Fish 10: Fish Embraced with Vinegar (醋摟魚)

Chop a live black crap into large pieces, sear the pieces in oil, then add soy sauce, vinegar, and spray with wine. The more broth in the dish the better. When it is done immediately remove everything from the pan. This dish is most famously prepared by Hangzhou West Lake’s Wuliuju.1 But ever since they started using an ill-smelling soy sauce, the fish served there is now inedible. What a pity!

The fame of Songsao Fish Geng2 is not warranted at all. The discussions in “Menglianglu” should also not be believed.3 The chosen fish must not be big, since the flavours will not penetrate into a big fish. The chosen fish must also not be small, since small fish tend to have more spiny bones.

醋摟魚
用活青魚切大塊,油灼之,加醬、醋、酒噴之,湯多為妙。俟熟即速起鍋。此物杭州西湖上五柳居最有名。而今則醬臭而魚敗矣。甚矣!宋嫂魚羹,徒存虛名。︽夢粱錄︾不足信也。魚不可大,大則味不入;不可小,小則刺多。

Notes:
1Wuliuju translates to the “house of five willows”
2The famed fish geng by Madamn Song, consists of fish in small pieces and cooked in a thick and rich soup punctuated by vinegar. I guess Yuan Mei did not think much of it.
3Menglianglu (夢粱錄), or “Records on Dreams of Millet” was written in Song Dynasty by Wu Zimu (吳自牧). As for what contents in the work were considered untrustworthy by Yuan Mei, I am not sure.

Fish 9: Silver Carp with Tofu (鰱魚豆腐)

Pan-fry a large silver carp until done, add tofu, spray on soy sauce, water, green onion, wine, and then let everything come to a boil. When the colour of the soup has turn slightly red in hue1, it is ready to be served. The flavours from the fish’s head is incredibly good. This is a Hangzhou dish. The amount of soy sauce to be used here is proportional to the size of the fish

鰱魚豆腐
用大鰱魚煎熟,加豆腐,噴醬、水、蔥、酒滾之,俟湯色半紅起鍋,其頭味尤美。此杭州菜也。用醬多少,須相魚而行。

Notes:
1 I’m not sure what turns this soup slightly red/pink. Perhaps the heme from the fish’s flesh leaks out during the cooking process and somehow does not get denatured by the cooking heat?

Fish 3: Redfin Culter

The flesh of the redfin culter1 is the finest texture of all fish. It’s best when steamed with shad that has been cured in rice lees. It’s also very good lightly marinated during winter for two day in wine and its lees.

I once got a live culter just caught from the Yangzi and steamed it with wine, it was delicious beyond words.2 Culter goes best with wine lees but in should not be over-marinating since doing so turns its meat dry and hard.

白魚
白魚肉最細。用糟鰣魚同蒸之,最佳。或冬日微醃,加酒釀糟二日,亦佳。余在江中得網起活者,用酒蒸食,美不可言。糟之最佳,不可太久,久則肉木矣。

1 Baiyu (白魚) literally translates as “White fish”, which is a rather unfortunate and ambiguous name, given that the fish that are called such in Chinese are almost too numerous to count. But looking at the Herbal Medicine Classics of China, “white fish” is likely from “鲌” (《滇南本草》 from 140 years earlier than Compendium of Materia Medic, which was eventually also known as “鱎魚”《綱目》) all of them referring to scientific names used to indicate the Redfin culter. It certainly doesn’t help that this culter is known by numerous latin names, among them Erythroculter ilishaeformis and Culter alburnus. However, according to the Encyclopedia of Life, its accepted scientific name is actually Chanodichthys erythropterus.

2 Yuan Mei’s actual words on the flavours of the fish were meibukeyan (美不可言), or “so beautiful I could not describe/express it”, which is a lot to say considering someone with his skill in words.

Fish 2: Crucian carp

One needs a certain level of expertise to buy crucian carp.1 Choose individuals that are flatter and have whiter skin since they have tender and flaky flesh that falls off the bones when cooked. Rounder and darker skin crucian carp have thick and hard bones. The innards2 of the fish must not be consumed.

It is best to prepare it steamed in the manner of the White Amur Bream. It is also good eaten pan-fried. The flesh can also be removed to make geng. The people of Tongzhou3 can braise crucian carp such that its bones and its tail becomes biscuit tender, a dish which they call “Suyu” that is well suited to be eaten by a young child.4 Still it cannot compare to the steamed version which presents the fish’s true flavour.5

The carp from the Dragon pond of Liuhe6 are large and tender, which is rather incredible. When steaming, used wine, not water, and use a small amount of sugar to enhance its delicate savoury flavour. Adjust the quantity of autumn sauce and wine used according to the size of the fish.

鯽魚
鯽魚先要善買。擇其扁身而帶白色者,其肉嫩而鬆;熟後一提,肉即卸骨而下。黑脊渾身者,倔強磋枒,魚中之喇子也,斷不可食。照邊魚蒸法最佳。其次煎吃亦妙。拆肉下可以作羹。通州人能煨之,骨尾俱酥,號﹁酥魚﹂,利小兒食。然總不如蒸食之得真味也。六合龍池出者,愈大愈嫩,亦奇。蒸時用酒不用水,稍稍用糖以起其鮮。以魚之小大,酌量秋油、酒之多寡。

Notes:

1 Crucian carp (Carassius auratus) is exactly the same species as the modern goldfish but they had not been bred for prettiness. They are found wild in the waterways of China.

2 This is my translation of the term “lazi” (喇子), but I’m actually not sure what it actually is. My guess is maybe Yuan Mei is talking about the saliva, gills, or the contents of the fish’s gut. Or its innards perhaps?

3 Tongzhou (通州) is the name of several historical provinces and districts in China. Considering the recipe’s described techniques, it is likely Tongzhou_District,_Nantong

4 Looking at this description of “Suyu”, it could actually be an early variant of congshao jiyu (蔥燒鯽魚), whose preparation involves curing the fish with vinegar and braising the fish until its the bones and fins are tender enough to eat.

5 Saying Suyu can’t compare to the steamed natural version is quite like Yuan Mei, who previously complained in an earlier section (River Delicacies 1: Two Ways of Preparing Grenadier Anchovy) that fish prepared to the biscuit tender manner is terrible.

6 Dragon Pond in Liuhe District (六合區, 龍池) is an actual pond, still existent in the district of Liuhe. (coordinates: 32.3249065,118.8163633) Whether the fish there is still good is highly doubt-able.

Fish 1: White Amur Bream

Take a live bream1, add wine and autumn sauce, then steam. Cook until the flesh is translucent like jade. If it is cooked to an opaque white, the texture of the flesh would have become tough and its flavour changed for the worse. While steaming, cover everything well with a lid and do not let any condensing water drip onto the fish. When it is ready to be served, add shitake and bamboo shoot tips.

Bream can also be prepared by pan-frying with wine. For this, use only wine and not water. This is known as ‘Imitation Shad’.2

邊魚
邊魚活者,加酒、秋油蒸之。玉色為度。一作呆白色,則肉老而味變矣。並須蓋好,不可受鍋蓋上之水氣。臨起加香蕈、筍尖。或用酒煎亦佳。用酒不用水,號「假鰣魚」。

Notes:
1 Bian yu (Parabramis pekinensis) is more often written as “鳊魚” with only the Cantonese writing it in Yuan Mei’s form as “邊魚”. Both have the same pronunciation and appear to be the same fish from visual identification. In fact, the Cantonese steam it in a very similar manner (清蒸邊魚) to Yuan Mei’s description.
2 The last phrase simply says “It is known as ‘imitation shad'”. This could either mean the bream pan-fried with wine is call that, or that the white amur bream is in general called such. It seems more likely to be the former due to the sentence structure, but still: caveat lector.

Birds 46: Yunlin Goose

In Nizan’s1 Yuan Dynasty work, the “Yunlin Compendium”, he recorded a recipe for preparing geese. Take a whole goose, clean it, rub the inside of the body cavity with three qian of salt, and stuff it with a large bundle of green onions2 such that the cavity is solidly filled. Cover the outside of the whole goose with a mixture of honey and wine. In the pot, add a large bowl of wine and a large bowl of water for steaming, and build a rack made of chopsticks to keep the goose elevated from the water. Use two bundles of mountain grass3 as fuel for the stove, allowing it to slowly and completely burn away. Wait for the pot to cool down completely, then open the lid, flip the goose over to its other side, replace the lid, and seal it well for steaming. Use another bundle of grass and allow it to burn completely. The fuel should be allowed to burn on its own without any disturbance by the cook. The lid should be well sealed with cotton paper. If the sealing paper dries and cracks during cooking, simply moisten it with water.

When it is ready to serve, the goose will be soft as mud and its broth absolutely delectable. If duck is prepared using the technique it will be just as delicious. Each bundle of the mountain grass used a fuel should weight one jin and eight liang. While one is rubbing the goose with salt, add in some green onions and finely ground Szechuan peppercorns mixed with wine. The “Yunlin Compendium” contained numerous recipes, but after numerous trials this was the only good one, the rest of the recipes were simply false elaborations.

雲林鵝
倪︽雲林集︾中,載製鵝法。整鵝一隻,洗淨後,用鹽三錢擦其腹內,塞蔥一帚,填實其中,外將蜜拌酒通身滿塗之,鍋中一大碗酒、一大碗水蒸之,用竹箸架之,不使鵝身近水。灶內用山茅二束,緩緩燒盡為度。俟鍋蓋冷後,揭開鍋蓋,將鵝翻身,仍將鍋蓋封好蒸之,再用茅柴一束,燒盡為度;柴俟其自盡,不可挑撥。鍋蓋用綿紙糊封,逼燥裂縫,以水潤之。起鍋時,不但鵝爛如泥,湯亦鮮美。以此法製鴨,味美亦同。每茅柴一束,重一斤八兩。擦鹽時,攙入蔥、椒末子,以酒和勻。︽雲林集︾中,載食品甚多;只此一法,試之頗效,餘俱附會。

Notes:

1A renowned poet and painter and the famous goose dish that bears his pen name (Yunlin), made even more famous in the culinary world by the fact that Yuan Mei endorses it so here. The full name of Nizan’s work is (雲林堂飲食制度集)

2Literally says, “stuff with a broom of green onion”.

3The term shanmao(山茅), translates literally to “mountain tall-grass” We know from the term “茅” that it is a tall wild grass that grows on hill sides with large woody sheaths and long blades. Looking up the term shanmao, it could refer to any grass including: Sabai grass (Eulaliopsis binata), Cymbopogon distans, Scleria levis, or Cogon grass (Imperata cylindrica), and likely many others. Yuan Mei does refer the fuel here also as maochai (茅柴, literally “grass fuel“), which may point to cogon grass since it is also know by that name. But again he could also just be saying maochai to indicate “a grass used for fuel” instead of “a grass known as maochai”. At the end, I’m not sure what the grass is so I’m just going to call this all “mountain grass”.

Birds 45: Braised Quail and Siskin

Quail[1] from Liuhe[2] are the best. There are even some that have already been prepared.

For siskin finch,[3] braise using Suzhou wine lees, honey, and wine until soft. Add the same seasonings used for braising sparrows to them.

Inspector Shen of Suzhou makes a braised siskin with bones that melt in the mouth, but it’s method of preparation is unknown. His stir-fried fish slices are also exceptional. With such incredible culinary skills, they can truly be ranked number one in all of Suzhou.

煨鵪鶉,黃雀
鵪鶉用六合來者最佳。有現成制好者。黃雀用蘇州糟加蜜,酒煨爛,下作料與煨麻雀同。蘇州沈觀察煨黃雀,並骨如泥,不知作何制法。炒魚片亦精。其廚饌之精,合吳門推為第一。

Notes:
[1]: The common quail (Coturnix coturnix)
[2]: Luhe District in Nanjing
[3]: The Eurasian siskin (Spinus spinus), a species of finch.