Essential Knowledge 4 : Seasoning (調劑須知)

須知單::調劑須知 調劑之法,相物而施。有酒、水兼用者,有專用酒不用水者,有專用水不用酒者;有鹽、醬並用者,有專用清醬不用鹽者,有用鹽不用醬者;有物太膩,要用油先炙 者;有氣太腥,要用醋先噴者;有取鮮必用冰糖者;有以乾燥為貴者,使其味入於內,煎炒之物是也;有以湯多為貴者,使其味溢於外,清浮之物是也。

List of Essential Knowledge::Seasoning
When seasoning a dish, one must take character of the dishes ingredients into consideration. Some ingredients require both wine and water in seasoning, some use only wine, while others use only water. Some ingredients use both salt with soy sauce, some use only light soy sauce, while others use only salt. Some ingredients are heavy and overly greasy, which require a thorough pan frying with oil [1] before further preparation. Some ingredients smell raw or fishy, which requires them to be sprinkled with vinegar as treatment. Some ingredients need seasoning with sugar to enhance their umami sweetness. Yet other ingredients benefit greatly from some drying. This is especially true in pan-fried or stir-fried dishes since drying allows surrounding seasonings and flavours to better enter the dish’s ingredients [2]. There are also ingredients that show-off their best when cooked in a soup, since this allows their exquisite flavours to meld and contribute to the broth. Examples of this are the swimming and floating aquatic ingredients [3].

Random notes:

[1]: An example of this is DongPo Pork (東坡肉), where you have to first boil the pork belly then pan fry all sides of the chunk, paying special attention to the skin side to fry it to a toasted golden-brown colour. This way you can get a rather fatty pork dish that is, as they say: “Rich but not greasy” (肥而不腻).

[2]: This suggestion may be related to why it’s best to lightly salt your tofu and then pat it dry prior to pan frying (油煎). The process draws some moisture out from the surface of the otherwise soft tofu, which when dried with a towel allows the tofu to take on a delicate slightly crisp pellicule when pan-fried. To make this dish all one needs is good tofu, oil, and salt. Drizzle in good soy sauce and what you get is something so simple and yet so delectable and soul satisfying. Drying the outside of food before pan-frying is almost always done with steak and chops of meat in Western cuisine to promote flavourful Maillard reactions. This is probably also why French chef give apprentices little brushes to clean mushrooms and yell at them when they try to wash them with water instead. So remember: Ne lavez JAMAIS votre champignons, and do not f**k with ze French chefs (or the Chinese ones for that matter).

[3]: This translation is a guess on my part. The direct translation of “清浮之物是也” is “clear floating item/thing are such”, but to me I have a tough time getting what a clear float item actually is. As such, I’m guessing that it’s a poetic way of referring to aquatic ingredients such as fish and squid or maybe kelp and sea-weeds. After all they are things that float in clear aqueous stuff like water and brine. He may also be referring to edibles like turtles, shrimp, and clams, but a note of technicality, they don’t float well and they tend to live in murky unclear waters.

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