Scaleless Aquatic Creatures (水族無鱗單)

Aquatic creatures that lack scales are significantly fishier in smell than their counterpart. Thus, they require much greater attention in their preparation. Their shortcomings can be overcome through the judicious use of ginger and cinnamon. The following is the list of “Aquatic Creatures without scales”.


1The character 魚 (yu2, “fish”) when used in the Chinese can refer to more than fish but to a wide range of non-fish aquatic creatures, many of which are scaleless. Though there are more than a few of these, the most prominent scale-less non-fish “fish” in Chinese cuisine is arguably the soft-shelled turtle, which is also commonly known as “armoured fish” (甲魚) .


Birds 30: Red Simmered Chicken (赤燉肉雞)

“To make red simmered chicken, first wash and clean out the bird well. For each jin of chicken, use twelve liang of good wine, two qian and five fen of salt, four qian of rock sugar, and finely ground cinnamon together in a clay pot. Braise it over a gentle charcoal fire. If the wine has been simmered till dry but the chicken is still not soft, add a tea cup of boiling water for each jin of chicken.”


For braising or simmering in soy dishes , like the above soy-braised chicken, it’s better to use C. cassia (left) or C. burmanii (middle left) due to their more assertive flavours. The two on the right appear to be varieties of C. verum, or “true cinnamon” (whatever “true” is supposed to mean). The latter are probably better used in other recipes, like desserts and other sweet whatnots. (Credit: FotoosVanRobin)

Think of this as yet another brownish-red coloured soy-braised chicken.

But with cinnamon.


Essential Knowledge 2 : Condiments (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.