Land of Fish & Rice: Fuchsia Dunlop's Ingredients for Jiangnan Cooking

In newly-released cookbook Land of Fish and Rice, Chinese food scholar Fuchsia Dunlop introduces you to Jiangnan cuisine. Filled with history, painstakingly researched recipes, and stunning photography, the book is an in-depth tour of the gastronomic capital of China. We speak to Fuchsia Dunlop about her passion for the region, and the ingredients you'll want in your storecupboard to start cooking the moment you receive the book.

Sous Chef: The way you write about Jiangnan cuisine is full of passion, love and excitement. Would you say that Jiangnan cuisine also embodies these emotions?

Fuchsia Dunlop: I think Jiangnan cooking embodies an idea of peacefulness, balance, and the comfort of body and mind. Personally, I do get very excited about it! 

SC: You say seasonings in Jiangnan cuisine are used to enhance and harmonise rather than flavour. What do you think are the most important seasonings in a Jiangnan store cupboard? Are there any ingredients that definitely wouldn't be used?

FD: Soy sauce is one of the most important seasonings: either a traditional Chinese soy sauce (which is both salt-savoury and dark in colour), or a combination of light and dark Cantonese soy sauce. This is the seasoning that gives the characteristic 'red' colour of the red-braised dishes that are so typical of the region. Another vital ingredient is Shaoxing wine, which is often used in small amounts in marinades and in cooking to refine the flavours of meat and fish ingredients, or, in some of the classic Jiangnan dishes such as Dongpo pork and drunken chicken.

I think Jiangnan cooking embodies an idea of peacefulness, balance, and the comfort of body and mind. Personally, I do get very excited about it! 

Vinegar is typically found on the table as a dip, and is also used in sweet-and-sour dishes. And then there is sugar, which is used in tiny amounts to 'harmonise' flavours, but also gives the sweetness that is particularly associated with Suzhou, Wuxi and Shanghai cooking. Local cooks generally use either white sugar or rock sugar, and occasionally brown sugar. Ginger and spring onion are also vital in the Jiangnan kitchen. In general, garlic is used far less than in other parts of China, although it is found in some dishes.  

SC: Jiangnan cuisine is incredibly varied, but are there any flavours or ingredients that particularly stand out for you?

FD: Red-braising, in which soy sauce, Shaoxing wine and sugar are used to create rich, deeply-coloured sauces is found across China, but really comes into its own in Jiangnan. 'Drunken' dishes made with Shaoxing wine are also typical, as are the heady fermented tastes of Shaoxing. When it comes to fresh ingredients, the watery Jiangnan landscape of lakes, rivers, paddyfields and streams can be seen in the extensive use of freshwater fish and crustaceans, as well as water vegetables such as lotus root and wild rice stem (also known as water bamboo).  Among the more common, everyday vegetables, green pak choi is absolutely typical of the region.  

SC: What would you say is the most important thing for people to keep in mind when trying to cook Jiangnan dishes at home?

FD: Many of the values of traditional Jiangnan cooking are absolutely in tune with concerns of people in the modern west who are interested in food: the ideas of eating for health, of sourcing good ingredients and treating them well, of looking for a kind of harmony between man and nature, and of eating in accordance with the seasons. So I hope that people will be able to keep these in mind when cooking Jiangnan dishes.  


Ingredients for the Jiangnan Pantry

You'll want to make sure you've got the right storecupboard ingredients before starting out with Land of Fish and Rice. Luckily the main fresh ingredient you'll need is pak choi, so you can just add that to your weekly supermarket shop. The storecupboard ingredients we've chosen are more specialist, so certainly worth sourcing in advance.


Superior Gold Label Light Soy Sauce

Naturally brewed soy sauces have the best flavour, so we've selected some of China's finest to get you started on your Jiangnan cuisine journey. Pearl River Bridge Superior Gold Light Soy Sauce is naturally brewed in sunlight, and is drawn from the first fermentation in the brewing process, making it more aromatic and with a richer flavour.


Superior Mushroom Dark Soy Sauce

Fuchsia also recommends using mushroom flavoured dark soy sauce in her cooking instead of plain dark soy - recommended by one of her favourite Shanghai restaurants - and Pearl River Bridge Superior Mushroom Dark Soy Sauce is also one of the best. You'll notice all Pearl River Bridge Soy Sauce bottles have a hologram on their label - the brand is so sought after in China, that the company has had to introduce the holograms to prevent fraud!


Shaoxing 5 Years Hua Tiao Wine

Although many recipes are fine with ordinary Shaoxing cooking wine, the flavour of the shaoxing wine really shines through in Jiangnan drunken or wine-braised dishes. For these, Fuchsia recommends using aged Shoaoxing wine. And after taste tests in the Sous Chef offices, we found this 5 year aged Hua Tiao Shaoxing wine is just the ticket.


Chinkiang Black Rice Vinegar

One of China's most famous vinegars, with a rich mellow flavour and slightly smoky taste.


Yellow Rock Sugar

Large sugar crystals with a delicate caramel flavour. Sugar is often used in savoury cooking, particularly in braised dishes.


Pure Sesame Oil

A tiny drizzle of pure sesame oil adds intense nuttiness - don't be tempted to buy cheaper blended sesame oil.


Potato Flour (Potato Starch)

Potato starch, or potato flour, is used as a thickener in sauces throughout China. Many recipes in UK and American cookbooks will suggest using cornflour as a substitute, which is okay. But unlike cornflour which can turn sauces opaque, sauces thickened with potato starch keep their translucence, making them more beautiful. The mouth feel is also richer with potato flour.


Cassia Bark

(cassia bark, star anise, white pepper powder) Whole spices are very important in braised dishes. Cassia bark (similar to cinnamon, but doesn't break down during simmering - leaving sauces and braising liquids clear) and star anise add aromatic sweetness. White pepper is sadly overlooked in the UK, and its more delicate flavour and apperance is favoured across much of across Asia.


Bamboo Shoots

Vegetables like bamboo shoots & shiitake mushrooms are key for texture. Shiitake mushrooms are also rich in umami.


Six Jiangnan Ingredients You Won't Have Tried

Here are six more Jiangnan ingredients that will be less well known, even to our most adventurous customers. All are used in at least one recipe in Land of Fish and Rice.


Aonori Seaweed Flakes

Fuchsia Dunlop suggests Japanese aonori seaweed is a great alternative to dried 'branched string lettuce' or 'sea moss' which is rarely found outside China. Try in her recipes for 'sweet Ningbo rice cakes with seaweed', where rice cakes are rolled in icing sugar, dried flowers and seaweed flakes.


Instant Shredded Jellyfish

Loved for its texture, Jellyfish is  eaten across China. Fuchsia Dunlop combines a packet of ready-to-eat jellyfish with white Asian radish (daikon or mooli), sesame oil and spring onions for an quick Jiangnan appetiser.


Lotus Leaves

Dip in water, and wrap rice parcels or fish and meat before steaming. Fuchsia Dunlop also suggests the leaves 'can be added to congee to lend it a most delicious flavour and pale green tint'.


Roasted Wheat Gluten - Seitan

Used widely in Buddhist cuisine as an alternative to meat, cubes of dried wheat gluten take on flavours of the broth they are simmered in.


Sweet Fermented Sauce

A soybean and wheat paste used in dipping sauces. Sweet and rich, it is often confused with hoisin sauce.


Preserved Red Beancurd

Or 'red fermented tofu' is a staple in red braised dishes. However the sharp-salt-umami flavour is also beautiful with simple stir-fried vegetables.


You can see more of Fuchsia Dunlop's work at www.fuchsiadunlop.com or follow her on Twitter at @fuchsiadunlopAnd browse Chinese ingredients here.  

Competition is now closed.  Congratulations to the winner Rob Bray.


71 comments

  • I’d like to try the dried jellyfish I have never cooked with it and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten it. Can’t wait to try it. Sounds interesting and different.

    Barbara oneill on

  • Never seen or heard about rock sugar as sweet salt source and heat are the main concept of jiangnam cooking .
    So rock sugar would be the ingredient that I would love to try .thank you

    Martine on

  • Preserved red bean curd – to try something completely new to me.

    Angela on

  • Chiankiang Vinegar – to experience the mellow taste and assess the smokiness.
    Anori Seaweed – to taste the umami/kokumi levels.
    Instant Shredded Jellyfish – to see how the instant texture could be used in dried soup development.
    Dried Lotus Leaf – to use in instant rice cooking demonstrations.
    Roasted Gluten – to look at as a meat/protein alternative.
    Sweet Fermented Sauce – to develop into Asian cooking sauces.

    Paul on

  • I’d love to try the shredded jellyfish, I didn’t know you could get edible jellyfish and I think it would be a really interesting texture and flavour to experiment with.

    Tom Clark on

  • Preserved red bean curd is where I’ll be heading – I love the funk taht comes with preservation, couple this with an umami hit…I’m on it!

    Julian on

  • I would be interested in Chiankiang Vinegar. I use rice vinegar a lot when pickling so curious to see what Chiankiang Vinegar would add in terms of smokiness to recipes

    Javier Barbosa on

  • The Jiangnan ingredient I’d really like to try most is the Preserved Red Beancurd actually, I’ve heard it tastes a bit like strong cheese and apparently essential to make red braised pork short ribs, which also sound delicious.

    neil on

  • I’d really like to try the instant shredded jellyfish; as a relative newcomer to Chinese cooking there are so many new flavours and especially textures which we rarely find even in restaurants, and this is one ingredient which is almost impossible to find!

    Robert Evans on

  • Roasted gluten – I’ve had Monk’s Vegetables many times but only ever got hold of ‘mock duck meat’ style gluten. Gluten has such a bad reputation at the moment but this is delicious.

    Instant Shredded Jellyfish – this sounds very, well, different and I’m always up for trying something new and unusual.

    Christian Homersley on

  • I’d love to try the instant shredded jellyfish – I’ve never eaten jellyfish and adore seafood especially when it is dried/cured/pickled/smoked. I am very intrigued how this would taste.

    I am already obsessed with Chinkiang vinegar (I love the sweet but tart, smoky and almost caramel flavour it adds)

    Hannah on

  • Really want to try cooking with the red-braised tofu. Have eaten a lot of the red-braised dishes at Fuchsia’s restaurants and they’re always stunning. Nice to be able to do them at home!

    Daniel James on

  • Sweet fermented sauce, to see how exactly it’d different from hoi sin.

    Ronan on

  • I’d definitely like to try yellow rock sugar.

    Stacey on

  • Sesame oil and preserved red beancurd because that combination reminds me of my childhood!

    ZZ on

  • I’d like to try Shaoxing wine. I’ve not really tried many of the different Chinese cooking wines and vinegars so all those are of interest to me.

    Kavey on

  • I’ve tried and used all the ingredients in the set, and most of the other ingredients listed. The one that I’ve never tried is the instant/shredded jellyfish. It would be interesting to see what flavour and texture it would add to the dishes I cook.

    Afton Cochran on

  • As a lover of tofu (no, really!), I’d love to try the red-braised tofu – looks amazing!

    Maxine G on

  • The ingredient i’d love to try out is the Hua Tiao Shaoxing wine. Up until now i’ve always used dry sherry which has been suggested as an alternative. This sounds as if it has more depth of flavour
    and it will be good to use the correct ingredients when i try Jiangnan recepies.

    mark smith on

  • I’d love to try the Aonori Seaweed – think it could add a nice different flavour hit to some steamed Dim Sum, just sprinkled over the top.

    craig lodzinski on

  • The preserved red bean curd, for sure. Only recently started exploring what tofu etc. can bring to the table!

    Tom O'Brien on

  • It’s preserved red bean curd for me. I love the Chinese umami flavourings, and this is a new one for me. Can’t wait!

    Ian P on

  • I’d love to try cooking with the rock sugar – it sounds intriguing and versatile, which is important in a student kitchen!

    Lily on

  • Roasted gluten—mainly because it is completely new to me. I like the idea of the rich dark sauces, informed by my beloved Shaoxing wine.

    Laila Monahan on

  • Instant shredded jellyfish sounds intriguing. I have to admit that if I just saw it on the shelves I would pass it by but this article makes me want to try the whole Jiangnan experience. Perhaps a cookery class?

    Susan Thairs on

  • Oh, where to start. Just reading through the ingredients list has made me salivate! However, the ingredient that jumped out at me on first read through was the Pearl River Bridge Superior Mushroom Dark Soy Sauce. I am addicted to cooking with mushrooms and to marinating meats and fish with soy sauce. Two in one ingredient – result!

    Diane Eckford on

  • Preserved red beancurd. Might become a staple item in my kitchen, like the addictive preserved mustard greens Fuchsia introduced us to in her brilliant previous book, ‘Every Grain of Rice’!

    Charlotte Mounter on

  • Jellyfish – how wonderful and surprising that this is a convenience food. A world away from the baked beans we are so fond of in the UK. I’d love to try it!

    Georgia on

  • I would love to discover Shaoxing wine, if I have to choose just one ingredient. I have never travelled to Asia, and I don’t think I ever will get the chance to travel the way I would want to, on foot with just a backpack, door to door, discovering people and food… guess I’m too old now, and I made choices in my life that took me a different way… but I love to taste, it’s such a wonderful and simple way to relocate :-) just put something new in my mouth and close my eyes, and then I’m there, distance and ages don’t matter anymore :-)

    Alexandrina Groparu on

  • I would love to try the jellyfish. It was an ingredient in a dish I ordered in a restaurant about 25 years ago and I couldn’t bring myself to eat it. I’d hope to put that right this time round!

    Eileen Ford-Price on

  • I’d love to try the mushroom soy sauce as I’ve never seen it in the shops and I love anything with mushroom flavours!

    Diana Sanderson on

  • It is so hard to decide, I would like to use them all in cooking, for creating a true taste of Chinese cooking in my home, what I could never properly do in the past. Some ingredients I of course know already,I love sesame oil, soy sauce and all; I never used Shaoxin wine, but some sherry instead, so it would be great to try good traditional Chinese wine, jellyfish sounds really worth trying, but I think the most I like the look of that dried lotus leaf – this must be quite unique, healthy and with a nice texture, definitely,I would like to try it.

    agnes murray on

  • The preserved red beancurd would be so amazing in a really warming, rib-sticking winter stew, and not just on Meat Free Mondays. I really hope there’s a recipe in Land of Fish and Rice like this. Just reading this page is really inspiring – think I’ll order some now, give it a go adapting Rick Stein’s red-braised pork recipe and keep my fingers crossed I win the book!

    Kate Rees on

  • I would love to try the Aonori seaweed, it sounds really interesting, and could have many other applications.

    Teresa Palmer on

  • Shaoxing rice wine is always in my cupboard. Red braised pork belly isn’t the same without it, and drunken chicken is rather sober chicken without it

    Jeremy buggie on

  • I’m in my 70’s now and I’m retiring from breeding horses and taking up cooking. This Chinese cook book has really caught my attention and interest – I need to try shredded jelly-fish!

    Diane Harron Eakin on

  • Jellyfish would be amazing to try – never had anything like it

    Geoff Sloan on

  • I would love to experiment with roasted gluten.

    Michelle pym on

  • Sesame oil is my favourite. A last minute drizzle lifts so many Chinese dishes.

    Phil on

  • I would absolutely love to try the dried wheat gluten – I have tried the canned variety and can’t get enough of it. I’m pretty sure that I will love it in its dried avatar too.

    Suman Varadaraj on

  • Would love to try the aged Shaoxing Rice Wine – ‘younger’ versions I’ve ussd have added an amazing, distinctive depth to Chinese dishes that you can’t really achieve any other way. I would use it as part of any of the wonderful “drunken” dishes that are such a treat!

    Henry on

  • Wouldn’t it just be magic and fantastical to steam with dried lotus leaf?

    Vanessa on

  • I would like to try the authentic ingredient of dried lotus flower. I teach Mandarin Chinese and would love to use this ingredient with an unusual taste with my students!

    Simone Haughey on

  • I saw Roasted Gluten in the Korean supermarket the other day and wondered what on earth you would do with it, looks like I can find out with this book! Even if I don’t win I cannot wait to get hold of this book, looks fab!

    Daniel Green on

  • Many of the ingredients are new to me and I’d love to try using them all. However the Aonori seaweed is on the top of my ‘to-use’ list. I love the flavour of different seaweed.

    Laura on

  • I have eaten jelly fish on many occasions but I’ve never cooked with it myself. Always interested in trying something new in the kitchen.

    Richard on

  • There are many regional variations in food from China. I would love to try out some of the unusual dishes and new techniques from Jiangnan which are brought to us in Fuchsia Dunlops book… possibly using the dried shredded jellyfish . So exciting !!

    Anne Leslie on

  • Instant shredded jellyfish sounds awesome and seeing as my friends and colleagues already think my tastes are quite weird, sweetbreads, calves brains, elvers, etc, I’d share the jellyfish around to really give them something to think about.

    The sweet fermented sauce and preserved red beancurd sound really versatile and can imagine using them in all manner of dishes. Already reaching for Fuchsia’s szechuan cookery.

    Already use chinkiang vinegar and always reminds me of the smell of walking through Chinatown. So authentic.

    Rob Bray on

  • I’d love to try the lotus leaves, as they are something completely new to me. After finishing half a year in China eight years ago, I have been missing it terribly. I should try to get into the cuisine, to bring back memories.

    Katrien on

  • I’d love to try lotus leaves for wrapping fish parcels – maybe a prawn dumpling filling.

    K Sha on

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