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.

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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.

Fish 7: Fish Balls (魚圓)

Use either a live redfin culter or black carp, split the fish in half, and nail it to a board. Use a knife and scrap off the meat, leaving the bones and spine on the board. Chop the meat until fine, mix with lard and bean starch,1 then stir the mixture with one’s hand. Add a little salt water, but do not use light soy sauce. Add green onion and ginger juice, and form the mixture into balls. When this is done, place them in boiling water to cook. Scoop them out when done, and let them rest in a bath of cold water.2 When they are ready to be served, boil them with chicken broth and laver.3

魚圓
用白魚、青魚活者剖半釘板上,用刀刮下肉,留刺在板上;將肉斬化,用豆粉、豬油拌,將手攪之;放微微鹽水,不用清醬,加蔥、薑汁作團,成後,放滾水中煮熟撩起,冷水養之,臨吃入雞湯、紫菜滾。

Notes:
1 I’m still wondering if “豆粉” (doufen) is bean starch or bean vermicelli, since both can be used in fish balls. The ambiguity stems from the fact that 粉 (fen) can either be used to mean starch, or one of the many Chinese pasta products made from starch. I’m going with the former since it’s a more common ingredient when making fish balls.

2 This is a very accurate and detailed description of the fish-ball-making process. Definitely one of the better recipes noted-down by Yuan Mei.

3 The laver described here is a type of red algae likely from Genus Porphyra

Birds 42: Wild Duck Meatballs (野鴨團)

“Chop the wild duck breast finely, add pork fat and a small amount of starch. Form the mixture into balls,and boil them in chicken broth. It is even better to use the original duck’s broth instead. The household of Kongqin from Daxing makes this exceptionally well.”

野鴨團
細斬野鴨胸前肉,加豬油微縴,調揉成團,入雞湯滾之。或用本鴨湯亦佳。大興孔親家制之甚精。

Meatballs made from duck breasts cooked in broth. Sounds quite good actually.

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.

鹵雞
囫圇雞一隻,肚內塞蔥三十條、茴香二錢,用酒一斤。秋油一小杯半,先滾一枝香,加水一斤、脂油二兩,一齊同煨;待雞熟,取出脂油。水要用熟水,收濃鹵一飯碗才取起;或拆碎,或薄刀片之,仍以原鹵拌食。

soy_sauce_chicken
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 13: Chicken Stir-fried with Pear (梨炒雞)

Take chicken breasts from a young bird and slice them. Heat up three liang of rendered lard and stir-fry the chicken giving it three to four tosses. Add a large spoon of sesame oil, and a small spoon each of powdered starch, fine salt, ginger juice, and Szechuan pepper. Finally, add finely sliced snow pear and small pieces of shitake, then stir-fry everything for three or four tosses before plating in a five inch dish.

梨炒雞
取雛雞胸肉切片,先用豬油三兩熬熟,炒三四次,加麻油一瓢,芡粉、鹽花、薑汁、花椒末各一茶匙,再加雪梨薄片、香蕈小塊,炒三四次起鍋,盛五寸盤。

pyrusnivalis
Unripened snow pear (Credit: Darkotico)

Nothing really to say about this other than a few translation notes:

  1. I don’t think there are any difference in anatomy between chicken breast described using the words xiong (胸) and pu (脯). Still I wonder if there are subtle difference in meaning that are being conveyed through the two terms. For example, the terms for sesame oil, could be mayou (麻油) or xiangyou (香油). The first simply indicates that it’s oil taken from the seeds of the sesame/hemp plant, while the second indicates that the oil is fragrant.
  2. Yuan Mei used the word ci (次) to describe the duration of cooking here, which literally means “times”, as in: “How many times were you forced watch Totoro and Frozen this week?”. When Yuan Mei says “stir-fry three or four times“, I’m taking that he means you stir and toss it that many times while cooking
  3. I translated 茶匙 as a “small spoon” instead of its literal meaning “tea spoon”, since most English readers would assume its the standard teaspoon measure otherwise. This small spoon was most likely a small scoop (勺) used for cleaning teapots in kung fu tea “ceremonies” and are probably around half a standard teaspoon.
  4. The pear used is the snow pear (Pyrus nivalis) with its crisp flesh that is similar to very fresh bamboo shoots. Actually, it could be quite an interesting substitute for bamboo shoots in most stir-fry recipes, assuming you don’t overcook it.
  5. If everything was supposed to be place on a five inch dish then it must have been quite a mound of chicken.

Birds 11: Chicken Meatballs (雞圓)

This recipe consists of minced chicken breast meat formed into balls as large as wine cups. They are savoury and tender like shrimp balls. The household of Yangzhou Magistrate Zangba prepares this dish extremely well. The meat is kneaded into balls with pork fat, radish, and starch. They must not be stuffed with fillings.

羽族單::雞圓
斬雞脯子肉為圓,如酒杯大,鮮嫩如蝦圓。揚州臧八太爺家制之最精。法用豬油、蘿蔔、芡粉揉成,不可放餡。

e381a8e3828ae59ba3e5ad90
Chicken meatballs. In this case, cooked in soup. (Credit: masa from Japan)

This is basically chicken breast prepared using a standard technique for making shrimp cakes. What this should mean is that they were most likely fried and eaten straight like shrimp balls and cakes.

Still it’s also possible that after frying they were cooked in soup like lions-head meatballs (獅子頭). However with chicken breast meat this is probably not a good idea since it makes the meat floury and dry, like the way my brother-in-law cooks them.