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 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.
The merchant house of Cheng Zegong produces dried razor clam1, preparing them by soaking them in cold water for a day, boiling for two days, and squeezing out its liquids five times. A one inch long dried item, once rehydrated will be two inches long with the appearance a fresh razor clam, which can then be braised in chicken broth.2 People from Yangzhou try to learn the method of its preparation, but they cannot make it better than Cheng’s household.
1Cheng (蟶) refers to the the razor clams of the genus Solenidae.
2This feels like the preparation of a texture food in its similarity to how deer tendon is prepared, with all the soaking, boiling, squeezing, and flavouring with chicken broth
Slice some pork belly, then simmer them until soft with the right seasonings. Wash the clam and stir-fry with sesame oil, then add the pork slice and its juices to cook. One should add more autumn sauce when cooking so there is sufficient flavour. Tofu can also be added if desired.
Giant clams are produced in Yangzhou. Due to concerns over spoiling, they usually are sold shucked and preserved in lard such that they can endure longer transport.1 The sun-dried item is also very good. When cooked in chicken broth, they are much better than dried razor clams. Giant clams can also be pounded until tender and flat as a pancake, then pan-fried and eaten like a shrimp cake. These are good with seasonings added.
1An interesting method of preservation, similar to ways of making French rillette or English potted meats.
2Che’ao (蛼螯) is likely the giant clams of Genus Tridacna or Hippopus. On top of eaten as a food, the thick shells of these clams are also carved and polished into beads for jewelery and treated as a type of gemstone.
Cockles can be prepared in three ways. Splash with boiling water and when they are half done1 and remove one shell and marinade them in wine and autumn sauce until they are “drunk”. Or they can be cooked in chicken broth by remove one shell and putting them into the broth. Finally, they can also be shucked and made into geng. It is best to cook them quickly since overcooking will leave them dry and tough. Cockles are produced in Fenghua Prefecture and should be preferred over giant clams and venus clams.
1There is no mention of any heat applied to cook the cockles, but what’s likely happening here is that the cockles are being cooked over a low flame with a few splashes of hot water, a technique known as “men” (悶).
2The character gan (蚶) is used to describe shellfish of the family Arca, which encompasses a whole bunch of clam-like shellfish with ridged shells commonly known as cockles. Some of them, like the popular blood cockle have so much to haemoglobin in their blood that their raw meat is bright red. The etymology of the word is also very interesting. On the left of the character is the radical “chong” (虫), which in modern Chinese would translate as “worm/insect” but the more archaic usage would more accurately translated as modern English term “critter”. The right is “gan” (甘) which mean sweet and pleasant tasting. As such, the character is saying that this is a delicious tasting critter, which it is.
3One usually use the word gai (蓋) for lids, like a pot lid. But in this case, Yuan Mei is referring to the shell of the cockles
Shell a crab and and make a geng1 from the meat, using its juices for braising. Do not add and chicken extracts since it is best to cook it on its own. I’ve seen vulgar cook adding duck tongue, sharks fin, or sea cucumber, which not only robs the crab of its flavours but add an irritating fishiness to the dish. A complete abomination!
1: A geng 羹 is a class of rich Chinese soups thickened with starch.
Shrimp ball are made in the same way as fish balls. They can be either braised in chicken broth or stir-fried dry. When pounding the shrimp to a paste, be sure to not pound it too fine otherwise its original flavours and textures would be lost. This is the same with fish balls.1 The shrimp can also be peeled in whole then mixed with laver, which is excellent.2
1 This is somewhat surprising since modern fishballs tends to be rather homogenous and fine in texture.
2 It’s not clear exactly how this is prepared. However, whole shrimp that has been semi-butterflied and fried until it just curls into a round form is also know as “shrimp balls” (蝦球), so it’s likely junh that. Mixing in chopped laver with shrimp prepared thus, either before or after frying, will undoubtedly result in excellent dishes.