Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 15: Drunken Shrimp (醉蝦)

Pan-fry whole shrimp with shells over high heat in wine until yellow then remove them from the pan.1 Next, braise them in light soy sauce and rice vinegar. When done, cover the shrimp with the bowl to cook with its residual heat. When ready to serve, place them in a dish. Their shells should be tender enough eat.2


1This is a a very different drunken shrimp compared to the modern version, which is basically shrimp marinated in wine.
2The shell has been made tender likely because the shrimp were braised in vinegar. While interesting, with all the braising, I wonder if the shrimp hasn’t also turned mushy and disgusting.


Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 14: Shrimp Cakes (蝦餅)

Pound the shrimp into a paste, form into balls and pan-fry. These are known as shrimp cakes.


A simple dish ingredient-wise, but complex in technique. Again much of the details crucial for this dish were not mentioned by Yuan Mei, most likely because he didn’t actually know them since he didn’t make the dish himself.

The shelled shrimp needs to be pounded well but not too finely. The paste must then be seasoned with salt and some starch, then the stirred until the salt has to tease out the albumin in the shrimp and the pounded mass really sticks together. Only then does one roll the paste into balls and fry them. For this dish I like to add chopped water-chestnut bits and green onions, seasoned additionally with white pepper and rice wine.

Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 13: Shrimp Balls (蝦圓)

Shrimp ball are made in the same way as fish balls. They can be either braised in chicken broth or stir-fried dry. When pounding the shrimp to a paste, be sure to not pound it too fine otherwise its original flavours and textures would be lost. This is the same with fish balls.1 The shrimp can also be peeled in whole then mixed with laver, which is excellent.2


1 This is somewhat surprising since modern fishballs tends to be rather homogenous and fine in texture.
2 It’s not clear exactly how this is prepared. However, whole shrimp that has been semi-butterflied and fried until it just curls into a round form is also know as “shrimp balls” (蝦球), so it’s likely junh that. Mixing in chopped laver with shrimp prepared thus, either before or after frying, will undoubtedly result in excellent dishes.

Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 12: Rice-Eel Segments (段鱔)

Cut the rice-eel into inch long pieces and braise them in the same manner as eel. It can also be first fried in oil to firm up its flesh, then cooked together1 with winter melon, fresh bamboo shoots, and shitake. Use only a small amount of diluted soy sauce, and larger amounts of ginger extract.


1The words used here are actually zuopei (作配) or “match up”, which does not actually tell one how to prepare the dish. Hence the use here of the equally ambiguous term “cooked together”.

Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 10: Shredded Rice Eel Geng (鱔絲羹)

Boil the rice eel1 until it is half done, then slice it into thin shreds and remove its bones. Braise in wine and autumn sauce. Add a small amount of starch powder along with day-lily flowers,2 winter melon and long green onions to finish the geng3. The cooks in Nanjing like to grill rice eels until they are charred, which leaves one completely incredulous.


1Monopterus albus, also known by the less than savoury name, the swamp eel.
2Hemerocallis fulva, the Orange Day-Lily, is often sold dried and reconstituted before cooking. The fresh version, if it can be found should be preferred for this dish.
3Geng (羹) is a clear soup thickened with starch. Thick Chinese soups are technically all geng.