Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 2: Red-Cooked Eel (紅煨鰻)

Braise the eel in wine and water until soft, adding sweet sauce instead of the usual autumn sauce.1 Reduce the broth, add fennel seeds and star anise, then plate it. There are three common errors when cooking this eel dish. First, the skin had become marked by wrinkles and folds, thus rendering it no longer tender. Second, its flesh falls apart in one’s bowl, making it impossible to pick up with chopsticks. Finally, when salted fermented beans2 are added too early when cooking, the eel’s flesh will no longer be tender. The household of Officer Zhu from Yangzhou is most skilled in making this dish. In general, red-cooked eel is best when its cooking juices are reduced, which allows the flavours to be fully absorbed into the flesh of the eel.


1Does Tianjiang (甜醬) refer to Tianmian Jiang (甜麵醬), or more like a sweeten soy sauce similar to Taiwanese thickened soy sauce (醬油膏)? While either could work taste-wise in the dish, I’m more inclined towards the latter since this would make the dish less muddy, which may be what Yuan Mei prefers.

2Yanchi (鹽豉) is likely the same as the fermented black bean (豆豉). It is referenced in the Han Dynasty texts.

*Header image (not the best quality) shows the Changji red braised eel (昌吉紅燒炖鰻) restaurant in Taipei. The eel is of course excellent, but the rest of the food is also very good, highly recommended if you’re there!


Birds 20: Braised Chicken (鹵雞)

Take a entire[1] chicken and stuff its body cavity with thirty stalks of green onion and two qian of fennel seeds. Use one jin of wine and half a small cup of autumn sauce and boil the chicken for one incense stick’s time. Next add one jin of water and two liang of rendered lard and braise everything together.[2] When the chicken is done, skim the fat off the cooking liquid. Be sure to use boiled water when braising. When the cooking liquid has been reduced down to a rice bowl full of thickened glaze, remove the chicken from the pot. The chicken can be served pulled apart by hand or sliced thinly with a knife and then dressed with the glaze.


Soy braised chicken (Credit: Dennis Wong)

Again, nothing to say about this recipe than a few points. I think from now on I’m going to say things in this footnote format if I don’t have anything more substantial to say.

  1. I’ve translated 囫圇 (hulun) as “entire”, as in no guts and feathers but with everything else remaining. The term also has this idea of coarseness from a whole unprocessed item.
  2. A hour to cook chicken is already pretty long. And why add more water? Where chicken that tough in Yuan Mei’s day? Either that or it may be a continuation of Yuan Mei liking everything cooked to falling apart.

Birds 5: Browned Chicken (焦雞)

Wash a fat hen clean and boil it whole in a pot. Add two liang of lard and four  fennel seeds to the chicken and cook until it is around eighty percent done. Next, take out the chicken and sear it in sesame oil until it is golden brown then put it back into the liquid to cook. Simmer until the cooking liquid has thickened, then add autumn sauce, wine, a whole stalk of green onion, and simmer to reduce the liquid to a glaze. When one is about to serve the chicken, chop it into slices, and ladle the glaze on the chicken. One can also toss the chicken in the glaze or serve it on the side as a dip. This is a recipe from the abode of Yang Zhongcheng, but the one from Brother Fangfu’s abode is also good.


Yuan Mei’s jiao chicken probably looks quite a bit like the modern soy sauce chicken.  (Credit: Dennis Wong)

Jiaoji chicken (焦) means literally “burnt”, “blackened”, or “charred” chicken. I think calling it “browned chicken” captures a good bit of Chinese name’s meaning and the technique used to make this dish. I considered calling it “blackened chicken”, though that name has already been claimed by another dish.

Browning the chicken before braising is pretty common in making soy sauce chicken with the practice being quite standard in making soy sauce duck. Yuan Mei’s method does the browning when the chicken is almost done, which is less common. It probably changes the texture of the skin in some way, though in what way, I’m not sure. A more bubbly skin to soak up more sauce perhaps?

Still, looking at the ingredients and the basic cooking technique, this feels pretty much like the same soy sauce chicken you can get in most Cantonese siu mei eateries. Four fennel seeds as spice seems a bit too little, but then again maybe Yuan Mei and company were not a huge fan of its flavour?

Pork 10: White-Braised Pork (白煨肉)


This Okinawan braised pork hock dish (てびち汁) is actually kinda similar to the white-braised pork described in this section. (Credit: Jnn)

Pork(List of the Ceremonial Animal)::White-braised pork
Boil a jin of pork for in water until it is almost done. Strain out the liquid, then braise the pork in half a jin of wine and two qian of salt for 2 hours. After this, pour back half of the liquid used for boiling the pork and reduce it to the desired richness. To finish, add green onions, Szechuan pepper, wood ears, garlic chives or similar ingredients. When braising meat, the heat must be initially fierce but gentle afterwards. [1]

Another method is to first take a jin of pork, one qian of sugar, half a jin of wine, one jin of water, and a half tea-cup of light soy sauce. Boil the meat first in the wine for ten to twenty gun [2] then add the rest of the ingredients along with one qian of fennel seeds. Continue simmering the meat until soft while reducing the cooking liquid to the desire richness. This preparation is also very good.

Random notes:
[1]: Unlike its better-known relative Red-cooked/braised pork, one rarely sees white-braised pork in modern Chinese cuisine. In fact, a quick google search reveals that most references to the term (白煨肉) is associated with the Suiyuan Shidan. The closest example to white-braised pork that I can think of is the classical preparation of Taiwanese pork hock noodles(猪脚麵線) that uses little to no soy-sauce. The cuilinary trend, sadly, seems to be towards the use of more and more soy-sauce to the point that now the noodles have now split into “clear-cooked” (清燉) and “red-cooked” variants (紅燒), where the meat is cooked with salt or soy-sauce, respectively. Maybe this is just the more “global” shift in Chinese cooking, where people just tend to go more towards the darker soy-sauced/richly flavour items more than the simply flavoured stuff. For instance, the term lu (滷) was used exclusively to describe brine, but is now so commonly used in describing soy-sauce based braising that its original meaning had largely changed. Use the terms lu shui (滷水), lu wei (滷味), and indeed, lu, is now all about the soy-based stewing liquid, items cooked in said liquid, and the cooking technique using the liquid, respectively.

[2]: Here we go with this gun (滾) business again. In Pork 1: Pig’s Head, I’ve sorta decided it’s 3 seconds/滾 which makes 10-20 gun around 30-60 seconds. This step sounds like boiling off the alcohol.

Essential Knowledge 5 : Accompaniment (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.