Vegetable Dishes 30: Two Ways of Preparing Eggplant

The household of instructor Wu Xiaoyen peels the skin off the eggplants1, soaks them in boiling water to rid them of their bitter taste, then sears them in rendered lard. When searing, one must to wait for the water used for soaking the eggplants to cook dry, then dry braise them in sweet soy sauce and water. This is exceptionally good. The household of Magistrate Liuba cuts their eggplant into small pieces without peeling the skin, fries them until slightly browned, and then stir-fry with autumn sauce in hot oil for a great dish.

I have learned these two recipes, yet I have yet to be able have success with them. Still, if one steams them until soft, then slice them open, and dress them with sesame oil and vinegar, one get a dish well suited for summer eating. They can also be braised until dry to make into jerky and served as-is on a dish.

茄二法
吳小谷廣文家,將整茄子削皮,滾水泡去苦汁,豬油炙之。炙時須待泡水乾後,用甜醬水乾煨,甚佳。盧八太爺家,切茄作小塊,不去皮,入油灼微黃,加秋油炮炒,亦佳。是二法者,俱學之而未盡其妙,惟蒸爛劃開,用麻油、米醋拌,則夏間亦頗可食。或煨乾作脯,置盤中。

Note:
1Peeled eggplant makes for a shockingly sensuous dish. Highly recommended.

Vegetable Dishes 25: Tatsoi

Stir-fried taisoi1 hearts are best prepared such that they are still crisp and dry without any broth. Specimens harvested from under a blanket of snow are especially tender. The household of prefect Wang Mengting are the most refined. Do not cook it with anything. It should be cooked in rendered lard.2

瓢兒菜
炒瓢菜心,以乾鮮無湯為貴。雪壓後更軟。王孟亭太守家制之最精。不加別物,宜用葷油。

Notes:
1There are three mustard greens in Chinese known as piao’ercai (瓢兒菜), arugula, small bokchoy, and finally, tatsoi. Usually, it would have been impossible to to know which one of the three Yuan Mei was referring to, but thankfully he left us a clue in saying that the ones from under snow are most tender. Out of the three, only tatsoi (Brassica narinosa) is known to be cold resistant, and can be harvested even after frost from under fallen snow.

2“Hoon” oil (葷油), or animal fat, almost always refers to lard in Chinese cuisine.

Vegetable Dishes 9: Shrimp-sauce Tofu

Use an aged shrimp-sauce to substitute for the light soy-sauce when stir-frying tofu. Both sides of the tofu should be pan-fried until golden brown. The wok must be hot. Cook with rendered lard, green onions, and Szechuan pepper.

蝦油1豆腐
取陳蝦油代清醬炒豆腐。須兩面煎黃。油鍋要熱,用豬油、蔥、椒。

1Xiayou 蝦油 (translated literally as “shrimp oil”), or shrimp-sauce, is a soy sauce that has been boiled and aged with shrimp, and probably much more umami and rich in taste than plain soy sauce. See the later section on Shrimp-sauce. In some Chinese communities, xiayou is sometimes used to describe an oil flavoured by frying shrimp heads and shells in vegetable oil. However, this is not the case here since Yuan Mei defines it in a later chapter and indicates it here that it substitutes regular light soy-sauce.

Vegetable Dishes 1: Jiang Shilang’s Tofu (蔣侍郎豆腐)

Remove the skin on both sides of each piece of tofu. Cut each piece into sixteen slices and sun dry them slightly. Sear the tofu in hot rendered lard but only add them when whiffs of smoke appear over the lard. Sprinkle a large pinch of salt on the tofu, flip them, then add a tea cup full of good sweet wine and one hundred and twenty large dried shrimp. If one does not have large dried shrimp, use three hundred small dried shrimp instead.1 The dried shrimp must be first boiled and then soaked for two hours.

Next add a small cup of autumn sauce, let the tofu boil,2 then add a large pinch of sugar, and let it keep boiling. Finally, add one hundred and twenty segments of thin green onions,3 each half an inch long, and plate at a leisurely pace.

蔣侍郎豆腐
豆腐兩面去皮,每塊切成十六片,晾乾,用豬油熱灼,清煙起才下豆腐,略灑鹽花一撮,翻身後,用好甜酒一茶杯,大蝦米一百二十個;如無大蝦米,用小蝦米三百個;先將蝦米滾泡一個時辰,秋油一小杯,再滾一回,加糖一撮,再滾一回,用細蔥半寸許長,一百二十段,緩緩起鍋。

Notes:
1By going with the amount of dried shrimp, this is either a rather large dish of tofu or this dish uses as much dried shrimp as tofu.

2Terms like gunyihui (滾一回) mean something like “simmer/boil for one round”. I’ve opted to translate this as something like “let it boil”.

3This recipe is quite detailed, even prescribing the number of pieces of green onion to add to the dish. Weird thing is despite the clear instructions in this recipe, modern chefs that “recreate” the dish often do something completely different than what is presented in the recipe. The only person I could find that attempts an actual recreation is this lady who also read the Suiyuan Shidan.

Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 23: Giant Clam (蛼螯)

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.

蛼螯2
先將五花肉切片,用作料悶爛。將蛼螯洗淨麻油炒,仍將肉片連鹵烹之。秋油要重些,方得有味。加豆腐亦可。蛼螯從揚州來,慮壞,則取殼中肉,置豬油中,可以遠行。有曬為乾者亦佳。入雞湯烹之,味在蟶乾之上。捶爛蛼螯作餅,如蝦餅樣煎吃,加作料亦佳。

Notes:
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.

Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 7: Soft-Shelled Turtle with Grey Salt (青鹽甲魚)

Chop a soft-shelled turtle into four pieces and stir-fry thoroughly in a hot wok. For every jin of the turtle, braise it with four liang of wine, three qian of star anise, and one and a half qian of salt until half done. Add two liang of rendered lard and chop the turtle into small dice before braising, adding garlic and bamboo shoot tips. Before plating add green onion and Szechuan pepper. One can add autumn sauce before plating, but never add salt. This is a recipe from the household of Tang Jinghan of Suzhou. Large soft-shelled turtle are tough and small ones smell fishy. Its best to buy one that is medium in size.

青鹽甲魚
斬四塊,起油鍋炮透。每甲魚一斤,用酒四兩、大茴香三錢、鹽一錢半,煨至半好,下脂油二兩,切小骰塊再煨,加蒜頭、筍尖,起時用蔥、椒,或用秋油,則不用鹽。此蘇州唐靜涵家法。甲魚大則老,小則腥,須買其中樣者。

*  This can be also called Ragoût de Tortue au sel de Guérande. Sounds more “refined”, for whatever reason.

Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 6: Bone-in Soft-Shelled Turtle (帶骨甲魚)

Take a soft-shelled turtle weighing half a jin1 and chop it into four pieces. Add three liang of rendered lard to a heated wok and pan-fry the turtle so that the pieces are golden brown on both sides. Braise with water, autumn sauce, and wine, first with a hot flame then a gentle flame. Add garlic when the turtle is eighty percent done. Before plating add green onion, ginger, and sugar. When choosing soft-shelled turtles for this dish prefer smaller ones to larger ones. Only those small turtles colloquially known as “boy’s foot turtle” are sufficiently tender.

帶骨甲魚
要一隻半斤重者,斬四塊,加脂油三兩,起油鍋煎兩面黃,加水、秋油、酒煨;先武火,後文火,至八分熟加蒜,起鍋用蔥、薑、糖。甲魚宜小不宜大。俗號﹁童子腳魚﹂才嫩。

Note:
1 Around 300g in Yuan Mei’s time, or a bit more than half a pound

* The actual size of the turtle used in this recipe is probably quite a bit larger than the one shown in the picture. One with the required weight would probably be large enough to fit in the palm of an adult hand.