“Take egg whites and mix it with honey and wine lees, beat the mixture until even then steam. Cook until the mixture has set but is still tender. Do not overcook or else it will become tough. Likewise, using too much egg whites in this dish will make the dish tough.”
Considering how uncommon beef was back in Yuan Mei’s time, one could imagine how rare dairy would be. Perhaps this rarity caused milk to become something so desirable that people would want to imitate it?
Regardless of whether it was desirable because of rarity or because it just tastes so good, imitate it they did. The fact that Yuan Mei had a recipe imitating milk also tells us two things. First, that dairy may have been a popular exotic food when one had access to it. Second, it also shows that dishes such as “stir-fried” (炒牛乳) or “double-skinned” milk (雙皮奶), which are essentially like pan-cooked or steamed egg-white custards, may have had a rather long history in Chinese cuisine.
Like the imitation crab from before, we see how this recipe desperately tries to recreate the flavours of the milk through substitutes. Here, honey and wine lees were used to stand in for the sweet-flavours of boiled milk. I’ve tasted these two ingredient together and actually, if you let things the flavours go “out of focus” one could almost imagine it as being milk-like. Almost.