Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 1: Eel in Broth (湯鰻)

It is best to avoid cooking eel with its bones removed. The item is naturally fishy in smell, but one should not over manipulate or attempt to control it, lest we risk losing its natural character. Like Reeve’s shad, it should not be cooked without its scales.

To prepare it plain braised, take a river eel, wash away its slime, and chop it into inch long segments. Put them in an earthenware jar and braise with wine and water until soft. Add autumn sauce when it is ready to serve. One can also make a soup with it using newly preserved mustards prepared during winter, along with large amounts of green onion and ginger to rid the eel of its fishiness.

I also remember well that a certain official’s1 household braised it in thickening starch and mountain yam for a good dish. It can also be seasoned and directly place on a plate to steam without any added water. Official Jia Zhihua makes the best steamed eel. Add four units of soy sauce and six units of wine,2 making sure to use just enough broth to cover the body of the eel. The steaming time must be well judged and controlled, since over-steaming would cause the eel’s skin to wrinkle and its flesh to lose flavour.

鰻魚最忌出骨。因此物性本腥重,不可過於擺佈,失其天真,猶鰣魚之不可去鱗也。清煨者,以河鰻一條,洗去滑涎,斬寸為段,入磁罐中,用酒水煨 爛,下秋油起鍋,加冬醃新芥菜作湯,重用蔥、薑之類以殺其腥。常熟顧比部家用縴粉、山藥乾煨,亦妙。或加作料直置盤中蒸之,不用水。家致華分司蒸鰻最佳。 秋油、酒四六兌,務使湯浮於本身。起籠時尤要恰好,遲則皮皺味失。

1Bibu (比部) is an imperial government official. As for which individual he was speaking about it unclear.

2Cui (兌), which translate to “a unit” or “a weight”, is used here as an actual volume or weight to specify a certain ratio of wine and soy sauce to be added. The exact unit is uncertain, thought the lack of specificity may indicate it’s not overly important as long as the fish is covered with the wine and soy sauce mixture.

3Tangman (湯鰻) means “souped eel”, but it’s probably better translated as “eel with/in broth”.


Birds 36: Duck in Disarray (鴨糊塗)

Take a fat duck and boil it in water until eighty percent done. When cool, remove its bones and tear the meat in natural and disorderly pieces, neither ‘squared nor round’. Place the meat back into its cooking liquid than add three qian of salt and half a jin of wine. Also add coarsely crushed mountain yam into the pot to thicken the dish. When the meat is braised tender, add finely chopped ginger, shitake, and chopped green onion. If one wants an especially thick soup, add powdered starch. The dish is also very good if one substitutes the mountain yam with taro instead.


Whitefaced duck (with one confused fulvous duck among them)
A duck that is confused. Or lost. Or perhaps just lonely? (Credit: Derek Keats)

The rather comical name of this dish probably comes from the fact that the duck is intentionally torn into random pieces and the yam is bashed into chunks. This is definitely a dish attributable to the culinary endeavors of a clumsy or confused person. To be honest, the name of dish can also be accurately translated as “Canard a la Clutz”, however I decided to side on the formal since it felt a bit more correct, for whatever the reason.

On a separate note, I’m not too sure about the appeal of this dish, but I suspect the scholars and high officials like to contrast their usually impeccably prepared meals with something that has the air of being haphazardly and coarsely cobbled together in a “peasant-like” way. After all that ultra-rich family in the largely biographical work Dream of the Red Chamber did this too, once eating grilled meats around the fire with their bare hands (which was used to hint at their eventual demise as beggars). So perhaps Yuan Mei and company, ate this dish while pretending they live the simple country peasant life, much in the way Marie Antoinette enjoyed playing make-believe at her fake peasant village?

Maybe the latter can be someone’s Master thesis?

Assorted Animals 4: Mutton shank (羊蹄)

Mutton shanks can be braised similarly to pork knuckles in either the red-cooked or white-cooked forms. In general, that which is cooked in light soy sauce is red-cooked and that cooked with salt is white-cooked. Shanks are good served with mountain yam.


Some German style lamb shank, which looks pretty darn good. (Credit: Benreis)

Does this post look familiar? Well it may since this is a re-cobbled posting of something I posted a while back.

Basically while I was doing some background organization today, I found out that I had accidentally deleted the previous translation of this post a while ago. But since it has been in the trash so long it got permanently wiped by wordpress. Only an echo of it now exists on the Facebook crosspost.

So here it is now semi-resurrected in its crippled form.

That’s too bad cuz I remember having a good time writing the post and talking about over-priced lamb shanks at French restaurants. I think I also mentioned how one can usually get pretty good lamb shank at most Middle Eastern “Shawarma places” in Montreal and Toronto. One such place where I used to eat as a student at Sherbrooke and University in Montreal had quite decent lamb shanks that are fork-tender and sticky with gelatine. Not to mention the manager was always generous with hummus and sometimes rice. And yes, I mentioned that many people are willing to being shanked in the wallet by French restaurateurs for the décor, white linen, and “service”. But then now as before I’m actually quite okay being one of the plebs eating shank off styrofoam plates.

So aside from it being marginally better written, you didn’t miss too much from that previous post.

I really have to be more careful when editing this site in a tired state.

Assorted Livestock 5: Mutton Geng (羊羹)

Take some cooked mutton and cut it into small pieces the size of dice. Braise the meat in chicken broth. Add diced bamboo shoots, diced shitake mushrooms, and diced mountain yam then braise until done.


It’s 羊羹, but it’s not the same 羊羹. (Credit: me)

I love geng. The thick texture, rich umami flavours, and the delicateness of its broth makes geng one of the most comforting things one can have for dinner during a cold autumn evening or frigid winter night. It’s a silk comforter in soup form.

The thick texture of geng is conferred through the addition of a starch, such as potato, corn, or arrowroot starch. These starches give the otherwise texture-less broth a silky body, which stays in the mouth and feels somehow more “weighty”. They make the liquid broth much more substantial, while maintaining the broth’s clarity. In this regard, all thick textured Chinese soups are technically geng since they consists of ingredients in clear broth given substance through added starch. While this recipe does not call for starch explicitly, it may simply be that it’s assumed to be added or more likely that mountain yam (known to be quite mucilaginous) provides the thickening during braising.

Geng is sometimes translated as “stew” or “thick soup”, but I feel both are inadequate since they allude to the stogy opaqueness of dishes thickened by flour and roux. The clear delicateness of a geng’s thickened broth is mostly lost in such translations. Just as very few refer to tofu as “bead curd”, and sushi as “seaweed roll”, geng should not be called anything but “geng”.

That aside, it is interesting to note that mutton geng is now rarely called “yang geng” (羊羹) but rather “yang rou geng” (羊肉羹, lit. sheep meat geng). The addition rou (肉, meat) is required since when someone uses “羊羹” they are usually talking about a Japanese Yōkan, a sugary bean jelly that is largely unrelated to mutton geng except for its culinary ancestry. A summary of how this came about is as follows: A mutton geng made with gelatinous broth becomes an aspic when chilled and was eaten this form in Ancient China. Then Medieval Chinese vegetarians Buddhists who moved from China to Japan replaced the meat with bean pastes and starch. Then the medieval Japanese replaced starch with agar and added sugar into the mix, which turned everything super sweet. And that my friends, was how “羊羹” went from a savoury meaty soup to become a sweet sugary block of firm bean jelly.