To make home-styled pan-fried fish, one needs patience. Wash a fresh fish until clean, chop it into pieces, and marinade it with salt. Flatten each piece and pan-fry both their sides until golden brown, then add a good quantity of wine and autumn sauce and simmer slowly with a low flame. When it is close to done, finish by reducing the cooking liquid, ensuring that all the flavours from the seasoning have entered the fish.1
This recipe is only for preparing fish that is no longer alive.2 For live fish, it is best to cook it rapidly.3
1This is pretty much red-braised fish. This preparation would make the flesh of the fish a bit firmer than the usual methods of Chinese fish preparations, but it would also cover over any off smells from a less-fresh fish. Reading this recipe reminds me of three cup chicken.
2Fish are usually dead when being prepared in recipes, the statement here is for differentiating whether the fish is still alive at the moment just before preparation, or if it’s already dead-on-arrival.
3Yuan Mei’s comments in the the end allow us a bit of insight into the preferred preparations for fish. First, saying that this recipe is for cooking fresh dead fish while the previous fish recipes used only live fish points to an important difference in techniques used cooking “live fish” well and “dead fish” well. Second, saying that this recipe, which uses “dead fish”, is home-style may also imply that in most households it is uncommon to prepare fish dishes from live fish, be it due to convenience or for economy. Indeed, while the best tasting fish dishes use fish that is still alive and slaughtered just before cooking, the process is tedious and expensive. In most restaurant and in some home kitchens in Asia, slaughtering fish at home is still common, though a waning practice. Still, it all goes to show how much difference there is between Qing Dynasty Chinese and modern western (and even modern Chinese) ideas of preparing fish.
Remove the head and tail of a live black carp. Chop it into small square pieces, marinate it thoroughly with salt, and dry it in the wind. Pan-fry in a wok, add seasoning and reduce any juices from cooking. Next, stir-fry some sesame, toss with the fish, and serve. This is a Suzhou recipe.1
1 Two very different dishes can come from this recipe, all depending on how well dried the fish is. It is only lightly dried then it would feel more like a typical fish dish akin to the some of the likely dried chicken and pork dishes. However, if the fish was thoroughly dried, than this would be more a snack eaten for fun. Given that the fish is described as being more jerky-like (脯, lit. dried meat ), the latter is more likely the case. In fact, I bet the resulting food from this recipe would have been similar to the dried anchovies stir-fried in sweet and savoury seasonings served throughout East and South-East Asia. Ikan bilis represent!
During the summer, choose a white, clean, belt shad xiang1 and soak it in water for a day to remove its salty taste. Dry it under the sun and pan-fry with oil. When one side of the fish is golden brown, remove it from the pan. Place shrimp the side of the fish that that has not been fried, then put everything on a plate, add white sugar, and steam for a stick of incense’s duration in time until done. This dish is perfect for late summer.
1 Xiang is basically a salted dried fish similar to Western salt cod except in this case, it is made from leyu (勒魚, sometimes written as 鰳 with the “fish” character as root) or Ilisha elongata. In English, this long-ish fish is commonly known as “slender shad”. In the Chinese text “daizi lexiang” (帶子勒鯗, literally: belt slender shad xiang) probably refers to a particularly slender, long, and belt-like specimen of slender shad made into salted fish.
2 Xiazi le qian xiang (蝦子勒簽鯗) sounds cryptically poetic, if we listen to the Mandarin phonetics of this creatively it could be interpreted as: “The blind happily holds the elephant”. Reminds me of that Indian blind people and elephant story.
In the winter, salt a large common carp and then dry it. Cover it with wine lees, place in a earthenware jar, and seal the jar’s opening.1 Serve it in the summer. Do not use distilled liquors to prepare this dish, since it would have the harsh stinging of the liquor.2
1Somewhat similar to fish kasuzuke, though I’m not sure if the Japanese do this with dried fish as with this recipe.
2Buwu lawei (不無辣味) means “not lacking a spicy taste”, so I’ve gotten rid of the double negative. I’ve also translated the “spicy” part with “stinging” since that’s a more accurate description of the taste of distilled liquors.
There are many differences between good and bad Taixiang.1 That which comes from Songmen of Taizhou is the best, with its soft but savoury and rich tasting flesh. When the raw item is pulled to shreds by hand, it can be served directly as a side dish without cooking.
When braising with fresh pork, first wait until the pork has softened before adding the Taixiang, otherwise the Taixiang would have long melted away and no longer visible.2 When this dish is chilled, it becomes “xiang” aspic. This is a Shaoxing recipe.
1Taixiang is a type of salted dried fish, typically made of Large or Small Yellow Croaker, and much loved for its salty umami taste and pungent flavour.
2This feels almost like an a postscript of the Section on Pork Braised with Taixiang.
Okay, work taking over me right now… I promise to be back next week!
Just today I was reading my copy of Chow Chop Suey that I bought several weeks back at the AAS Conference. A third of the way through the book, Anne mentioned the Suiyuan Shidan.
When I turned to the Reference section at the back to see what sources she referenced, I saw it. There. Right smack dab there among the hundreds of other cited works was my name and the URL of this site.
H**Y C**P. I AM AN AUTHORITY ON THE SUIYUAN SHIDAN.
Yes, it’s just a tiny citation, and yes she also cited Gene Anderson and Beilei Pu, but just let me bask in the glory for a bit. When I started this project more than 3 years ago near the end of my Doctorate I didn’t think that anyone would read this, much less cite it. But since then a good stream of people interesting in the Suiyuan Shidan and its translation has come here and used it as a research resource. Then quite recently Gene Anderson told me that he thought my translation was quite good, and then now the Anne Mendelson cites it? I am elated.
It’s good to know that you’re not a complete phony.
Anyways, back to Chow Chop Suey. It’s superbly researched, it reads like a joy, and it’s arguably better than any book written on the subject for either lay or academic readers. If the history of Chinese cuisine in North America is your thing, then this is your book.
Actually, you know what? If you’re reading stuff from this site, you should probably be buying one for yourself anyways. And just for completeness, get a copy for everyone your family 🙂