Birds 3: Stir-fried Chicken (生炮雞)

Take a young chicken, chop it into square pieces, and mix with a marinade of autumn sauce and rice wine. When the diners are ready for the chicken, take the pieces out of the marinate and sear them in a pan of boiling hot oil. Remove the chicken from the pan and repeat this searing process three times in a row. Sprinkle vinegar, rice wine, powdered starch and chopped green onion on the chicken immediately before plating.


Yuan Mei’s dish probably looks something like this…minus all the chili peppers. (Credit: FotoosVanRobin)

The literal translation of this dish is “raw stir-fried chicken”. I’m translating “炮” as simply “stir-fry”, though a more accurate translation would be “explosively hot stir-fry”, perhaps like the “爆” (bao) technique? Or maybe it was more of a shallow frying technique? As for why the recipe name explicitly states that the chicken was stir-fried raw, it may have be that most meats at the time were actually cooked huiguo in some form and stir-frying from the raw state was actually out of the ordinary. That said, it’s just a guess.

As for the recipe itself, two things stand out. First, there is the repeated sear and remove technique, which is uncommon in modern Chinese cuisines. Doing this likely prevented the accumulation of juices seeping from the chicken in the wok, which keeps the wok hot enough to give the chicken the right texture and good wokhei. This is the same idea as not crowding the pan when searing food in Western cuisine, since it cools the pan down too much and causes the food’s juices to pool and steam. This in turn prevents the Maillard reactions from occurring, and results in bland uninspiring food: A relatively common beginner’s error.

The second thing that stands out in this recipe is the use of powdered starch. In Chinese cuisine, a thin starch water slurry is commonly used finish a dish, but this is the first time I have heard of finishing with dried starch. As for why this was done, my guess is that it “dries” things up by soaking up some of the juices from the chicken and prevents the dish from becoming wet too quickly upon plating. I’ll give this a go next time I stir-fry some chicken and write more about it.

Birds 2: Chicken Soong (雞鬆)

Take the legs of a plump chicken, remove their tendons and bones, then mince the meat finely without damaging the skin. Mix the meat together with egg whites, starch thickening, and chopped pine nuts. If there is not enough leg meat, substitute it with some cubed chicken breast meat.

Fry the meat in sesame oil until golden brown and place it in a earthern crock. To the crock, add half a jin of baihua liquor, a large cup of autumn sauce, a ladle of chicken fat, along with the likes of winter bamboo shoots, shitake, ginger, and green onions. Cover the mixture with the reserved chicken skin, add a large bowl of water, and steam it until done. Remove the chicken skin when serving.


Chicken on the loose. (Credit: Infrogmation)

Chicken soong literally means “loose chicken”, which alludes to texture of the minced cooked chicken. In modern Chinese cooking, this dish is usually stir-fried untill done without the extra step for steaming. This modern version will definitely have a more assertive flavour than what Yuan Mei had in his time.

Then as now, Soong (鬆) dishes of all kinds, be they chicken, pork, duck, or shrimp, would have been eaten on rice. However, most restaurants nowadays served wrapped in lettuce leaves to be eaten like a taco. To be honest I prefer this modern presentation since I like eating with my hands and I can better enjoy the textures of the chicken and pine nuts better with the crispness of the lettuce.

As for this detailed recipe, it is the same as that for the previously translated recipe for “Luosuo rou“. The only difference between the two recipes is that chicken is used instead of pork. Both recipes also state explicitly that the mixture must be steamed covered with the skin of the respective animal to completion. Again I not sure why this is done, but can only speculated that doing so improves the flavours and the textures of the resulting dish.

And now, for a different kind of Chinese chicken song:

Birds 1: White-Sliced Chicken (白片雞)

Good white-sliced chicken embodies the pure flavours of the unadulterated stocks used by the ancients. Order this simple dish when one happens to dine at a village inn too busy to cook more involved dishes. When preparing this dish do not use too much water.


Chicken breast that look good enough to be served white-sliced. (Credit: Amy Stephenson)

In a world concerned with indulgence and excess, one too often forgets that even the simplest things can bring much joy. Though it is true that thick broths and rich soups can be incredibly satisfying, and the bold flavours from a loud dish exhilarating, one cannot deny that sometimes a meal consisting of white rice, blanched mustards, and tofu can nevertheless be remarkably refreshing and uplifting. In such a simply meal, a dish of white-sliced chicken would not be out-of-place.

Despite this simplicity, white-sliced chicken is actually a surprisingly “deep” food. Its subtle flavours need focus and presence in the moment to appreciate. But once you perceive them, the taste is pleasant and gentle, its texture succulent and fine, with an ever so slight meaty stench. One could say it’s gustatory version of the rock garden, a meditation aid to help put things into perspective and reveal things hidden in plain sight. Eating it, one begins to understand what the best from various cuisines can do for people; gently nourishing their bodies, comforting their souls, and bringing delight to their lives.

Imagine all of this from a seemingly unremarkable and unpretentious lump of plain cooked flesh.

Assorted Animals 4: Mutton shank (羊蹄)

Mutton shanks can be braised similarly to pork knuckles in either the red-cooked or white-cooked forms. In general, that which is cooked in light soy sauce is red-cooked and that cooked with salt is white-cooked. Shanks are good served with mountain yam.


Some German style lamb shank, which looks pretty darn good. (Credit: Benreis)

Does this post look familiar? Well it may since this is a re-cobbled posting of something I posted a while back.

Basically while I was doing some background organization today, I found out that I had accidentally deleted the previous translation of this post a while ago. But since it has been in the trash so long it got permanently wiped by wordpress. Only an echo of it now exists on the Facebook crosspost.

So here it is now semi-resurrected in its crippled form.

That’s too bad cuz I remember having a good time writing the post and talking about over-priced lamb shanks at French restaurants. I think I also mentioned how one can usually get pretty good lamb shank at most Middle Eastern “Shawarma places” in Montreal and Toronto. One such place where I used to eat as a student at Sherbrooke and University in Montreal had quite decent lamb shanks that are fork-tender and sticky with gelatine. Not to mention the manager was always generous with hummus and sometimes rice. And yes, I mentioned that many people are willing to being shanked in the wallet by French restaurateurs for the décor, white linen, and “service”. But then now as before I’m actually quite okay being one of the plebs eating shank off styrofoam plates.

So aside from it being marginally better written, you didn’t miss too much from that previous post.

I really have to be more careful when editing this site in a tired state.

Birds: Introduction (羽族單:開篇)

Chicken plays a substantial role in cuisine and the success of most recipes are utterly dependant on it. Its effect is similar to a virtuous person, who performs good deeds without the knowledge others. For this reason, we will start this chapter with the chicken and leave the other birds and poultry for the end.

The following is the birds chapter.


A bowl of delicious bird broth: Old fashion MSG and a popular remedy for the common cold (Credit: ProjectManhattan)

I’ve translated this chapter as “birds” since the literal translation for “羽族” is “winged tribe”, which would have been a rather misleading and unhelpful name.

At first, I translated it as “poultry” since this chapter consists of mainly chicken, duck, and other domesticated birds. However, at the end I did not go with it since there are several recipes here that uses undomesticated birds.

Assorted Livestock/Animals Complete!

And another Chapter of the Suiyuan Shidan done! Granted this chapter was pretty small compare to the one before and the one that is coming up but it still quite satisfying to finish it. That said, I was a bit disappointed to not see bear paw in this section.

On another note, real-life has been eating up my spare time and the post have been coming a bit slower. I was planning to do one post every 4-5 days, but I think realistically I’ll be shooting for once every week or so now. In fact I had wanted to so much more with this project, like side essays, thoughts on the recipes and other musings, but time has really really been in short supply these past few months.

Once things start freeing-up (if it does), it’ll show in the posts. But until then, stay tuned.

Assorted Livestock 16: Deer Tail (鹿尾)

Master Yin Wen Duan ranks deer tail number one among all foods. However, deer tail is not readily available to Southerners and those brought in from Beijing are bitter and stale. I once got an especially large specimen and steamed it wrapped in vegetable leaves. It tasted great. The best part of the tail is on its top, with its a thick layer of fat just under the skin.


Deer tails of all types for your dining pleasure. (Credit: Mariomassone)

I knew sheep’s tail, with it thick, dense textured fat, is considered a delicacy. But never knew deer tail was edible. In fact I though it was mainly bone. Well evidently I was wrong and it is in this day still sold as something of a luxury good.

Yin Wen Duan’s and Yuan Mei’s word is remarkably mute on what aspect of deer tail makes it so good. But I guess I’ll take their word for it.