Take douhua,1 add boiling water to it and soak for three times to rid it of its bean-like smell. Add it to chicken broth at medium boil. When plating, add laver and peeled shrimp.
1I used “douhua” in the translation, but the actual term used in the Chinese text is funao 腐腦, or “tofu brains”, which is rightly soft and tender, like brrraaaaaains. All tofu is made from this ingredient, which is what one gets immediately after curdling soy milk. Nowadays it more commonly referred to in Chinese as douhua (豆花). In English, this is sometimes called “tofu jelly”, which is culinary-wise an rather inaccurate term. Still it’s leagues better than the literal translation “tofu flower”, which is sadly also commonly used. Is such cases, where no equivalent English term exists for the Chinese concept, we should just borrow directly from the transliterated Chinese term and call it douhua instead.
2All furong (芙蓉) dishes, are so name since their main ingredients are generally pale in colour and has an irregular form or texture much like the Chinese hibiscus flower. Furong dishes typically involves egg, but in this case the use of douhua, a super soft unpressed tofu freshly curdled from soy milk, is irregular enough to be dubbed “furong”.
Take a tea cup of douchi1, soak them in water until very soft, then add them to tofu and stir-fry them together in a wok.2
1Douchi is a fermented and dried soy-bean product. It’s one of the oldest, and possibly first Chinese processed soybean food. This simplicity of this dish allows one to focus on the rich, spicy, savoury flavours of this ancient food.
2This is actually a vegetarian tofu dish. Considering the previous and following tofu dishes, this is quite surprising.
Pound the dried shrimp until they are pulverized, then add them to tofu. Heat up a wok and stir-fry everything dry with seasonings.1
1 What seasonings? My guess is light soy sauce or salt. And of course, oil for the stir-frying.
Take tender tofu and cook it in water to rid it of its bean-like smell,1 next put it into chicken broth, and boil with abalone2 slices for several moments. Add zaoyou3 and shitake then plate the dish. The chicken extract used must be quite concentrated and the abalone must be thinly sliced.4
1The text does not directly mention the used of water, but in this context of “cooking” (煮) it most likely involves it. The processing of douhua for Furong tofu below supports this reading.
2In Chinese, fu 鰒 means abalone. In Japanese, the same character 鰒 refers to the fugu or puffer fish. How this happened I don’t know.
3Zaoyou 糟油 is a sauce made from rice wine lees, salt, and spices, that has been aged. See the relevant section much much later in the book. (Probably will be posted next year.)
4For short cooking times, the abalone must be sliced thin as flakes, or else it will be too tough.
Remove the skin on both sides of each piece of tofu. Cut each piece into sixteen slices and sun dry them slightly. Sear the tofu in hot rendered lard but only add them when whiffs of smoke appear over the lard. Sprinkle a large pinch of salt on the tofu, flip them, then add a tea cup full of good sweet wine and one hundred and twenty large dried shrimp. If one does not have large dried shrimp, use three hundred small dried shrimp instead.1 The dried shrimp must be first boiled and then soaked for two hours.
Next add a small cup of autumn sauce, let the tofu boil,2 then add a large pinch of sugar, and let it keep boiling. Finally, add one hundred and twenty segments of thin green onions,3 each half an inch long, and plate at a leisurely pace.
1By going with the amount of dried shrimp, this is either a rather large dish of tofu or this dish uses as much dried shrimp as tofu.
2Terms like gunyihui (滾一回) mean something like “simmer/boil for one round”. I’ve opted to translate this as something like “let it boil”.
3This recipe is quite detailed, even prescribing the number of pieces of green onion to add to the dish. Weird thing is despite the clear instructions in this recipe, modern chefs that “recreate” the dish often do something completely different than what is presented in the recipe. The only person I could find that attempts an actual recreation is this lady who also read the Suiyuan Shidan.
Dishes can be split into those that are meat-based or vegetable-based, just like clothes can split into those worn over or under other garments. Those privileged and wealthy indulge themselves more on vegetable dishes than they do with meat-based dishes.1 The following is the list of “Assorted vegetable dishes”.2
1Saying that rich and well-connected people prefer vegetarian fare, conversely implies that only the poor, powerless, or the newly-rich crave meat. Which is not to say that the vegetable dishes preferred by the wealthy of Yuan Mei’s time aren’t heavily flavoured with meats and seafood. Quite the opposite, many use concentrated broths and extracts from countless animals just to infuse tofu and vegetables with rich savoury flavours, similar to what is done with sea cucumbers and shark fin. This is line with the whole Chinese “gentlemanly” (junzi 君子) ideal of “wenya” (refined/elegant 文雅), where all the mess and blood of killing and dead animals, raw or cooked, is hidden from view and only the savoury animal broths with its clean vegetarian ingredients are visible. I personally find this whole deal rather hypocritical and rather offensive in that Marie Antoinette’s peasant village way. Consider this in context with number of people in China who were always teetering on the border of starvation, picking every last grain of rice from their bowl and cooking pots. Then think about those few elite using the meat and bones of several chicken and pigs just to make a broth to flavour some elegant and refined vegetable dish, then essentially tossing all the other meat ingredients. Did they really have the right to sneer at the famished peasant for craving meat?
2Following the previous note, the tofu recipes in this section contains some of the most extravagant and refined court dishes that Yuan Mei had during his life. A window into another world.
Take one hundred chicken eggs1, add one liang of salt and coarse tea leaves. Boil for two incense sticks of time until done. If there are only fifty eggs, add five qian of salt, and increase or decrease the quantities of ingredients as required. They can be eaten as a snack.2
1This is definitely larger than “Family-Sized”.
2Tea eggs are one of the most commonly eaten Chinese snacks, and can be found in every neighbourhood in China. In Taiwan they are sold at all the convenience store next to the oden.