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”.

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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.

Fish 11: Icefish (銀魚)

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

銀魚
銀魚起水時,名冰鮮。加雞湯、火腿湯煨之。或炒食甚嫩。乾者泡軟,用醬水炒亦妙。

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.

Birds 35: Steamed Duck (蒸鴨)

“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,[1] shitake, diced bamboo shoots, autumn sauce, wine, warm-pressed sesame oil,[2] 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.”

蒸鴨

生肥鴨去骨,內用糯米一酒杯,火腿丁、大頭菜丁、香蕈、筍丁、秋油、酒、小磨麻油、蔥花,俱灌鴨肚內,外用雞湯放盤中,隔水蒸透。此真定魏太守家法也。

jisaku_kaiseki_ryori_01
There is supposedly steamed duck in this picture. I think it’s those two slices of pink flesh on the boat-shaped glass dish in the center. (Credit: Chris)

 

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:

Translation notes:
[1]: 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.

[2]: 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.

Birds 32: Squab (鴿子)

“Squab braised with good dry-cured ham is excellent. One can also prepare it without the ham.”

鴿子
鴿子加好火腿同煨,甚佳。不用火腿亦可。

hk_aberdeen_e69db1e58b9de98193_tung_sing_road_e5be97e8a898e78792e88798e9a3afe5ba97_tak_kee_rice_restaurant_nov-2012_e4b9b3e9b4bfe88289_squab
Tasty soy braised squab, prepared in a manner similar to this recipe. (Credit: Tsengawinlim)

Basically one can use any of the birds in genus Columba, which includes all species of doves and pigeons. The word squab is used to refer to pigeons bred for food or used for food, though it typically also implies a younger and tenderer bird.

Birds 4: Chicken “Congee” (雞粥)

Take a fat hen, skin and cut off both breasts, then use the knife and scrape the breast meat into a fine paste. One can also use a planing knife for this task. Only scrape and do not chop the meat since the desired fine texture cannot be achieved by chopping. Use the rest of the chicken to make the broth for cooking the scraped meat. When one is ready to serve the dish, pound together a mixture of finely ground rice, minced dried-cured ham, pine nuts, and add the pounded mixture to the cooking soup. Finish by adding green onions, ginger, and a drizzle of chicken fat.

The soup can be either skimmed of froth from its surface or left as is if preferred. It is well suited for serving to the elderly. In general, if the breast meat was chopped for preparation of this soup, then the froth it should be skimmed. However, if the meat was scraped then no skimming is required.

羽族單::雞粥
肥母雞一隻,用刀將兩脯肉去皮細刮,或用刨刀亦可;只可刮刨,不可斬,斬之便不膩矣。再用餘雞熬湯下之。吃時加細米粉、火腿屑、松子肉,共敲碎放湯內。起鍋時放蔥、薑,澆雞油,或去渣,或存渣俱可。宜於老人。大概斬碎者去渣,刮刨者不去渣。

The texture of the meat in the soup is probably similar to thinned-down haleem. Come to think of it, haleem thinned with broth would make a great soup. (Credit: Miansari66).

The Chinese name of this dish reads ji-zhou (雞粥), where ji (雞) translates to chicken and zhou (粥) translate to congee. Thus the dish should be chicken congee right? Well, for me at least, not quite.

When one reads the recipe, one sees that this dish is more a well textured chicken soup or chicken purée than rice congee with chicken in it. In fact the Chinese name is most likely referring to the texture of the chicken in the soup being like the grains of rice in a congee; clearly visible but soft and mostly structureless in the mouth. Translating the dish as “Chicken congee” or “Chicken zhou” would not only distort this texture reference, but make one think this is some sort of chicken rice congee. Thus I’ve conceded using the descriptive name and call it “Scraped Chicken Soup”.

To be honest it’s a pretty terrible translation but I like it better than any other translations I can think of. Maybe someone out there in the “internets” has a better suggestion.

As for the technique, scraping is a commonly used in preparing fish balls, dumpling fillings, and other foods requiring fine textured meat. It is also used in making the decadent jin-tang (吊湯), an intensely flavoured broth made by clarifying a chicken broth using the scraped breast meat of another chicken. If well made, the broth is clear and almost colourless but shocks with the intensity of its chicken flavour.

The only other thing to note here is the term “細米粉” (xi mifen), which literally translates to “fine rice flour”. In modern parlance, “mifen” (米粉) usually refers to rice noodles, but when we look at the usage of the same term in other places in the Suiyuan shidan, it seems that Yuan Mei was talking about ground rice and not rice noodles. Thus I’m calling it such even though I not sure why one would add ground rice to this dish.

Assorted Livestock 12: Two Ways of Preparing Deer Tendon (鹿筋二法)

“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.”

雜牲單::鹿筋二法
鹿筋難爛。須三日前,先捶煮之,絞出臊水數遍,加肉汁湯煨之,再用雞汁湯煨;加秋油、酒,芡收湯;不攙他物,便成白色,用盤盛之。如兼用火腿、冬筍、香蕈同煨,便成紅色,不收湯,以碗盛之。白色者加花椒細末。

A simple and tasty plate of wonton noodles with braised beef tendons. (Credit: Shizao)

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).