When icefish1 are freshly caught from the water, they are known as “savoriness of ice”. Braise them in chicken broth with dried-cured ham. Alternatively, stir-fry them for a more tender fish. For the dried item, soak them in water until soft. They make a good dish when stir-fried with diluted soy sauce.2
Notes: 1Although the direct translation of the Chinese name is the somewhat ambiguous “silver fish”, the fact that Yuan Mei indicates this fish looks like ice tells use that it is most likely Salanx prognathus or Salanx chinensis, one of the species among a genus of Asian “ice fish”. These fish are quite interesting in that the adults retain much of the features present in a fish’s larval or juvenile stages. They are small, translucent, largely cartilaginous, and look amazingly like whitebait (and sometimes mistaken as such). They are also sometimes known as “noodle fish” since its form and texture resemble the small thick rice noodles. It goes to show that when you think you’ve seen all the wonders of nature, nature throws living rice noodles your way.
2I’m not sure what is jiangshui (醬水), or “watered sauce”. Could it soysauce and water or diluted soysauce, or just liquid extracted from a wet bean sauce? Either way it’ll likely taste like the former, hence the translation.
Use either a live redfin culter or black carp, split the fish in half, and nail it to a board. Use a knife and scrap off the meat, leaving the bones and spine on the board. Chop the meat until fine, mix with lard and bean starch,1 then stir the mixture with one’s hand. Add a little salt water, but do not use light soy sauce. Add green onion and ginger juice, and form the mixture into balls. When this is done, place them in boiling water to cook. Scoop them out when done, and let them rest in a bath of cold water.2 When they are ready to be served, boil them with chicken broth and laver.3
Notes: 1 I’m still wondering if “豆粉” (doufen) is bean starch or bean vermicelli, since both can be used in fish balls. The ambiguity stems from the fact that 粉 (fen) can either be used to mean starch, or one of the many Chinese pasta products made from starch. I’m going with the former since it’s a more common ingredient when making fish balls.
2 This is a very accurate and detailed description of the fish-ball-making process. Definitely one of the better recipes noted-down by Yuan Mei.
3 The laver described here is a type of red algae likely from Genus Porphyra
“Chop the wild duck breast finely, add pork fat and a small amount of starch. Form the mixture into balls,and boil them in chicken broth. It is even better to use the original duck’s broth instead. The household of Kongqin from Daxing makes this exceptionally well.”
Meatballs made from duck breasts cooked in broth. Sounds quite good actually.
“Remove the bones from a raw fat duck. Stuff the duck’s body cavity with a mix consisting of one wine cup of glutinous rice, diced dried-cured ham, diced kohlrabi, shitake, diced bamboo shoots, autumn sauce, wine, warm-pressed sesame oil, and chopped green onions. Place the duck on a plate and ladle chicken broth on it. Steam the duck, separated from the water, and do so until it is thoroughly cooked. This recipe definitely comes from the household of Prefect Wei.”
Not much to say about this other that the fact that this would have been quite an opulent dish back in the day. This would be be served in celebratory meals much like a roast turkey would be served in North American Thanskgiving and Christmas day. Come to think of it, the stuffing described here could be used directly for turkey too.
Now, to fill-up some space here are some translation notes:
: In modern usage, datoucai (大頭菜) can be one of three vegetable items, all produced from the mustards of genus Brassica: Kohlrabi, the stem of the tatsai (Brassica juncea subsp. tatsai), or turnip. Of the three, the first two are stems while the latter is a root. It’s hard to figure out which of these are the vegetable selected so I’m going with the kolrabi since it’s the most common modern usage. Still, tatsai is native to China so it would be a strong contender.
: Xiaomo Mayou (小磨麻油) is a warm pressed white sesame oil using hot water to separate out the oil instead of the typical hot roasting and hydraulic pressing. A more gentle sesame taste, than the typical sesame oil.
“Cut coagulated chicken blood into strips and cook them with chicken broth, soy sauce, vinegar, and starch powder to make a geng. This dish is well suited for the elderly.”
Blood is generally good for the anemic since it is high in bioavailable iron. This makes it probably beneficial to many elderly or anyone of weaker constitution, who are susceptible to the condition. The fact that chicken red blood cells are nucleated also means that you get more nucleic acids than regular blood, which probably doesn’t hurt either if you are already eating it.
“Deer tendon does not soften easily. For the first three days of preparations, one must pound and boil the tendons several times, while continually wringing out any foul-smelling juices from within it. Next, braise the deer tendon in pork broth and then after that braise it in chicken broth. Add autumn sauce, wine, and starch to thicken and reduce the cooking liquid.
The tendon can be served as-is as a white-cooked dish without addition of anything else. They can also be braised together with ham, winter bamboo shoots, and shitake until they take on a reddish hue and then served in a bowl without reduction. To finish the white-cooked dish, sprinkle it with finely ground Szechuan pepper.”
While I buy beef tendon and eat it often enough, I have never had deer tendon. And unless I have to chance to go deer hunting one of these days, I highly doubt I will. Coming at more than $100CAD per kg in dried form, deer tendon is not exactly cheap especially considering that beef tendon is usually much less than a tenth of the price. Truth is, if their texture and flavours are anywhere similar to one other, I’m not sure why I would pay anything close to eat the former.
Regardless, this recipe is still rather informative since it shows one how to reconstitute and process dried deer tendon, at least in the way the people in Qing Dynasty did it. The technique is the same as most dried texture foods used in Chinese cuisine (like sharks fin or sea cucumber) but with more pounding and wringing. Basically, you are trying to purge the ingredients of all its original smells and tastes, fill it with the flavours of a good meat broth, and then use in your recipe.
The two methods of preparing deer tendon described here probably works well enough for fresh pork and beef tendon. That said they still probably cannot beat a plate of mala tendon (麻辣牛筋).
“Take some cooked mutton and cut it into small pieces the size of dice. Braise the meat in chicken broth. Add diced bamboo shoots, diced shitake mushrooms, and diced mountain yam then braise until done.”
I love geng. The thick texture, rich umami flavours, and the delicateness of its broth makes geng one of the most comforting things one can have for dinner during a cold autumn evening or frigid winter night. It’s a silk comforter in soup form.
The thick texture of geng is conferred through the addition of a starch, such as potato, corn, or arrowroot starch. These starches give the otherwise texture-less broth a silky body, which stays in the mouth and feels somehow more “weighty”. They make the liquid broth much more substantial, while maintaining the broth’s clarity. In this regard, all thick textured Chinese soups are technically geng since they consists of ingredients in clear broth given substance through added starch. While this recipe does not call for starch explicitly, it may simply be that it’s assumed to be added or more likely that mountain yam (known to be quite mucilaginous) provides the thickening during braising.
Geng is sometimes translated as “stew” or “thick soup”, but I feel both are inadequate since they allude to the stogy opaqueness of dishes thickened by flour and roux. The clear delicateness of a geng’s thickened broth is mostly lost in such translations. Just as very few refer to tofu as “bead curd”, and sushi as “seaweed roll”, geng should not be called anything but “geng”.
That aside, it is interesting to note that mutton geng is now rarely called “yang geng” (羊羹) but rather “yang rou geng” (羊肉羹, lit. sheep meat geng). The addition rou (肉, meat) is required since when someone uses “羊羹” they are usually talking about a Japanese Yōkan, a sugary bean jelly that is largely unrelated to mutton geng except for its culinary ancestry. A summary of how this came about is as follows: A mutton geng made with gelatinous broth becomes an aspic when chilled and was eaten this form in Ancient China. Then Medieval Chinese vegetarians Buddhists who moved from China to Japan replaced the meat with bean pastes and starch. Then the medieval Japanese replaced starch with agar and added sugar into the mix, which turned everything super sweet. And that my friends, was how “羊羹” went from a savoury meaty soup to become a sweet sugary block of firm bean jelly.