River Delicacies 3: Sturgeon (鱘魚)


Acipenser sinensis, the Chinese Sturgeon. It’s got these thick whisker-like spike sticking out from under its muzzle. A weird-looking, strong-tasting, prehistoric-era fish.(Credit: efishalbum.com)

List of River Delicacies::Sturgeon
Master Yin Wenduan boasts that he knew best how to prepare sturgeon [1], truth is, his method produces an over-stewed fish with a thick and muddy flavour.

I had a very good stir-fried slices of strugeon at Tang’s household in Suzhou. Its preparation is as follows: cut the strugeon’s meat into slices and fry in oil with wine and autumn sauce for thirty moments [2], then add water and let it return to boil. When done, plate the sturgeon slices and garnish heavily with ginger and finely chopped green onions.

Another method of preparation is to parboil the fish in water for ten moments, [3] remove the large bones and cut the meat into small cubes. Reserve the cartilage and also cut it into small cubes.[4] Add the cubed cartilage to chicken broth, then braise them while skimming the broth of any scum that forms. When the cartilage is mostly done [5], add wine, autumn sauce, the cubed meat, and keep braising until the meat is slightly soft.[6] Finish the dish with a generous cup of ginger juice [7] and garnish with green onions, sichuan peppercorns, and garlic chives.

Random notes:
[1]: The Chinese sturgeon endangered due to overharvesting, habitate loss, and pollution in the Yangzi/Changjiang river.

[2]: What was written in Chinese here is “30 boiling/boils” (滾三十次), which is a first for me in term of measures of time. So how long is “1 boiling”(1滾) in our standard measurement? The amount of time need to cook slices of shark takes around a minute, and if we assume sturgeon slices have the same texture and takes similar cooking of time, then each “boiling” take around 2 or so seconds. There is another possible interpretation of the term 滾三十次, which can also mean “roll 30 times”. This is due to the dual meaning of the word “滾” (think of this in terms of the English phrase “a rolling boil”). In this case, one could say the slices were simply tossed and turned over 30 times, which would be a matter of several seconds, which in turn mean that each “roll” would be less than a second (300 milliseconds?). Since both a “boiling” or “rolling” are only brief moments of time, I have decided to translate “30 boilings” as “30 moments”. Thank you for going along with my extremely hand wavy justification.

[3]: Parboil (chau shui) a fish sounds is a bit strange since method is usually reserved for heavier meats such as beef or pork. This may indicate that the texture and taste of sturgeon meat is actually more “meat-like” and less fish-like.

[4]: Eaten as much for the meat as for the cartilage.

[5]: Actually says 80% done (八分熟), a medium-well I guess?

[6]: Actually say 20% soft (二分爛), soft but not too soft basically.

[7]: Seeing how much ginger is used in both the recipes, this fish must be rather strong in flavour.


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