Essential Knowledge 6: Lone ingredients (独用須知)

味太濃重者,只宜獨用,不可搭配。如李贊皇、張江陵一流,須專用之,方盡其才。食物中,鰻也,鱉也,蟹也,鮑魚也,牛羊也,皆宜獨食,不可加搭配。何也? 此數物者味甚厚,力量甚大,而流弊亦甚多,用五味調和,全力治之,方能取其長而去其弊。何暇捨其本題,別生枝節哉?金陵人好以海參配甲魚,魚翅配蟹粉,我 見輒攢眉。覺甲魚、蟹粉之味,海參、魚翅分之而不足;海參、魚翅之弊,甲魚、蟹粉染之而有餘。

All you need is Picard and a few extras to make a good STNG episode. Supporting roles not required.

List of Essential Knowledge::Lone ingredients
Ingredients with strong flavours are best when used on their own without accompaniment, much in the way the likes of Li Jiang [1] and Zhang Ju Zheng [2] must be allowed to work on their own to make the best use of their talents. For instance eel, soft-shell turtle, crab, abalone, beef, and lamb are ingredients best used in dishes on their own without using other main ingredients. Why? The above ingredients have thick and rich flavours that are powerful. As such, their flaws are readily apparent and thus required the seasoning and harmonization provided by the five flavours [3] to control them. This allows these assertive ingredients to show off their strength while hiding their deficiencies. So who in this world would willingly abandon these principles and even go the extra step to push thing beyond good taste? Well, give it to the people in Jin Ling [4] who enjoy combining sea cucumbers with turtle and shark’s fin with crab roe. When I see this accompaniment of ingredients I cannot help but frown in displeasure. I feel that in these combinations, the flavour of turtle and crab roe is dissipated and diluted by the sea cucumber and shark’s fin, while the less savoury flavours of sea cucumber and shark’s fin harm the turtle and crab roe and contaminate their tastes without end.

Random notes:

[1]: Li Jiang (李絳) an imperial chancellor who did some amazing stuff and rose to power. Read wikipedia.

[2]: Zhang Ju Zheng (张居正) an imperial officer who did some amazing stuff and rose in power. Read wikipedia.

[3]: Basically he means you need to season correctly to make the most of these powerful tasting foods. The Chinese “Five flavours” are pungent (辛), salty (咸), sour (酸), bitter (苦), and sweet (甘), which corresponds to the five elements for metal, water, wood, fire, and earth. This categorization everything with the five elements something to do with Daoist derived alchemist philosophies/medicines, which I think are fun in that strange and arcane way, but has little to do with scientific realities. If there are only five flavours, where does umami (鮮) go and what about fat (油) flavours?

[4]: Former Nanjing, a city of people with bad tastes according to Yuan Mei.


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