Saturday, May 31, 2008

Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Heat Stroke

The Tipsy Baker is so macha she can drink habanero salsa from a spoon at Mexican restaurants, entertaining bored dining companions as they await their fajitas. Children are particularly wowed by this party trick. Adults less so.

Which is a long way of saying that the Baker has a high tolerance for spicy food. 

Yesterday she made Fuchsia Dunlop's steamed chicken with chopped salted chilies, a dish so incendiary that she almost had to toss it into the garbage pail. Eating this chicken was physically painful. Sweat dripped down the Baker's face as she struggled to savor her solitary, masochistic lunch. 
"This is a marvelous dish, utterly simple to make but most seductive with its gentle heat and subtle flavors," Fuchsia Dunlop writes in her headnote to the recipe.

Hmm, thought the Baker. Something went wrong. Let us think. . . perhaps Dunlop used a milder chili variety to achieve that "gentle heat?" 

Yes, Sherlock, almost certainly she did. But what chili exactly? The Baker is a compulsive follower of directions and she went to several supermarkets -- five, actually -- to find the "very fresh red chiles" called for by Dunlop, finally settling on what she thought was a reasonable facsimile. "Very fresh red chiles" is maddeningly vague, leaving far too much room for interpretation. The Baker interpreted wrong.

She is now a little down on Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, and approaches her next Hunanese cooking effort with trepidation. 


  1. The Hunanese dishes have at times been tough to take with their spiciness, but those that haven't been too spicy have been the best of the Chinese-cookbook bunch.

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