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

Fish 6: Fish Floss (魚鬆)

Steam black carp1 or grass carp2 until done and pull the meat off the bones. Fry the meat in a wok until golden brown, then add fine salt, green onion, Szechuan pepper, and soy-pickled ginger. When stored in a sealed jar during winter, this can keep for a whole month.3

魚鬆
用青魚、鯶魚蒸熟,將肉拆下,放油鍋中灼之,黃色,加鹽花、蔥、椒、瓜薑。冬日封瓶中,可以一月

Fish floss is the piscine variant of the more commonly found pork floss. Although not much to look at on its own, fish soong is one of those little condiments that light up an otherwise mundane bowl of congee or rice at mealtimes. It’s actually very easy to make, but rather time consuming since one has to stay in front of the stove to continuously stir and lightly mash the fish until it is fluffy  and dry.

If you are interested in trying it out, below is our family recipe:


Chen Family Fish Floss (陳氏魚鬆)

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg        Fish fillet (any fresh seasonal medium to large local fish. I’ve tried this on salmon, trout, pickerel, swordfish,… and they all worked fine)
  • 1 Tsp      Salt (or to taste. Soy sauce is fine but I find it overwhelms the flavour of the fish)
  • 4 Tbsp   Sugar (or to taste)
  • 2 Tsp      Ginger and green onion juice (puree ginger and green onion and squeeze)
  • 1 Tsp      Sesame seeds

Instructions:

  1. Place fish fillet into a pan at medium heat and let it cook until the flesh starts to flake.
  2. Flake the fillet thoroughly
  3. Add salt, sugar, the juices, and stir them into the flaked fish
  4. Keep stirring and flipping the flakes of fish in the pan to dry out the water. Take out any bones you see during the process.
  5. Repeat step 4.
  6. When the fish is quite fluffy and dry with a light brown toasted colour, add the sesame seeds and stir for another 3 minutes.
  7. Let cool and seal in a airtight jar
  8. Serve on top of any starch you like (rice, bread, pancakes, whatever) or eat it on its own if you so desire.

Notes:
1Mylopharyngodon piceus

2I’ve translated junyu(鯶魚) as being grass carp, but if it is written as “軍魚” then the fish would be Spinibarbus caldwelli

3This fish soong is more similar to the commonly found dried meat product, rousong.

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 43: Xu Duck (徐鴨)

“Get the largest fresh duck available. Make a solution from twelve liang of baihua liquor, one liang and two qian of unrefined grey salt,[1] and a soup bowl of boiled water, removing any residue and froth after dissolving everything, then apply this to the duck. Next replace the solution[2] and add seven rice bowls of cold water, four thick slices of fresh ginger weighing approximately one liang, and place everything together inside a large lidded earthenware bowl. Seal the opening of the lidded bowl well using a sheet of thick paper[3] and place everything on top of a large charcoal braizer to cook thoroughly.[4] Use large chunks of charcoal[5] of three yuan, each weighing around two wen, for cooking and cover the braizer and bowl with a tented cover so the heated air does not escape.[6] Cook starting from around the time one has breakfast until the evening. If the cooking is rushed, then the dish will be underdone and it flavours would be poorly developed. After the charcoal has burned through, do not move the duck to a serving bowl and do not open the sealed bowl too soon. After splitting the duck open, wash it with clean water, then dry it with a clean unstarched cloth before putting it into a lidded earthenware bowl.[7]”

徐鴨
頂大鮮鴨一隻,用百花酒十二兩、青鹽一兩二錢、滾水一湯碗,沖化去渣沫,再兌冷水七飯碗,鮮薑四厚片,約重一兩,同入大瓦蓋內,將皮紙封固口,用大火籠燒透。大炭吉三元(約二文一個);外用套包一個,將火籠罩定,不可令其走氣。約早點時燉起,至晚方好。速則恐其不透,味便不佳矣。其炭吉燒透 後,不宜更換瓦,亦不宜預先開看。鴨破開時,將清水洗後,用潔淨無漿布拭乾入。

“Xu duck” has two interpretations. The word “xu” (徐) literally means slow, which may describe the cooking speed here, but it could also be a person’s family name, which would mean it’s Xu’s Duck. Due to the incomplete info I’m leaving this as it is.

Notes:

[1]: The term “grey salt” was translated from “qingyan” (青鹽), which translate literally to green/blue salt. This is a greyish greenish raw salt more or less like the coarse grained sel gris of Guerande.

[2]: The text here uses the word dui(兌), which may mean either “replace” or “add”. In the first, the salt and liquor solution would simply be used for marinating and washing the duck then simply throw away and replaced with water. In the second case, it would have been used as just the cooking liquid with more water added on top. To me the former one makes more sense, since green salt is commonly used for cleaning food and less for eating itself.

[3]: In Chinese, pi (皮) paper, or “leather paper” refers to a thick heavy paper similar to like that used in making large brownpaper bags.

[4]: This cooking method is similar to that seen in: “Pork 13: Pork in lidded bowl”.

[5]: The term “charcoal lumps” are translated from the Chinese word “tanji” (炭吉). This same term was mentioned in Scroll nine of the late Qing dynasty work Xiawai Junxie (霞外攟屑::九), which indicated it has an alternate writing form (炭擊). Tanji is a very high quality whole wood charcoal is made from very dense and fine grained hardwoods and fired to very high temperatures. This charcoal produced is so hard and dense that it rings like a chime when tapped with a hammer. It is known in Japanese as white charcoal (白炭) or “enduring” charcoal (長炭).

[6]: The sentence was translated from the phrase “外用套包一個,將火籠罩定”, which implies that the cooking setup is covered using a stiff tent or umbrella like structure. What this structure actually looked like is a mystery. Still, if this tent/umbrella setup is well insulated, then it would basically function like an oven.

[7]: This entire recipe is confusing all the way through, but the confusion culminates in a crescendo in the last two sentences. Don’t change the bowl (不宜更換瓦)…but okay, to what? Finally, take the duck out and wipe it dry and put it back into the bowl used to cook it (鴨破開時,將清水洗後,用潔淨無漿布拭乾入)? Or a clean serving bowl? The fact that this recipe is quite detailed, probably means that Yuan Mei liked it enough to note things down, but on the whole it is one of the more poorly written ones in the Suiyuan Shidan. One could try to rearrange the sentences to make the recipe make sense, but I’ll leave that to the people reading this to do as they see fit.

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.

鴨糊塗
用肥鴨,白煮八分熟,冷定去骨,拆成天然不方不圓之塊,下原場內煨,加鹽三錢、酒半斤,捶碎山藥,同下鍋作縴,臨煨爛時,再加薑末、蕈、蔥花。如要濃湯,加放粉縴。以芋代山藥亦妙。

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?

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.”

蘑菇煨雞
雞肉一斤,甜酒一斤,鹽三錢,冰糖四錢,蘑菇用新鮮不黴者,文火煨兩枝線香為度。不可用水,先煨雞八分熟,再下蘑菇。

schopftintling-coprinus-comatus
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.”

赤燉肉雞
赤燉肉雞,洗切淨,每一斤用好酒十二兩、鹽二錢五分、冰糖四錢,研酌加桂皮,同入砂鍋中,文炭火煨之。倘酒將乾,雞肉尚未爛,每斤酌加清開水一茶杯。

cinnamon_variaties_-_robin
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.

Wow.