Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 9: Whole-Shelled Soft-Shelled Turtle (全殼甲魚)

In the household of General1 Yang from Shandong, they prepare soft-shelled turtle by removing its head and tail, portioning off its meat and the turtle’s soft “skirt”2 to braise with seasonings, and then covering everything with the turtle shell.

At the banquet, each guest would be served a small plate each with a single turtle cooked in this manner. Those presented with the turtle would be completely startled by the its appearance,3 concerned if they had been served something still alive and moving. Sadly the method for the dish’s preparation is lost.

全殼甲魚
山東楊參將家,製甲魚去首尾,取肉及裙,加作料煨好,仍以原殼覆之。每宴客,一客之前以小盤獻一甲魚。見者竦然,猶慮其動。惜未傳其法。

Notes:
1Sanjiang (參將) is probably something like a major general. Perhaps.
2The “skirt” of the soft-shelled turtle is the flap of skin and flesh at the edge of the turtle’s skin covered shell.
3I wonder if the guest are startled because they are not used to seeing the turtle apparently whole and not pre-chopped into chopstick friendly pieces.

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Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 8: Soft-Shelled Turtle Braised in Soup (湯煨甲魚)

Boil a soft-shelled turtle in water, remove its bones, and tear the meat into pieces. Braise it in chicken broth, autumn sauce, and wine, reducing the liquid from two bowls until there is one bowl. Serve the soup, blending it with green onions, Szechuan pepper, and ground ginger. The household of Wu Zhuyu prepares this dish extremely well. Use a small amount of starch such that the prepared soup is sufficiently thick.

湯煨甲魚
將甲魚白煮,去骨拆碎,用雞湯、秋油、酒煨湯二碗收至一碗,起鍋,用蔥、椒、薑末摻之。吳竹嶼家制之最佳。微用芡,才得湯膩。

*Happy Canadian Thanksgiving all!

Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 7: Soft-Shelled Turtle with Grey Salt (青鹽甲魚)

Chop a soft-shelled turtle into four pieces and stir-fry thoroughly in a hot wok. For every jin of the turtle, braise it with four liang of wine, three qian of star anise, and one and a half qian of salt until half done. Add two liang of rendered lard and chop the turtle into small dice before braising, adding garlic and bamboo shoot tips. Before plating add green onion and Szechuan pepper. One can add autumn sauce before plating, but never add salt. This is a recipe from the household of Tang Jinghan of Suzhou. Large soft-shelled turtle are tough and small ones smell fishy. Its best to buy one that is medium in size.

青鹽甲魚
斬四塊,起油鍋炮透。每甲魚一斤,用酒四兩、大茴香三錢、鹽一錢半,煨至半好,下脂油二兩,切小骰塊再煨,加蒜頭、筍尖,起時用蔥、椒,或用秋油,則不用鹽。此蘇州唐靜涵家法。甲魚大則老,小則腥,須買其中樣者。

*  This can be also called Ragoût de Tortue au sel de Guérande. Sounds more “refined”, for whatever reason.

Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 6: Bone-in Soft-Shelled Turtle (帶骨甲魚)

Take a soft-shelled turtle weighing half a jin1 and chop it into four pieces. Add three liang of rendered lard to a heated wok and pan-fry the turtle so that the pieces are golden brown on both sides. Braise with water, autumn sauce, and wine, first with a hot flame then a gentle flame. Add garlic when the turtle is eighty percent done. Before plating add green onion, ginger, and sugar. When choosing soft-shelled turtles for this dish prefer smaller ones to larger ones. Only those small turtles colloquially known as “boy’s foot turtle” are sufficiently tender.

帶骨甲魚
要一隻半斤重者,斬四塊,加脂油三兩,起油鍋煎兩面黃,加水、秋油、酒煨;先武火,後文火,至八分熟加蒜,起鍋用蔥、薑、糖。甲魚宜小不宜大。俗號﹁童子腳魚﹂才嫩。

Note:
1 Around 300g in Yuan Mei’s time, or a bit more than half a pound

* The actual size of the turtle used in this recipe is probably quite a bit larger than the one shown in the picture. One with the required weight would probably be large enough to fit in the palm of an adult hand.

Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 5: Soft-Shelled Turtle Stir-Fried with Soy Sauce (醬炒甲魚)

Par-boil a soft-shelled turtle,1 remove its bones, heat up a wok, and stir-fry over high heat. Add soy sauce, water, green onions, Szechuan pepper, reduce the cooking liquid to a sauce, and serve. This is a Hangzhou recipe.

醬炒甲魚
將甲魚煮半熟,去骨,起油鍋炮炒,加醬、水、蔥、椒,收湯成鹵,然後起鍋。此杭州法也。

Notes:
1 Parboiling raw meat ingredients before stir-frying is de rigueur in Chinese cuisine especially if it tends to emit bloody liquids while cooking. Contrast the technique here with the previous recipe.

Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 4: Raw Stir-fried Soft-Shelled Turtle (生炒甲魚)

Remove the bones from a soft-shelled turtle1 and stir-fry it over high heat using sesame oil. Add one cup of autumn sauce and one cup of chicken broth. This recipe most definitely comes from the household of Prefect Wei.

生炒2甲魚
將甲魚去骨,用麻油炮炒之,加秋油一杯、雞汁一杯。此真定魏太守家法也。

Notes:
1 One of the most commonly raised and consumed soft-shell turtles is: Pelodiscus sinensis

2 The term shengchao (生炒), can be roughly translated as “raw stir-frying”, may seems like a strange phrase since most people assume that one stir-fries an ingredient directly from its raw form. However, in Chinese cooking it is quite common to par-cook an ingredient by boiling or deep-frying before stir-frying to speed up and ensure even cooking. The par-cooking also limits the amount of juices that exudes from the stir-fried item, which allows for easier maintenance of high wok temperatures and formation of “wok-hei” flavours. I personally find the flavours of raw stir-fried meat dishes to be a bit rougher than their par-cooked cousins, which tends to be “cleaner”. That said either one can be just as delicious.

Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 3: Fried Eel (炸鰻)

Choose a large eel, remove its head and tail, and chop it into inch-long1 segments. First, fry them in sesame oil until thoroughly cooked and place them on the side. Take the tender tips of fresh chrysanthemum greens2 and stir-fry them until done, using the oil previously used to cook the eel. Next, place the eel on top of the greens, season, and braise them for one incense stick of time.3 The quantity of chrysanthemum greens used should be about half that of the eel.4

炸鰻
擇鰻魚大者,去首尾,寸斷之。先用麻油炸熟,取起;另將鮮蒿菜嫩尖入鍋中,仍用原油炒透,即以鰻魚平鋪菜上,加作料,煨一炷香。蒿菜分量較魚減半。

Notes
1I know, I know, the Chinese cun (寸) is not related to any of the Western inches. But it reads better.

2Tongcai (蒿菜), which is also known as tonghao (茼蒿) or the “edible chrysanthemum” in English, has a unique flavour that can be strangely addictive once you get used to it.

3Basically, the chrysanthemum greens are to be cooked until brown and mushy. There seems to be this dichotomy in Chinese vegetable cooking: it’s either done quickly over high heat, no more than a few minutes, or it’s deliberately cooked until brown and falling apart.

4By the time you finish reading this, you would have realized this dish is not any sort of fried food in the Western sense (and that appetizing header image is a total lie). Actually, it would be more accurate to call this “eel braised with chrysanthemum greens”. The initial frying is most likely there to form a seared layer on the eel and prevent it from disintegrating during the incense stick’s worth of cooking time. The reason for the name would have be a mystery except for diners in the know.