Essential Knowledge 5 : Accompaniment (配搭須知)

須知單::配搭須知
諺曰︰「相女配夫」。《記》曰︰「儗人必於其倫。」烹調之法,何以異焉?凡一物烹成,必需輔佐。要使清者配清,濃者配濃,柔者配柔,剛者配剛,方有和合之 妙。其中可葷可素者,蘑菇、鮮筍、冬瓜是也。可葷不可素者,蔥韭、茴香、新蒜是也。可素不可葷者,芹菜、百合、刀豆是也。常見人置蟹粉於燕窩之中,放百合 於雞、豬之肉,毋乃唐堯與蘇峻對坐,不太悖乎?亦有交互見功者,炒葷菜,用素油,炒素菜,用葷油是也。

List of Essential Knowledge::Accompaniment
It is said in a proverb: “For each type of woman there is a matching man.” In Li-Ji (禮記) it is said: “One should compare a person against those most similar to him.” Are the methods of cuisine any different? The success of a dish depends on its ingredients’ mutual support and accompaniment. One should accompany light tasting ingredients with other light tasting ingredients, rich ingredients with other rich ingredients, soft ingredients with the soft, and firm ingredients with the firm, this way they are well matched and in harmony. Note that some ingredients can be used as accompaniment in either meat or vegetarian dishes, such as mushrooms, fresh bamboo shoots, and winter melon. Ingredients the accompany meat dish well but not vegetarian dishes, include green onions, garlic chives, fennel seed, and garlic. Ingredients that accompany vegetarian dishes well but not meat dishes, include celery, lily bulbs, and sword beans. I often see crab roe being added into bird’s nest soup and lily bulbs being cooked with chicken and pork. This is similar to someone sitting two bitter rivals such as Tang Yao [1] and Su Jun [2] facing each other; a completely ridiculous decision. That said, there are ingredients that coordinate well despite being on opposite sides. For instance, one can quite effectively use vegetable oil to stir-fry meats and use animal fats to stir-fry vegetable items.


Random notes:

[1]: Tang yao (唐尧) was one of the mythic emperors sages from even before Xia dynasty (2100-1600 BC) little is know definitively about his life but wisdom is often attributed to him by Chinese scholars and Chinese emperors often claim descent from him.

[2]: Su Jun (蘇峻) was a warlord/general in the Jin Dynasty who fought bloody wars, rebelled and tried to overthrow his imperial goverment (succeeding for a short while), and died a bloody death.

Essential Knowledge 4 : Seasoning (調劑須知)

須知單::調劑須知 調劑之法,相物而施。有酒、水兼用者,有專用酒不用水者,有專用水不用酒者;有鹽、醬並用者,有專用清醬不用鹽者,有用鹽不用醬者;有物太膩,要用油先炙 者;有氣太腥,要用醋先噴者;有取鮮必用冰糖者;有以乾燥為貴者,使其味入於內,煎炒之物是也;有以湯多為貴者,使其味溢於外,清浮之物是也。

List of Essential Knowledge::Seasoning
When seasoning a dish, one must take character of the dishes ingredients into consideration. Some ingredients require both wine and water in seasoning, some use only wine, while others use only water. Some ingredients use both salt with soy sauce, some use only light soy sauce, while others use only salt. Some ingredients are heavy and overly greasy, which require a thorough pan frying with oil [1] before further preparation. Some ingredients smell raw or fishy, which requires them to be sprinkled with vinegar as treatment. Some ingredients need seasoning with sugar to enhance their umami sweetness. Yet other ingredients benefit greatly from some drying. This is especially true in pan-fried or stir-fried dishes since drying allows surrounding seasonings and flavours to better enter the dish’s ingredients [2]. There are also ingredients that show-off their best when cooked in a soup, since this allows their exquisite flavours to meld and contribute to the broth. Examples of this are the swimming and floating aquatic ingredients [3].

Random notes:

[1]: An example of this is DongPo Pork (東坡肉), where you have to first boil the pork belly then pan fry all sides of the chunk, paying special attention to the skin side to fry it to a toasted golden-brown colour. This way you can get a rather fatty pork dish that is, as they say: “Rich but not greasy” (肥而不腻).

[2]: This suggestion may be related to why it’s best to lightly salt your tofu and then pat it dry prior to pan frying (油煎). The process draws some moisture out from the surface of the otherwise soft tofu, which when dried with a towel allows the tofu to take on a delicate slightly crisp pellicule when pan-fried. To make this dish all one needs is good tofu, oil, and salt. Drizzle in good soy sauce and what you get is something so simple and yet so delectable and soul satisfying. Drying the outside of food before pan-frying is almost always done with steak and chops of meat in Western cuisine to promote flavourful Maillard reactions. This is probably also why French chef give apprentices little brushes to clean mushrooms and yell at them when they try to wash them with water instead. So remember: Ne lavez JAMAIS votre champignons, and do not f**k with ze French chefs (or the Chinese ones for that matter).

[3]: This translation is a guess on my part. The direct translation of “清浮之物是也” is “clear floating item/thing are such”, but to me I have a tough time getting what a clear float item actually is. As such, I’m guessing that it’s a poetic way of referring to aquatic ingredients such as fish and squid or maybe kelp and sea-weeds. After all they are things that float in clear aqueous stuff like water and brine. He may also be referring to edibles like turtles, shrimp, and clams, but a note of technicality, they don’t float well and they tend to live in murky unclear waters.

Essential Knowledge 3: Cleaning (洗刷須知)

須知單::洗刷须知
洗刷之法,燕窩去毛,海參去泥,魚翅去沙,鹿筋去臊。肉有筋瓣,剔之則酥;鴨有腎臊,削之則淨;魚膽破,而全盤皆苦;鰻涎存,而滿碗多腥;韭刪葉而白存,菜棄邊而心出。《內則》曰︰「魚去乙,鱉去醜。」此之謂也。諺云︰「若要魚好吃,洗得白筋出。」亦此之謂也。

List of Essential knowledge::Cleaning
The requirements of cleaning and washing specific ingredients are as follows; one must remove all feathers from bird’s nest, remove all mud from within sea cucumbers, remove all sand from shark’s fin, and wash the foul smells from deer tendon. If the meat contain sinews, one needs to remove them such that the meat can remain tender after cooking. Duck kidneys have a foul odour [1], therefore be sure to remove them and rinse the cavity well. Be careful to not break the fish’s gall bladder when gutting and cleaning the fish since doing so will render the entire dish bitter. If one does not wash away the saliva of an eel during its preparation, the resulting dish will have an unpleasant fishy odour. One must remove the old leaves when cleaning garlic chive, leaving only the tender white stems. When preparing leaf vegetables, one should remove the coarser outside leaves and use only the heart. In Nei-Ze (禮記::內則) it is said: “One should remove the orbital bone around a fish’s eyes and remove the orifices [2] of the soft shell turtle.”, admonishing us to diligently clean the ingredients for a dish [3]. The common proverb: “If you want a fish to taste good, you will have to clean it extremely well.” [4], also highlights the truth behind these facts.


Random notes:

[1]: One can also read the text as “Ducks have a foul urine-like kidney odour, make sure to clean it (and it’s insides) well to remove the smell.” So, either the duck’s kidneys smells bad, or the duck has bad kidney smells. Your pick.

[2]: I have no idea what “醜” are. It says here they are “perforated openings of the turtle”. What does that even mean? Nostrils? Cloaca? Mouth? Ears? I’m going saying “orifices” here for the sake of generality.

[3]: The full text is in here. Basically, the whole sentence tells what to do with animals in cleaning and preparations. Did you know you should remove the head of a badger and the intestines of a wolf when preparing them? I didn’t.

[4]: The Chinese text says “To make fish taste good, wash it until the white tendons/nerves come out”. Basically what’s being said here is that you have to wash the fish very well, right? At first I thought this was indeed the case and the white tendon part was simply exaggeration for humour. That is, until I read this. It appears that there ARE long white strands of nerves tissues that you have to remove from each side of the spine near the gills to really rid a fish such as carp of its strong fishy smells.

Essential Knowledge 2 : Condiments (作料須知)

須知單::作料須知
厨者之作料,如妇人之衣服首饰也。虽有天姿,虽善涂抹,而敝衣蓝缕,西子亦难以为容。善烹调者,酱用伏酱,先尝甘否;油用香油,须审生熟;酒用酒酿,应去糟粕;醋用米醋,须求清冽。且酱有清浓之分,油有荤素之别,酒有酸甜之异,醋有陈新之殊,不可丝毫错误。其他葱、椒、姜、 桂、糖、盐,虽用之不多,而俱宜选择上品。苏州店卖秋油,有上、中、下三等。镇江醋颜色虽佳,味不甚酸,失醋之本旨矣。以板浦醋为第一,浦口醋次之。

List of Essential knowledge::Condiments
The condiments used by a cook for seasoning is like the clothing and jewelry on a woman. Even a beautiful woman in ragged and worn clothing would look unattractive. Even the renowned Xi-Shi (西施) [1] cannot look beautiful under such arrangements. When someone well versed in cuisine chooses soy sauce, they will buy only that which was made in heat of summer, and prior to using it will taste it for sweetness. When they flavour dishes with oil, they will use sesame oil [2], checking whether it has been roasted or is still raw. When seasoning with wine [3], they will use wine that has been freshly filtered from the fermenting mash. When seasoning with vinegar, they will use rice vinegar, demanding a product with high clarity. One must also understand that soy sauce has its light and dark varieties, oils may come from animal or plant sources, that wines have sweet and dry varieties, and vinegars may either be young or well aged. One must make these distinctions and not be careless in their choice of seasonings ingredients. Other condiments such as green onion, pepper [4], cinnamon, sugar, and salt are used in lesser quantities. Even then, one should choose only the best that one can get. Note too the premium soy sauce sold in Suzhou, known as “Autumn Sauce” [5] is available in different grades: top, middle and low. Finally, although Zhen-Jiang vinegar has excellent colour, its taste is so mild that it has lost its identity as a vinegar. In this regard, the vinegar of Ban-Pu is the best, with that from Pu-Ko in second place.


Random notes:

[1]: Xi-Shi was a woman from the Spring-Autumn period of Chinese history, renowned for her beauty. Referred often in Chinese culture to indicate an incredibly-beautiful well-pampered woman.

[2]: The term 香油 is in many Chinese spoken languages refers to sesame oil and I’ve decided to use it. But I feel that in this case there is much ambiguity since the term can also be translated to “flavourful oil” or “fragrant oil”. Also in one of the following line Yuan Mei says “oil can come from plant or animal sources” which possibly hints that the term doesn’t refer to that from sesame. You decide.

[3]: Some people don’t think Chinese wine should be called “wine” since it’s brewed from grain and should thus be technically be called “beer”. For reasons of esthetics, I’m calling it wine.

[4]: The word 椒 is ambiguous. Meaning “pepper” in this context it may be used to refer to either black/white pepper, Sichuan pepper, or chili peppers. I’m leaving it as pepper since he may be also referring to all pepper in this regard.

[5]: “Autumn oil/soysauce” according to baidu, this post, and this post, is a rather special type of soy sauce made through limited exposure of the brewing soy sauce mash to full sun in hot weather and only pressing it in late autumn. The process supposedly enhances its taste and gives it great clarity and deep red colour not found in regular soy sauce. One can think of this as “premium soy sauce” but I’m leaving it as “autumn sauce” for now since Yuan Mei explicitly defined it here in this sentence and in the previous one about choosing a soy sauce made in hot weather. Actually this whole topic of soy sauce being written in Chinese as “sauce oil” (醬油), “clear sauce” (清醬), “sauce clear” (醬清), “drawn old/raw” (老/生 抽), “fermented-soy oil” (豉油), “bean oil” (豆油), and now, “Autumn oil” (秋油), probably deserves a discussion in a different post. I’ll do it when I get there.

Essential Knowledge 1 : Basic Nature (先天須知)

須知單::先天須知
凡物各有先天,如人各有資稟。人性下愚,雖孔、孟教之,無益也;物性不良,雖易牙烹之,亦無味也。指其大略︰豬宜皮薄,不可腥臊;雞宜騸嫩,不可老稚;鯽魚以扁身白肚為佳,烏背者,必倔強於盤中;鰻魚以湖溪游泳為貴,江生者,必槎枒其骨節;穀餵之鴨,其膘肥而白色;壅土之筍,其節少而甘鮮;同一火腿也,而好醜判若天淵;同一台鯗也,而美惡分為冰炭。其他雜物,可以類推。大抵一席佳餚,司廚之功居其六,買辦之功居其四。

List of Essential knowledge::Basic Nature
All things have their basic nature, just like each person has their own qualities. If a person is by nature dim-witted, it would be pointless even if they were taught by Confucius or Mencius. Similarly, if the starting ingredients are of low quality, even the extraordinary culinary skills of Yi-ya [1] would produce an mediocre dish. As a brief overview on the qualities of ingredients:

  • Good pork should have thin skin and lack any strong or foul smells [2].
  • Good chicken should be tender and neither too old (tough) or too young (under-developed).
  • Quality carp [3] should have flat bodies with white bellies. Carp with darker backs will prove less edible.
  • Eel taken from the lakes and streams are exquisite, while those who have lived in the large rivers tend to be scrawny and full of spines and bone.
  • Grain-fed ducks should be round and fat such that their flesh is pale.
  • Cultivated bamboo shoots with less segments taste fresher and sweeter [4].

The difference between a quality of a good ham and a bad one is miles apart. As for the xiang [5] of Taizhou, one cannot even begin to measure the difference between a good and bad. The same sort of reasoning applies to other food-stuffs. For the quality of of a banquet’s dishes, 60% of the credit goes to the cook, but 40% goes to the person who selected the ingredients.


Random notes:

[1]: A famous chef of great cooking prowess from the Spring and Autumn period of China’s tumultuous history. Infamous for allegedly cooking his infant son in soup after his king expressed interest in tasting meat from human babies. Go state-sponsored cannibalism!

[2]: Literally fishy/raw meat smells (腥) and foul urine-like smells (臊)

[3]: The Crucian carp

[4]: How does one translate “甘鮮”? Sweet and umami? Sweet and fresh? Sweet and delectable?

[5]: A dried salted fish usually made from Yellow croaker

Essential Knowledge: Introduction (須知單:開篇)

須知單::開篇
學問之道,先知而後行,飲食亦然。

List of Essential Knowledge[1]::Introduction
In the scholarly arts, one must first understand something before putting it to practice. Such is the same with the culinary arts.


Random notes:
[1]: Basically, “A list of essential things that you must know”

The Preface (序)

隨園食單::序
詩人美周公而曰:「籩豆有踐」,惡凡伯而曰「彼疏斯稗」。古之於飲食也,若是重乎!他若《易》 稱鼎烹,《書》稱鹽梅,《鄉黨》、《內則》瑣瑣言之,孟子雖 賤飲食之人,而又言飢渴未能得飲食之正。可見凡事須求一是處,都非易言。《中庸》曰:「人莫不飲食也,鮮能知味也」;《典論》曰:「一世長者知居處,三世 長者知服食」。古人進鬐離肺,皆有法焉,未嘗苟且。子與人歌而善,必使反之,而後和之。聖人於一藝之微,其善取於人也如是。余雅慕此旨,每食於某氏而飽, 必使家廚往彼灶觚,執弟子之禮。四十年來,頗集眾美。有學就者,有十分中得六七者,有僅得二三者,亦有竟失傳者。余都問其方略,集而存之,雖不甚省記,亦 載某家某味,以志景行。自覺好學之心,理宜如是。雖死法不足以限生廚,名手作書亦多有出入,未可專求之於故紙;然能率由舊章,終無大謬,臨時治具,亦易指 名。或曰:「人心不同,各如其面,子能必天下之口皆子口乎?」曰:「執柯以伐柯,其則不遠。吾雖不能強天下之口與吾同嗜,而姑且推己及物。則飲食雖微,而 吾於忠恕之道則已盡矣,吾何憾哉!」若夫《說郛》所載飲食之書三十餘種,眉公、笠翁亦有陳言;曾親試之,皆閼(音惡)於鼻而蜇於口,大半陋儒附會,吾無取 焉。

Suiyuan Shidan::Preface
Poets of the past praised the founding Duke of Zhou dynasty, stating: “His tableware was arranged in an straight and orderly fashion” [1] to describe his methodical and effective governing methods. Ministers criticized the King You of Zhou, stating: “Coarse grains of the past, Delicate grains of the present”, angered by his indulgent and ostentatious lifestyle and lamenting the end of the Dynasty. From these verses, we can clearly see how cuisine was something of great importance even to the Ancients!

Indeed, matters pertaining to the cuisine are well represented in the ancient Classics; Yi-Jing (易經) touched upon cooking techniques, Shang-Shu (尚書) touched upon flavouring food and seasoning, and brief discussions on the matter of cuisine are scattered throughout Xiang-Dang (論語:鄉黨) and Nei-Ze (禮記:内則). Even Mencius, who relegated cuisine as something frivolous nevertheless opined that it is not possible to properly savour ones food and drink in abject hunger and thirst [2]. As can be seen, trying to cover such broad subject as cuisine will not be an easy feat.

In Zhong -Yong (中庸), the Sage said: “Everyone eats and drinks, but those who can understand and discern their flavours are few in between.” In Dian-Lun (典論) it is said: “It takes an Elder [3] a lifetime to appreciate how to lodge and live, but it would take him three to fully appreciate eating”. The Ancients always meticulously prepared food sacrifices [4] for the rites and ceremonies in accordance to the decree, and was never negligent when performing these duties. It was said that when Confucius was touched in hearing someone’s singing, he would ask them to repeat their song and then try to accompany it with his own voice. By this method, the Sage shows how one can improve oneself and acquire the the skills of others. I admire this drive to continually improve oneself and I too seek to emulate it at all times. When ever I have eaten well and was inspired by the meal I have had at someone’s place, I would later send my cook to them to note down the dishes’ recipes and the techniques of their preparation.

It is in this manner, over the last forty years, that I have managed to compile and assemble the recipes of these delectable dishes together into a manual. Some of the techniques and recipes for the recorded dishes are complete in entirety, some are mostly complete, some have been learned and recorded in fragments, while others can only be described superficially or named.  I have sincerely asked each house for their recipes in order to gather them here. Thus, despite of the fact that some of the recipes and techniques are not quite detailed, I nevertheless recorded the dishes’ taste and originating houses as a show of gratitude to their generosity and for the sake of prosperity. Such is the nature of one with an inquisitive mind.

We should note that statically written recipes cannot match the capabilities of a living cook. Even the most capable writer cannot produce an error-less work. As such there is no need to attempt to exert oneself in trying to distill complete bodies of knowledge from old yellowing texts. If someone asks: “Each person has their own preferences, much like they all have different faces, how can you be so sure that their tastes will match your own in any way?” To that, I say: “Like arranging a marriage and chopping wood for an axe handle [6], if things are done in an orderly and practical manner then the results will not be too far off the expected norm. I cannot guarantee that everyone in the world will have the same tastes as I do, but I can still tentatively introduce them to dishes and recipes that I fancy.” Although the matters of food and drink are can be consider somewhat trivial, I have earnestly said all that I wish to said from my heart and for that I regret nothing! [7]

As for the book Shuo-Fu, which listed 30 types of food and drink, as well as the works of Mei Gong and Li Li-Weng, I have personally tested all their recipes. However, this has resulted in nothing but offensive and noxious dishes. I conclude that for the most part, these works are the results of the overextended imaginations of mediocre scholars, and as such I have cited nothing from them


Random notes:

[1]: It’s like saying “He has his ducks in a row” in modern parlance. In the case of the Duke the ducks were likely also literal. Peking ducks in a row! Haha.

[2]: Mencius’ full statement points to the idea that hunger and thirst robs people of their ability to savouring of food and in can damage the integrity of their being. Or something like that.

[3]: 長者 typically means a high ranking dignitary, but to me that makes less sense. So I’m going with “elder”.

[4]: It literally says: “Reserving the sharks fin and the animal lungs“. The line was taken from the Book of Rites 儀禮, which at this part is of a never-ending list of stuff about what to do with people, animals, and alcohol for various veneration rites. It is about as fun to read as that ancestry part of the Old Testament.

[5]: It literally says something like: “To ask in a formal custom to be taken in as a disciple.” This is clear an exaggeration, probably for the sake of humour. We KNOW he likely won’t want to lose his cook for several years in apprenticeship.

[6]: This is in reference to a poem from the “Making axe handles” (詩經‧國風‧豳‧伐柯) Which badly translated goes something like: “How does one make/chop an axe handle? It is not possible without an axe. How does one get a wife? It is not possible without a matchmaker. Oh making axe handles, making axe handles, the produced isn’t too far off the expected. And when I’m wish to be married? All the tableware will be lined up in a row.” (伐柯如何?匪斧不克。取妻如何?匪媒不得。伐柯伐柯,其則不遠。我覯之子?籩豆有踐。). Note the last line of them poem about the tableware (籩豆有踐) circularly refers to the first line of this preface about the Duke of Zhou. So in using this poetic reference to tie-up and conclude the preface, Yuan Mei is showing how smart scholarly, crafty, and smart he is. Yay.

[7]: Non! Rien de rien!