds garlic, ginger, and wood ears, with optional finely chopped water chestnuts for a little crunch (sounds good to me, though I haven't tried that option when I've cooked Chiang's recipe).

(* Enlightening because until that thread, I didn't know that anyone with views on it was UN-aware of the US influx of authentic Sichuanese cooking in the 1970s. Had that been forseeable 30 years ago, I'd have gladly saved scores of menus and published mentions of the subject for their benefit!)

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