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 🙂
It’s time for the annual Canadian-Government-Makes-It-Super-Labourious-For-You-To-Give-Them-Your-Money event again.
Participation is mandatory, so the new post will be on next week.
When icefish1 are freshly caught from the water, they are known as “savoriness of ice”. Braise them in chicken broth with dried-cured ham. Alternatively, stir-fry them for a more tender fish. For the dried item, soak them in water until soft. They make a good dish when stir-fried with diluted soy sauce.2
1Although the direct translation of the Chinese name is the somewhat ambiguous “silver fish”, the fact that Yuan Mei indicates this fish looks like ice tells use that it is most likely Salanx prognathus or Salanx chinensis, one of the species among a genus of Asian “ice fish”. These fish are quite interesting in that the adults retain much of the features present in a fish’s larval or juvenile stages. They are small, translucent, largely cartilaginous, and look amazingly like whitebait (and sometimes mistaken as such). They are also sometimes known as “noodle fish” since its form and texture resemble the small thick rice noodles. It goes to show that when you think you’ve seen all the wonders of nature, nature throws living rice noodles your way.
2I’m not sure what is jiangshui (醬水), or “watered sauce”. Could it soysauce and water or diluted soysauce, or just liquid extracted from a wet bean sauce? Either way it’ll likely taste like the former, hence the translation.
Chop a live black crap into large pieces, sear the pieces in oil, then add soy sauce, vinegar, and spray with wine. The more broth in the dish the better. When it is done immediately remove everything from the pan. This dish is most famously prepared by Hangzhou West Lake’s Wuliuju.1 But ever since they started using an ill-smelling soy sauce, the fish served there is now inedible. What a pity!
The fame of Songsao Fish Geng2 is not warranted at all. The discussions in “Menglianglu” should also not be believed.3 The chosen fish must not be big, since the flavours will not penetrate into a big fish. The chosen fish must also not be small, since small fish tend to have more spiny bones.
1Wuliuju translates to the “house of five willows”
2The famed fish geng by Madamn Song, consists of fish in small pieces and cooked in a thick and rich soup punctuated by vinegar. I guess Yuan Mei did not think much of it.
3Menglianglu (夢粱錄), or “Records on Dreams of Millet” was written in Song Dynasty by Wu Zimu (吳自牧). As for what contents in the work were considered untrustworthy by Yuan Mei, I am not sure.
Pan-fry a large silver carp until done, add tofu, spray on soy sauce, water, green onion, wine, and then let everything come to a boil. When the colour of the soup has turn slightly red in hue1, it is ready to be served. The flavours from the fish’s head is incredibly good. This is a Hangzhou dish. The amount of soy sauce to be used here is proportional to the size of the fish
1 I’m not sure what turns this soup slightly red/pink. Perhaps the heme from the fish’s flesh leaks out during the cooking process and somehow does not get denatured by the cooking heat?
Take slices of black carp or a grouper, season with autumn sauce, then add starch powder and egg white. Start a wok and stir-fry them over high heat. Plate them using a small dish and add green onions, Szechuan pepper, and soy-pickled ginger. Each dish should not contain more than six liang of fish, since heat cannot be evenly and thoroughly applied when there is too much ingredients.
This recipe is quite similar to the preparation of our contemporary stir-fried fish slices (炒魚片), which shows how old this method of fish preparation likely is. Although some recipes contain more ingredients than this, regardless the core technique for stir-frying the fish is the same.
While stir-frying fish slices (likely stir-frying itself) sounds easy to do, all too often the fish slices gets cooked into jerky by the novice cook or stirred until it disintegrates into something more like fish floss. Successful preparation of this dish takes some skill and a few tricks. First the fish’s flesh needs to be sliced with its grain so the pieces does not easily fall apart. Next, the fish must be first quickly pan fried in a wok to set their shape before being quickly and gently flipped until the fish is barely cooked. The cooking typically takes less than a minute or so. Any other ingredients that goes into the dish must be precooked to not mess up this timing.
When done well, the resulting dish is sublime.