Birds 43: Xu Duck (徐鴨)

“Get the largest fresh duck available. Make a solution from twelve liang of baihua liquor, one liang and two qian of unrefined grey salt,[1] and a soup bowl of boiled water, removing any residue and froth after dissolving everything, then apply this to the duck. Next replace the solution[2] and add seven rice bowls of cold water, four thick slices of fresh ginger weighing approximately one liang, and place everything together inside a large lidded earthenware bowl. Seal the opening of the lidded bowl well using a sheet of thick paper[3] and place everything on top of a large charcoal braizer to cook thoroughly.[4] Use large chunks of charcoal[5] of three yuan, each weighing around two wen, for cooking and cover the braizer and bowl with a tented cover so the heated air does not escape.[6] Cook starting from around the time one has breakfast until the evening. If the cooking is rushed, then the dish will be underdone and it flavours would be poorly developed. After the charcoal has burned through, do not move the duck to a serving bowl and do not open the sealed bowl too soon. After splitting the duck open, wash it with clean water, then dry it with a clean unstarched cloth before putting it into a lidded earthenware bowl.[7]”

頂大鮮鴨一隻,用百花酒十二兩、青鹽一兩二錢、滾水一湯碗,沖化去渣沫,再兌冷水七飯碗,鮮薑四厚片,約重一兩,同入大瓦蓋內,將皮紙封固口,用大火籠燒透。大炭吉三元(約二文一個);外用套包一個,將火籠罩定,不可令其走氣。約早點時燉起,至晚方好。速則恐其不透,味便不佳矣。其炭吉燒透 後,不宜更換瓦,亦不宜預先開看。鴨破開時,將清水洗後,用潔淨無漿布拭乾入。

“Xu duck” has two interpretations. The word “xu” (徐) literally means slow, which may describe the cooking speed here, but it could also be a person’s family name, which would mean it’s Xu’s Duck. Due to the incomplete info I’m leaving this as it is.


[1]: The term “grey salt” was translated from “qingyan” (青鹽), which translate literally to green/blue salt. This is a greyish greenish raw salt more or less like the coarse grained sel gris of Guerande.

[2]: The text here uses the word dui(兌), which may mean either “replace” or “add”. In the first, the salt and liquor solution would simply be used for marinating and washing the duck then simply throw away and replaced with water. In the second case, it would have been used as just the cooking liquid with more water added on top. To me the former one makes more sense, since green salt is commonly used for cleaning food and less for eating itself.

[3]: In Chinese, pi (皮) paper, or “leather paper” refers to a thick heavy paper similar to like that used in making large brownpaper bags.

[4]: This cooking method is similar to that seen in: “Pork 13: Pork in lidded bowl”.

[5]: The term “charcoal lumps” are translated from the Chinese word “tanji” (炭吉). This same term was mentioned in Scroll nine of the late Qing dynasty work Xiawai Junxie (霞外攟屑::九), which indicated it has an alternate writing form (炭擊). Tanji is a very high quality whole wood charcoal is made from very dense and fine grained hardwoods and fired to very high temperatures. This charcoal produced is so hard and dense that it rings like a chime when tapped with a hammer. It is known in Japanese as white charcoal (白炭) or “enduring” charcoal (長炭).

[6]: The sentence was translated from the phrase “外用套包一個,將火籠罩定”, which implies that the cooking setup is covered using a stiff tent or umbrella like structure. What this structure actually looked like is a mystery. Still, if this tent/umbrella setup is well insulated, then it would basically function like an oven.

[7]: This entire recipe is confusing all the way through, but the confusion culminates in a crescendo in the last two sentences. Don’t change the bowl (不宜更換瓦)…but okay, to what? Finally, take the duck out and wipe it dry and put it back into the bowl used to cook it (鴨破開時,將清水洗後,用潔淨無漿布拭乾入)? Or a clean serving bowl? The fact that this recipe is quite detailed, probably means that Yuan Mei liked it enough to note things down, but on the whole it is one of the more poorly written ones in the Suiyuan Shidan. One could try to rearrange the sentences to make the recipe make sense, but I’ll leave that to the people reading this to do as they see fit.

Birds 42: Wild Duck Meatballs (野鴨團)

“Chop the wild duck breast finely, add pork fat and a small amount of starch. Form the mixture into balls,and boil them in chicken broth. It is even better to use the original duck’s broth instead. The household of Kongqin from Daxing makes this exceptionally well.”


Meatballs made from duck breasts cooked in broth. Sounds quite good actually.

Birds 41: Dry Steamed Duck (乾蒸鴨)

“This is the dry steamed duck made at the household of Hangzhou merchant He Xingju. Wash a fat duck and chop into eight chunks. Immerse the duck completely with sweet wine and autumn sauce in a porcelain jar and seal it well. Place everything directly in a dry pot to let “steam” over a low flame with not adding water. When it is ready to be served, the ducks meat should be as soft as mud. The dish takes the two incense sticks of time to cook.”


“Dry-steaming” is quite similar to the cooking technique “men” (), which means that the food is covered, heated, and then allowed to cook through using the residual heat. From the recipe, we see that the temperature is probably quite a bit higher, almost like low temperature baking. (See Pork 12: Dry steamed pork).

The Western equivalent of this dish would be probably be a confit de canard or cassoulet de canard (without the beans).

UofT Booksale Season

My mom often complains that I dress worse than a streetfood vendor, which is completely fair considering I am constantly out-garbed by those guys in the Sushittos truck. This basically leaves me to compete for worst-dressed in my ward with that guy selling street-meat; sadly a prize that I win regularly. Still, while others are rendered penniless splurging on vacations, fancy shoes, and finely reassembled bits of cloth, my excuse is that I spend all my disposable income on books. And by my budget book, University of Toronto gets a fair chunk of it.

Fall is booksale season at the University of Toronto and I have been marking it on my calendar diligently each year since moving back. In September to October, the colleges in the UofT have their book sales to raise funds for various activities, much to the delight of Toronto bibliophiles.

One can find old and new anthologies, poetry collections, in-print and out-of-print novels of every kind, along with biographies of the famous, infamous, and the much less famous. Yesterday, I haphazardly found a pristine first edition of Margaret Lawrence’s The Diviners stuffed next to a copy of Key’s light but fun cookbook Food for the Emperor. I also saw a copy of the esoteric Culinary Comedy in Medieval French Literature for sale. And all for a fraction of the price if you had bought them off ebay or one of the mega bookstores. On top of that, books are half price on the last day and only several dollars a crate in the last few hours of the sale.

I also love the “feel” of these volunteer organized sales; shabby, chaotic, and packed with nerdy merchandise, like what you would expect if the local flea market had illegitimate children with the university library. Here, a sartorially challenged book lover can walk and browse amongst poorly dressed faculty and students without standing out.

As of today sale season is half over, though there are still two more coming mid-October:

Not to be missed!!!

Birds 40: Hanged Soy-Braised Duck

“Stuff green onion into the duck body cavity, cover the duck well and braise it at high heat. Xu’s store at Shuixi gate does this dish very well. This is a dish that cannot be made at home. There are yellow and black variations of this braised duck, of the two the yellow one is better.”


Certain sites online says that this duck recipe is actually the predecessor of the modern “Peking duck”, with the yellow version mentioned being salt water duck (滷水鴨) and the darker version being soy-braised and roasted. Sadly the connection between the previous duck dish and the famous roasted one in Beijing is rather hand-wavy.

Nevertheless the recipe does provide one hint that this might be a roasted duck. In Chinese cuisine, when something can’t be made at home it is usually because the home kitchen does not have the specialized equipment or facilities. Then as now, these are usually ovens and grills, so maybe… *waves arms vigorously*

Steam-Braised Bear Paw with Chicken (雞燉熊掌)

Today, a recipe from the Hong Kong Chinese cookbook 燉品食譜100種 published in 1978.

Ever since Zhou Dynasty (from more than 500 hundred BCE), bear paw had been considered one of the most precious and sough-after ingredients in Chinese cuisine. While I am not sure if this was because it was actually enjoyable, or if it was simply served and eaten for bragging rights, we know for a fact that bear paw was almost always served on the banquet tables of Chinese nobles and kings, and appeared regularly on the table of emperors. Not surprisingly the newly wealthy and/or autocrats of modern China too have sought out bear paw for their tables in order to gastronomically affirm their status and pad their egos. No doubt both the old and new trends for eating bears have been detrimental to the remaining wild bear populations in China (if they still exist) and have led to a rise in dirty and inhumane bear farms.

In North America, quite the opposite seems to have been true. While bear hunting in the 1800s and first half of 1900s have dramatically reduced the bear population, it appears that their wild population has increased greatly in recent years. So much so, in fact, that many US states and Canadian provinces sell bear hunting licenses to maintain the population. I know here in Ontario, bear hunting licenses are sold on a yearly basis and quite reasonable for residents of the province.

Originally, I was going to post this recipe solely for the purposes of research, education, and reading amusement, however now knowing the above, if you do happen to go on a legal and successful bear hunt and are interested in trying out a Chinese recipe, this is for you. Otherwise, you if want to try out the recipe without bear, you can also substitute in pork trotter and hocks. The pork version will probably be quite a good dish in its own right.

  • Bear Paws, a pair ………… 1.5kg
  • Old Hen ……………………. 1 whole
  • Duck, cleaned ……………. 1 whole
  • Lean Pork …………………. 750g
  • Chinese Ham …………….. 228g
  • Shitake …………………….. 76g
  • Second Broth …………….. 20kg
  • Top Broth …………………. 8 cups(1.5kg)
  • Rice Wine …………………. 380g
  • Salt …………………………. 1tsp
  • MSG ………………………… 0.25tsp
  • White Pepper ……………. a pinch
  • Ginger …………………….. 114g
  • Green Onions ……………. 250g

1. Choose a pair of fat and tender bear forepaws (not including the limb portion), put in a pot and add 7.5 kg of water, boil at high heat for around an hour and a half. Remove the bear paw and clean it of any blisters, cankers or scabs (繭巴), use tweezers to remove the hairs (the bear paws must have the skin still on), then wash and reserve for use.

2. Peel the ginger and slice it. Remove the old leaves and roots from the green onions (around 6 stalks), then rise and reserve for use. Soak the shitake in water until soft, wash them and remove the stalk, then squeeze them dry and reserve for use.

3. Heat the wok over the stove until red hot, then add a soup-spoon of rendered lard, a stalk of green onion, a chunk of ginger, then immediately add 2.5 kg of second broth (broth made from ingredients already used to make a broth) and 76g of rice wine. Add the bear paws, and cook for 10 minutes than scoop out the bear paw. Pour away the other contents in the wok and discard. Repeat these instructions 3 times, using the same quantity of ingredients. Reserve the bear paws, remove their bones, then take a knife and slice each of the bear paws into around a dozen thick rectangular slices. Since bear paw has a very strong odor, one needs to be especially meticulous in these steps of preparation.

4. Slaughter the chicken, pluck out its feathers and remove its innards. Wash it clean, along with the duck and lean pork, chop each into 4 chunks, and blanch in a boiling water to rid them of blood and scum, then scoop out and rinse them clean. Slice the ham and arrange them with the thick slices of bear paw inside an earthenware pot used for double steaming, then place the prepared chunks of chicken, duck, and lean pork. Add 2 slices of ginger, 2 stalks of green onion, 76g of rice wine, then add 8 cups of top broth (a clear concentrated broth made usually from ham and chicken) and a small amount of salt. Cover the pot with its lid, then place it in the bamboo steamer, separated from the water, and steam for a minimum of five hours. Next, take out the chicken, duck, and pork within the pot and discard. Finally, place the prepared shitake into the pot, seal the pot well (using coarse paper on the edge of pot and its lid to ensure the gap is completely sealed), and place it back into the steamer to steam for another twenty minutes. Remove, season and serve.

* The meats in this dish are meltingly soft and of remarkable fragrance. It is an item of the utmost preciousness in any high class banquet.

Birds 39: Broiled Duck (燒鴨)

“Take a young duck and mount it on a spit fork to broil. The cook employed by Examiner Ping makes this exceptionally well.”


Pipa duck, a broiled/roasted duck dish prepared by butterflying and cooking the marinated duck, which gives it that delicious char-broiled flavour. (Credit: Alpha)

I posit that the fork broiled or roasted duck described by Yuan Mei is probably like the modern Pipa duck (琵琶鴨), which is butterflied and flatten, then skewered on a spit fork for broiling. The name “Pipa” refers to the duck’s form that vaguely resembles the pear or loquat-shaped traditional Chinese musical instrument of the same name after it preparation.

Of course, fork roasting duck is not exclusive to Pipa duck, since the method can also be used to make whole Cantonese roast duck, or even Peking duck. However, this is rather rare for both since these two latter duck dishes are usually roasted hanging on hooks.

Another short undescriptive recipe by Yuan Mei.