Dry-fried eels from Fuchsia Dunlop's cookbook Food of Sichuan

ganbian shanyu 干煸鳝鱼

This delicious example of Buddhist trompe l’oeil cooking is based on a memorable version I enjoyed in the restaurant at the Temple of Divine Light, near Chengdu. The ‘eels’, made from dried shiitake mushrooms, look strikingly similar to the real paddy eels used in the classic Sichuanese recipe. The original dish did not include garlic, which strict Buddhists avoid as one of the pungent vegetables thought to inflame carnal passions, but I’ve added it here for extra deliciousness. Dried mushrooms are particularly important in Chinese vegetarian cooking because of their enticing savoury flavours and satisfyingly meaty textures. I like to use long, thin-skinned Turkish peppers, for their more delicate texture and milder taste.

Recipe by Fuchsia Dunlop, from The Food of Sichuan, Bloomsbury £30

Ingredients for dry-fried 'eels'

 For the sauce

How to make dry-fried 'eels'

  1. Place the dried mushrooms in a saucepan, cover with hot water from the kettle and leave to soften for at least 30 minutes. Bring to the boil, season lightly with salt and simmer the mushrooms for 20 minutes, then drain. When they are cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much water as possible, then cut into strips about 1.5cm wide. Place in a bowl with the potato starch and mix until evenly coated. Snip the chillies in half or into 2cm sections and shake out the seeds as far as possible. Cut the green peppers into bite-sized pieces. In a small bowl, combine the sauce ingredients with 4 tbsp cold water and mix well.
  2. Heat the deep-frying oil in a wok over a high flame to about 190°C (hot enough to sizzle vigorously around a test piece of mushroom). Working in two or three batches, carefully slip the mushrooms into the hot oil, adding them individually so they don’t stick together. Fry for a minute or so until crisp and a little golden, then remove with a slotted spoon and drain well.
  3. Carefully pour off all but 3 tbsp oil from the wok, and return to a high flame. Add the chillies and Sichuan pepper and stir-fry briefly until the chillies are aromatic, but not burnt. Immediately move the wok away from the heat and add the chilli bean paste, stirring as it sizzles, until the oil has reddened. Add the garlic, ginger and green pepper and return the wok to the stove, stir-frying until everything is piping hot and smells delicious. Swiftly stir in the mushrooms, then give the sauce a stir and pour it into the centre of the wok. Mix quickly to allow the sauce to coat the mushrooms as it thickens. Stir in the sesame oil and serve.
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