Vegetable Dishes 11: Fiddleheads

When preparing fidddleheads1 one must not be frugal, first remove all the fern’s mature branches and leaves, keeping only the straight shoots.2 Rinse them until clean and simmer until soft,3 then braise them in chicken broth. One must use only the shortest and most tender specimens since these are the most plump.

蕨菜
用蕨菜不可愛惜,須盡去其枝葉,單取直根,洗淨煨爛,再用雞肉湯煨。必買矮弱者才肥。

Note:
1I was tempted to translated this as bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum). However the last sentence says that the short tender shoots of the ferm should be used, which makes these fiddleheads (Canadian term for immature fernshoot tips) enough for me.

2Yuan Mei says zhigen 直根 here, which means “straight roots”. Although one might think this refers to the woody rhizomes, I believe that he is actually trying to say geng (莄or 梗) which sounds similar to gen (根) and refers instead to the straight peduncle-like leaf shoots that come out from the center of a fern. To this day, the leave shoots are the parts of the plant that are collected in many parts of Asian and the world as a vegetable, and never the roots or rhizome of the plant.

3This describes the important preboiling process to leach some of the noxious, and possibly carcinogenic substances out of the fern.

Advertisements

Vegetable Dishes 10: Chrysanthemum Greens

Sear the chrysanthemum greens tips in hot oil until they start shrivelling, than add them to chicken broth to boil. When ready to plate, add a hundred stalks of pine mushroom.1

蓬蒿菜
取蒿尖用油灼癟,放雞湯中滾之,起時加松菌百枚。

Note:
1Search for the term songjun 松菌 or “Pine fungus” and two different types of mushrooms show up. First is the matsutake (Tricholoma matsutake), the other is red pine mushroom (Lactarius deliciosus). I believe that it is less likely to be the former, due to its large size and firm texture that is ill suited for a quick cooking described here. Furthurmore, matsutake is commonly referred as songrong 松茸. Still, I admit I may be wrong as such I’m doing a literal translation and let those curious refer to this note.

Vegetable Dishes 8: Frozen Tofu

Freeze tofu for one night, cut into square pieces, and boil them to rid them of their bean-like smell. Add them to a mixture of chicken broth and extracts, ham extract, and pork extract and braise. When serving, remove the chicken and ham and the like, leaving only the shitake and the winter bamboo shoots.

When tofu has been braised for a long time its texture becomes spongy, with its surface becoming honey-combed like frozen tofu.1 For stir-frying use soft tofu, while braising should be done with firmer tofu.2 The household of Officer Jia Zhihua cooks tofu with mushrooms, even during the summer they follow the same recipe for frozen tofu, since it is very good. Do not use strong flavoured hun meat broths3 for this dish since doing so would destroy to delicate light flavours of this dish.

凍豆腐
將豆腐凍一夜,切方塊,滾去豆味,加雞湯汁、火腿汁、肉汁煨之。上桌時,撤去雞、火腿之類,單留香蕈、冬筍。豆腐煨久則鬆,面起蜂窩,如凍腐矣。故炒腐宜嫩,煨者宜老。家致華分司用蘑菇煮豆腐,雖夏月亦照凍腐之法,甚佳。切不可加葷湯,致失清味。

Notes:
1I think Yuan Mei is trying to say normal tofu looking like frozen tofu after prolonged boiling.

2This feels slightly off on a tangent, and may not apply exclusively to frozen tofu. In fact, the rest of the paragraph goes on a tangent.

3Though the term hun 葷 (pronounced hoon) is commonly used to refer to any meat from any animal, this is clearly not the meaning here. When Yuan Mei say’s “葷湯”, or “hun soup”, he is not saying “animal broth” since there is already chicken and ham used to make this dish. Most likely he is referring to the stronger and richer tasting pork, and possibly beef broth, thus I translating it as such. It seems that every “vegetable” dish here is full of animal ingredients. This is still true for most Chinese vegetable dishes where lard and broth (or MSG) are “musts”.

Vegetable Dishes 6: Prefect Wang’s Babao Tofu

Take tender tofu, then slice and cut it until thoroughly pulverized. Add to it pulverized1 shitake, pulverized mushrooms, pulverized pine nuts, pulverized melon seeds, pulverized chicken, and pulverized dried-cured ham. Put everything into concentrated chicken extract, and boil2 the mixture until boiling, then plate and serve.3 One can also used douhua in place of the tofu. Eat this with a spoon and not with chopsticks.

Prefect Meng Ting recounted: “The recipe for this dish was bestowed by the Sagely Forefather4 to Minister Jian An. When the Minister went to acquire the recipe, the Imperial kitchens charged him one thousand taels of silver.”5 The Prefect’s ancestor was Master Lou Cun, who was born to the aformentioned Minister, which is how he got the recipe.

王太守八寶6豆腐
用嫩片切粉碎,加香蕈屑、蘑菇屑、松子仁屑、瓜子仁屑、雞屑、火腿屑,同入濃雞汁中炒滾起鍋。用腐腦亦可。用瓢不用箸。孟亭太守云︰﹁此聖祖賜徐健庵尚書方也。尚書取方時,御膳房費一千兩。﹂太守之祖樓村先生為尚書門生,故得之。

Notes:
1I have translated xue 屑 as pulverized, which is not the best or most accurate translation. However, I feel it’s better than calling it “bits” or “crumbs”, since they have the same meaning of even fineness that one get by cutting in an orderly manner. The term “dice” would give the “orderly cut” meaning, but even if one said “dice finely” one still cannot describe the fineness required, thus we have “pulverized” until something better comes along.

2The actual term used here is chaogun 炒滾, which literally means “stir-fry until boiling”. Basically you boil this thick mixture at high heat and stir continuously, just like you are stir-frying food.

3This feels like a more tedious version of wensidofu 文思豆腐). While Wensi needs everything to be cut into fine threads, this require another set of cuts to “dice” all the ingredients into bits around <1mm cubed.

4The Qing Dynasty Sagely Forefather/Saintly Ancestor 聖祖 is none other than Emperor Kangxi.

5A recipe from the Qing Imperial kitchens, all the way back around 300 years ago!

6Babao 八寶 means “eight-treasure”. While I could translate it as such, I think it cheapens this otherwise culturally rich phrase. If interested, the reader should go figure it out for themselves what it’s all about.

Vegetable Dishes 5: Furong Tofu

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.

芙蓉2豆腐
用腐腦,放開水泡三次,去豆氣,入雞湯中滾,起鍋時加紫菜、蝦肉。

Notes:
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”.

Vegetable Dishes 2: Yang Zhongcheng’s Tofu

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

楊中丞豆腐
用嫩豆腐煮去豆氣,入雞湯,同鰒魚片滾數刻,加糟油、香蕈起鍋。雞汁須濃,魚片要薄。

Notes:
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.

Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 24: Cheng Zegong’s Dried Razor Clams (程澤弓蟶乾)

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.

程澤弓蟶乾
程澤弓商人家製蟶乾,用冷水泡一日,滾水煮兩日,撤湯五次。一寸之乾,發開有二寸,如鮮蟶一般,才入雞湯煨之。揚州人學之,俱不能及。

Notes:
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