I bought this book due to its inclusion on various prestigious lists of great cookbooks. The first recipe I made from the book was good, really good. The second one was so good, I went ahead and cooked it again just to make sure it wasn't a fluke. Now a few months in, having made most of the recipes in the book that appealed to me I can honestly say that this is one of the best books that I own.
Authentic or not I cannot say, (though it seems likely) however the litmus test is "does it taste good" and the answer is definitely yes. This is not fussy pretentious cooking, making it very achievable and in most cases very quick. The author has clearly spent a lot of effort thinking about how the dishes can be made in western kitchens with ingredients that are relativity easy to get, though you will need access to specilist asian shops (or order off the internet). If you stock up on the "essential ingredients" (given below) that are given in the introduction, you can make many of the dishes in the book. I had no problem tracking them down in asian supermarkets, however I was not able to find genuine "facing heaven" (sichuan) chillis, or sichuan pepper of the quality that is recommended, however I am still very pleased with the results I get using substitutes and substandard ingredients.
Light and dark soy sauce
Sichuan chilli bean paste
whole sichuan pepper
black fermented beans
chinkiang or black chinese vinegar
spices (star anise cinimmon/cassia bark)
fresh ginger,garlic, and spring onions
salt pepper and white sugar
The book is very well written with clear instructions and lots of useful tips and techniques in the intro for the un-initiated. My only criticism is that there are not enough pictures of the dishes. Also I was rather uninspired by the vegetable section, the blandness of the vegetable dishes provides a respite from the strong flavours of the meat dishes, but realistically or not, I was hoping for something more exciting.
Sichuan dishes use a lot of chilli, however it is important to point out that the chilies are dried, de-seeded and so are actually not that hot. Even the ferocious looking chilli chicken, doesn't come any where close to the levels in Thai food. Whats more in most cases the chilies are not to be eaten, with this approach you can actually appreciate the wonderful flavor of chilli without the unbearable pain. Therefore I would say that despite its appearances this is not just a book for chilli lovers, though it certainly helps.
Sichuan Cookery by Fuschia Dunlop is a cook book concentrating on the distinctive regional cuisine of south-west China. Chinese takeaway devotees may already be vaguely aware of the one (stereo-) typical Sichunaese dish that regularly crops up in restaurants over here, 'spicy Szechuan Chicken' - which, with its red chilli content I suppose is broadly representative of one of the prime ingredients important to the cooking of this region (the other is the Sichuan peppercorn). As outlined in the preface, this book is one result of Ms Dunlop's visit to the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine (a cookery school in China), where she learned about the various cooking techniques and recipes typical of the region.
There is a 75 page introduction before the recipes actually start, which covers such diverting topics as typical Sichuan cooking and preparation techniques; kitchen equipment; key ingredients and culinary traditions. This part of the book in particular has proved an interesting read - and further on, as part of the recipe sections, are included even more informative notes and interesting info on the individual dishes.
Unfortunately I haven't been able to actually try out any of the recipes as yet, having been discouraged somewhat by the necessity for certain specialized ingredients (according to this book, apparently if you can't get really fresh, good quality Sichuan peppercorns, they're not worth bothering with) and also the style of many of the recipes: they tend towards the pork-based and / or spicy, and although I like food of that type myself, for various reasons nobody else in the family will eat it. But the recipes 'read authentically' - I mean as if they will actually work to produce eatable food (which is a seemingly-essential feature you find less often than you'd think, in cookbooks these days) and if you like spicy Chinese-style food (which personally, I do) I should think would give delicious results.
This is a very attractive soft-backed book, printed on good quality paper. There are a fair number of illustrations - mostly restricted to small sections of colour plates interleaved throughout the book, as this isn't really a for-looking-at type of cook book, and informative forewords to each of the chapters, describing the different types of dishes falling under each chapter heading that are eaten by Sichuanese people. There are also notes preceding many of the recipes, which give additional details putting these individual dishes in their regional / and sometimes even sociological contexts.
The Sichuan recipes are grouped under the various chapter headings:
The RRP is £20 but it's currently selling new on Amazon.co.uk for about a tenner (and free P&P).