Here’s to a fantastic year of the Monkey!
Here’s to a fantastic year of the Monkey!
“Take chicken breasts from a young bird and slice them. Heat up three liang of rendered lard and stir-fry the chicken giving it three to four tosses. Add a large spoon of sesame oil, and a small spoon each of powdered starch, fine salt, ginger juice, and Szechuan pepper. Finally, add finely sliced snow pear and small pieces of shitake, then stir-fry everything for three or four tosses before plating in a five inch dish.”
Nothing really to say about this other than a few translation notes:
“Take four liang of white button mushrooms, soak them in boiling water to rid them of sand, then swirl them in a bath of cold water. Clean the mushrooms well with a toothbrush, then bath them in four changes of clean water. Stir-fry the mushrooms over high heat in two liang of vegetable oil until done, then dress them with several sprays of wine.
Chop the chicken into square pieces and boil them in a pot. Skim off the floating foam, add sweet wine and light soy sauce, then braise the chicken for eighty percent of the total required time. Add the mushrooms to the chicken and braise everything for the remaining twenty percent of time. Add bamboo shoots, green onions, Szechuan pepper and serve. Do not add water when preparing the dish.
Garnish with three qian of rock sugar.”
In the course of translating this thick manual on Qing dynasty gastronomy, invariably you learn some things. Sometimes this learning comes in one gigantic chunk of well integrated knowledge leading to an “Aha!” moment. But more often the information comes in discrete disconnected pieces that present themselves in a “Hmmm…that’s interesting…” way. Sorta like unexpectedly biting into a nub of squeaky curd-cheese as you finish the last fries in your poutine.
In the case of this recipe there are a lot of hidden squeaky curd-cheese nubs:
“This recipe consists of minced chicken breast meat formed into balls as large as wine cups. They are savoury and tender like shrimp balls. The household of Yangzhou Magistrate Zangba prepares this dish extremely well. The meat is kneaded into balls with pork fat, radish, and starch. They must not be stuffed with fillings.”
This is basically chicken breast prepared using a standard technique for making shrimp cakes. What this should mean is that they were most likely fried and eaten straight like shrimp balls and cakes.
Still it’s also possible that after frying they were cooked in soup like lions-head meatballs (獅子頭). However with chicken breast meat this is probably not a good idea since it makes the meat floury and dry, like the way my brother-in-law cooks them.
“Take some chicken breasts, cut them into small dice, and stir-fry them in boiling hot oil. Add autumn sauce and wine to the chicken and remove from the pan. Toss the chicken with diced water chestnuts, dice bamboo shoot tips, and diced shitake, with the ones producing a dark broth being the best.”
Lightly par-fry chicken, season, add some veggies, and it’s done. All in all, a rather typical Chinese chicken dish.
The only weird part here is the note in the last sentence saying that dark broth is the best. This is weird since the dish has mainly light coloured ingredients so a dark broth will not work. One can only assume that Yuan Mei was referring to the shitake, which when soaked from its dry form or cooked in soup lends a clear darkish tan broth.
“Take a raw chicken, brine it in soy sauce for a day and a night, then hang it in the breeze to dry. This is a winter dish.”
Nice recipe, but again Yuan Mei left it a bit incomplete with no description on how to cook it. Still, given that air dried meats are typically steamed in Chinese cooking, this is probably the way to prepare jiang chicken.
This recipe is somewhat reminiscent of fengji (風雞; literally, wind chicken), which is first marinated in salt and wine, air dried slightly, and then steamed till done. The texture and flavour of fenji is quite remarkable, with texture of a wet-cured ham and a hint of flavour that one gets from a dried-cured ham. I’m sure jiangji is something like that too.
For the last sentence, I’ve translated “three dong” (三冬) as simply “winter”, since it indicates the last three months of the lunar calendar, which typically hovers around November, December, and January. In Canada, we had a typically have a “5 dong”, but at this rate of global warming we’ll be lucky if we have 2 in a few years.
“Place a whole young chicken on a plate. Add autumn sauce, sweet wine, shitake mushrooms, and bamboo shoots to it, then steam everything over a rice pot.”
The chicken used in this recipe is probably an older chick, hovering around a month or two in age. I would have liked to use the French term “poussin”, which is perfect for describing the age of the chicken, but I’ve settled on “young chicken”, which sorta works.
In North America, the chicken sold as “Rock Cornish Game hen” could be used here. Still, in reality all the industrially farmed chicken that we eat now days are so young and soft that any would do for this recipe.
Oh, and Happy New Year!