Birds 46: Yunlin Goose

In Nizan’s1 Yuan Dynasty work, the “Yunlin Compendium”, he recorded a recipe for preparing geese. Take a whole goose, clean it, rub the inside of the body cavity with three qian of salt, and stuff it with a large bundle of green onions2 such that the cavity is solidly filled. Cover the outside of the whole goose with a mixture of honey and wine. In the pot, add a large bowl of wine and a large bowl of water for steaming, and build a rack made of chopsticks to keep the goose elevated from the water. Use two bundles of mountain grass3 as fuel for the stove, allowing it to slowly and completely burn away. Wait for the pot to cool down completely, then open the lid, flip the goose over to its other side, replace the lid, and seal it well for steaming. Use another bundle of grass and allow it to burn completely. The fuel should be allowed to burn on its own without any disturbance by the cook. The lid should be well sealed with cotton paper. If the sealing paper dries and cracks during cooking, simply moisten it with water.

When it is ready to serve, the goose will be soft as mud and its broth absolutely delectable. If duck is prepared using the technique it will be just as delicious. Each bundle of the mountain grass used a fuel should weight one jin and eight liang. While one is rubbing the goose with salt, add in some green onions and finely ground Szechuan peppercorns mixed with wine. The “Yunlin Compendium” contained numerous recipes, but after numerous trials this was the only good one, the rest of the recipes were simply false elaborations.

雲林鵝
倪︽雲林集︾中,載製鵝法。整鵝一隻,洗淨後,用鹽三錢擦其腹內,塞蔥一帚,填實其中,外將蜜拌酒通身滿塗之,鍋中一大碗酒、一大碗水蒸之,用竹箸架之,不使鵝身近水。灶內用山茅二束,緩緩燒盡為度。俟鍋蓋冷後,揭開鍋蓋,將鵝翻身,仍將鍋蓋封好蒸之,再用茅柴一束,燒盡為度;柴俟其自盡,不可挑撥。鍋蓋用綿紙糊封,逼燥裂縫,以水潤之。起鍋時,不但鵝爛如泥,湯亦鮮美。以此法製鴨,味美亦同。每茅柴一束,重一斤八兩。擦鹽時,攙入蔥、椒末子,以酒和勻。︽雲林集︾中,載食品甚多;只此一法,試之頗效,餘俱附會。

Notes:

1A renowned poet and painter and the famous goose dish that bears his pen name (Yunlin), made even more famous in the culinary world by the fact that Yuan Mei endorses it so here. The full name of Nizan’s work is (雲林堂飲食制度集)

2Literally says, “stuff with a broom of green onion”.

3The term shanmao(山茅), translates literally to “mountain tall-grass” We know from the term “茅” that it is a tall wild grass that grows on hill sides with large woody sheaths and long blades. Looking up the term shanmao, it could refer to any grass including: Sabai grass (Eulaliopsis binata), Cymbopogon distans, Scleria levis, or Cogon grass (Imperata cylindrica), and likely many others. Yuan Mei does refer the fuel here also as maochai (茅柴, literally “grass fuel“), which may point to cogon grass since it is also know by that name. But again he could also just be saying maochai to indicate “a grass used for fuel” instead of “a grass known as maochai”. At the end, I’m not sure what the grass is so I’m just going to call this all “mountain grass”.

Birds 45: Braised Quail and Siskin

Quail[1] from Liuhe[2] are the best. There are even some that have already been prepared.

For siskin finch,[3] braise using Suzhou wine lees, honey, and wine until soft. Add the same seasonings used for braising sparrows to them.

Inspector Shen of Suzhou makes a braised siskin with bones that melt in the mouth, but it’s method of preparation is unknown. His stir-fried fish slices are also exceptional. With such incredible culinary skills, they can truly be ranked number one in all of Suzhou.

煨鵪鶉,黃雀
鵪鶉用六合來者最佳。有現成制好者。黃雀用蘇州糟加蜜,酒煨爛,下作料與煨麻雀同。蘇州沈觀察煨黃雀,並骨如泥,不知作何制法。炒魚片亦精。其廚饌之精,合吳門推為第一。

Notes:
[1]: The common quail (Coturnix coturnix)
[2]: Luhe District in Nanjing
[3]: The Eurasian siskin (Spinus spinus), a species of finch.

Birds 44: Braised Sparrows

“Take fifty sparrows and braise them in light soy sauce and sweet wine. When they are done, remove their feet, taking only the sparrows’ meat from their breast and head, and put the collected meat into a dish with the cooking broth. Its flavours are incredibly sweet and delicate. Other birds such as magpies can also be prepared thus.

Unfortunately fresh birds are hard to find. Xue Shengbai often advises: ‘Do not eat food made from domesticated animals.’, since the flavours of wild creatures are more flavourful, fresher, and they are easier to digest.”[1]

煨麻雀
取麻雀五十隻,以清醬、甜酒煨之,熟後去爪腳,單取雀胸、頭肉,連湯放盤中,甘鮮異常。其他鳥鵲俱可類推。但鮮者一時難得。薛生白常勸人︰’勿食人間豢養之物。’以野禽味鮮,且易消化。

There perhaps is some truth to quote in the last sentence. Wild creatures have a more varied diets and thus they have more diverse and richer sets of micro-nutrients in their bodies. For instance, results from this semi-scientific study found many times more Vitamin E, D, and beta-carotene in free-range chicken eggs from various such farms versus traditional factory eggs . I’ve read somewhere else that vegetables grown via organic farming methods are richer in micronutrients than their “green-revolution” counterparts. Nevertheless, these studies are not peer-review scientific research, as such their results must be taken with a grain of salt.

In Taiwan, free-range chicken who are raised on open land feeding on a mix of wild plants, insects, poultry feed and supplemented greens (scraps from the green grocers) are highly prized both for their nutrition and their flavoursome and dense flesh. Whenever I’m Taipei, I make sure to get my fill of it in various restaurants serving it there.

On a separate note, the sparrows mentioned here are probably passer montanus.

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]”

徐鴨
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.

Notes:

[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.”

野鴨團
細斬野鴨胸前肉,加豬油微縴,調揉成團,入雞湯滾之。或用本鴨湯亦佳。大興孔親家制之甚精。

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.”

乾蒸鴨
杭州商人何星舉家乾蒸鴨。將肥鴨一隻洗淨斬八塊,加甜酒、秋油,淹滿鴨面,放磁罐中封好,置乾鍋中蒸之;用文炭火,不用水,臨上時,其精肉皆爛如泥。以線香二枝為度。

“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!!!