“Slice the pork into large domino-like pieces. Boil them in plain water and remove them after twenty or thirty guun. Heat half a jin of vegetable oil, fry the pork until done, then strain it out. Immediately immerse the pork in cold water to shock it, which will cause the meat to wrinkle-up. Strain out the cold pork and cook it in half a jin of wine, a small cup of soy sauce, and half a jin of water until soft.”
The “lizhi” in the name is the same as that of the “lychee” in lychee fruit. But in looking through this recipe, we see that not only does it not use any lychee, none of the ingredients could create flavours that even vaguely resemble that of the fruit. One can only conclude that the namesake of this dish comes from the wrinkles on the pork resulting from the special “cold shock” technique. Maybe through one’s vivid imagination, the cold-shocked pork looks somewhat like the shell on the lychee fruit?
It should also be noted that this recipe is very different from that of the modern lizhi pork, which is more or less a variant of “gulao pork” (咕咾肉), or in North American parlance “sweet and sour pork”. The modern explanation of the name is that dish imitates the sweet and sourness of the lychee fruit through the judicious use of vinegar and sugar. Fancy contemporary preparations of gulao pork would often go so far as to cut the meat in a crisscross pattern part way through so it vaguely resembles the surface of lychee shells when fried. More often though, its ends up looking like spiky meat.
This brings to mind the question: How did a recipe drift so far from its original preparation? As usual one can only guess, but it feels like this is just another case where a dish with a poetic name had been read quite literally by uneducated fools. Generations of such foolishness later, it should not be surprising that the once rather stayed dish describe by Yuan Mei had morphed into some sugary, neon-red item. Why, I myself had always thought that lizhi pork was actually made with lychee syrup.
Which is precisely why I am not going to call this section “Lychee pork”. Rather than bring these centuries long cycles of foolish readings into the English language, I am using the dish’s pinyin spelling, which is still mostly devoid of fruit-like connotations. Hopefully this will allow it a new start.