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Cookbooks we’re into: Hunan – A lifetime of secrets from Mr Peng’s Chinese Kitchen

5 Jan

I’ve read a lot of Chinese cookbooks in my time, but none have quite captured my imagination and tastebuds in the way that Hunan has – although some of the pre-1980s cookbooks I’ve stumbled across do continue to be a source of hilarity when I flick through pictures of oddly arranged dishes, with the strangest choices of garnish (see fig.1) imagination indeed.

Beautiful decorative flowers surround these sweet potato balls. From The Encyclopedia of Chinese Cooking 1979

Beautiful decorative flowers surround these sweet potato balls.
From The Encyclopedia of Chinese Cooking 1979

2014 brought a new, polished Chinese cookbook that is an absolute pleasure to read, with not a decorative rose or chiseled carrot in sight. Hunan is a collection of Mr Peng’s treasured dishes which are served at his London restaurant, Hunan, famous among diners for it’s no-menu approach, where diners are instead served up to 15 small tasting dishes. A true pioneer for authentic Chinese cooking, Mr Peng has poured his lifelong obsession with food into the book, and into the fiery, delicately flavoured dishes. There is an air of simplicity that runs through the book, in the flavours, ingredients and methods, which makes the innovative dishes seem far less intimidating to the amateur cook and has re-ignited in me, a zest for real, simple Chinese cooking, using a few basic ingredients. I tend to go nuts with lots of different spices and sauces, but I’ve learnt to calm these down and find flavour perfection in ingredients I now know I didn’t fully understand.

I’ve selected these two dishes from the book, which are so simple to prepare and full of flavour and texture.

Dry-Fried Chicken

 Photographs Copyright Paul Winch-Furness

Makes 4 portions


1 Chicken Breast, cut into strips

2tbsp Cornflour

2tsp Oil

3 Fresh Red Chillies, sliced

3 Garlic Cloves, minced

Vegetable oil for deep frying

3 Spring Onions, thinly sliced

Salt and crushed Sichuan Peppercorns, to season 


Coat the chicken with cornflour.

Heat a good glug of oil in a wok until it’s nearly smoking.

Deep-fry the coated chicken breast on a high heat until golden brown.

Dry-fry the chillies, garlic, spring onions until they become fragrant. Add the chicken to the pan, season with the salt and crushed Sichuan peppercorns, then stir through to warm before serving.

Red Oil Beef

Photographs Copyright Paul Winch-Furness

Makes 4 portions


150g rib-eye beef, cut into 1cm wide thin strips

For the sauce:

1tbsp Red Chilli sauce

21/2cm piece fresh ginger, finely shredded

1tsp Tian Mian Jiang or sweet flour paste or Hoisin Sauce

2 Spring Onions, cut into medallions

2tsp crushed Sichuan Peppercorns

1tsp red wine vinegar

2tbsp water

1tsp sesame oil

1tsp chilli oil

salt and sugar to taste


Finely shredded Ginger

Coriander leaves


In a bowl, mix all of the sauce ingredients together. Adjust seasoning. you need a sauce that’s hot and numbing.

Heat the sauce in a wok on a medium heat for about 1 minute until it becomes fragrant.

Add the beef and quickly stir through before removing from the heat. Ideally, the beef should be medium rare but you can cook it for longer if desired.

Garnish with ginger and coriander, and serve straight away.

To buy a copy of Hunan from Waterstones click here

Happy eating!