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.



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.

Birds 31: Chicken Braised with Mushroom (bis)

“Take a jin of chicken, a jin of sweet wine, three qian of salt, four qian of rock sugar, and fresh mushrooms free of growing mold. Braise everything over a gentle flame for a period of two incense sticks until done. Don’t not add any water, and cook the chicken until eighty percent done before adding the mushrooms.”


The shaggy mane mushroom, one of the possible mushrooms to use for this/these recipe(s) (Credit: H. Krisp)

This a very similar recipe compared to the previous recipe with the exact same name for “chicken with mushrooms”. This makes one wonder if Yuan Mei was unintentionally repeating himself. Or it this is not the case, perhaps Yuan Mei just did not remember to combine the two similar recipes together? Or perhaps he forgot that he already wrote something about chicken with mushrooms?

In any case, his Qing dynasty editors (if he had any) missed this.

Birds 30: Red Simmered Chicken (赤燉肉雞)

“To make red simmered chicken, first wash and clean out the bird well. For each jin of chicken, use twelve liang of good wine, two qian and five fen of salt, four qian of rock sugar, and finely ground cinnamon together in a clay pot. Braise it over a gentle charcoal fire. If the wine has been simmered till dry but the chicken is still not soft, add a tea cup of boiling water for each jin of chicken.”


For braising or simmering in soy dishes , like the above soy-braised chicken, it’s better to use C. cassia (left) or C. burmanii (middle left) due to their more assertive flavours. The two on the right appear to be varieties of C. verum, or “true cinnamon” (whatever “true” is supposed to mean). The latter are probably better used in other recipes, like desserts and other sweet whatnots. (Credit: FotoosVanRobin)

Think of this as yet another brownish-red coloured soy-braised chicken.

But with cinnamon.


Birds 22: Tang’s Chicken (唐雞)

“Take a chicken weighing either two jin or three jin. If it weighs two jin, use one rice bowl of wine and three rice bowls of water. If it weighs three jin, increase the quantity of wine and water accordingly. Cut the chicken into large pieces, then heat up two liang of vegetable oil. Fry the chicken in the oil over high heat until done. Next, boil the fried chicken in the wine for ten to twenty moments, then add the water and cook for another two to three hundred moments. Finally, add one wine cup of autumn sauce. When serving add one qian of white sugar. This is a recipe from the house of Tang Jinghan.”


Unbreaded fried chicken, Hongkong style. (Credit: Geographer)

This is more or less an unbreaded fried chicken that has been red cooked. As for why Yuan Mei decided this was worth writing down in such detail, one can only guess…

Birds 16: Chicken Stir-Fried with Chestnuts (栗子炒雞)

“Chop the chicken into pieces, and fry lightly in two liang of vegetable oil. To the chicken, add one rice bowl of wine, one small cup of autumn sauce, one rice bowl of water, and braise until seventy percent done. Cook the chestnuts beforehand until tender and add them along with bamboo shoots to the chicken and continue braising until the chicken is fully done. Plate and garnish with a large pinch of sugar.”


Chestnuts in shell. (Credit: Hugh Chevallier)

Chicken with chestnuts is often seen in Chinese cooking. This recipe would fit right in on most families’ dinner tables.

Again we seen sugar being used to garnish a dish. I guess it was a “thing” back then.

Birds 15: Chicken Stir-fried with Napa Cabbage(黃芽菜炒雞)

Cut the chicken into pieces, and heat up a wok and stir-fry them until they’re no longer raw. Add wine to the chicken and boil twenty to thirty times, then add autumn sauce and boil another twenty to thirty times, than add water to the chicken and again bring it a boil. Chop the napa cabbage into pieces. When the chicken is seventy percent done, add the chopped cabbage and boil it until the remaining thirty percent for the chicken is cooked to doneness. Add sugar and green onion to season. The cabbage must be boiled to doneness before the dish can be served. For each chicken use four liang of oil.


Chickens with cabbage(s) (Credit: Evelyn Simak)

Just a few translation notes:

  1. The phrase “boil twenty to thirty times” (滾二三十次) may or may not be that same as “twenty to thirty boils” (二三十滾) in their length of time. In a previous chapter I translated a “boil” as “a moment” and pegged it at around 3 seconds. If this is correct then this would amount to sixty to ninety seconds. If not, then it’s anyone’s guess.
  2. 黃芽菜 (huang ya cai) literally translates to “yellow sprout vegetable”, though it’s actually just napa cabbage. It is called such because the leaves in the tender heart of vegetable is bright yellow in colour.
  3. For “用油四兩” in the last sentence, I’m assuming Yuan Mei is talking about the oil used in stir-frying the chicken and not the autumn sauce (literally “autumn oil”) added during boiling.

Birds 14: Imitation Pheasant Rolls (假野雞卷)

Take a chicken breast, chop the meat finely, mix in a chicken egg, and season it with enough light soy sauce to make it fragrant. Take a large piece of caul fat and cut it into squares. Wrap the mixture into small rolls with the cut squares of caul fat and fry them until they are fully cooked. Finish by stir-frying the rolls with light soy sauce, wine, shitake, and wood ear mushrooms. Throw on a pinch of sugar before plating.


Tasty tasty chicken-less “chicken rolls”. (Credit: Lanbu)

This recipe “imitates” the pheasant recipe later in the chapter, where the meat is seasoned, wrapped in caul fat, and fried. It is in-turn remarkably similar to a modern Taiwanese dish known as chicken roll (雞卷), where a mixture of ground pork, onion, and egg is wrapped inside tofu skin.

Although the ingredients for the three dishes are somewhat different, one sees from the similarity in their textures and their names that they are in fact variants of one another. Their fillings: the ground pork and egg mixture, the chicken breast and egg mixture, and the pheasant, all cook to similar textures and consistency. Their wrappings or tofu skin or caul fat all fries up crisp and has a “snap” when you bite into them.

Looking at these recipes together and identify their similarity and differences is quite like tracing back a family’s lineage or looking back in the fossil record, to identify an individual’s ancestors. Together, I see the changes across time of these three dishes as evolution in action.