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.

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Birds 38: Duck Breast (鴨脯)

Use the breast from a fat duck and chop it into large square pieces. Simmer it in half a jin of wine, one cup of autumn sauce, bamboo shoots, shitake, and chopped green onions. Reduce the cooking liquid and serve.”

鴨脯
用肥鴨,斬大方塊,用酒半斤、秋油一杯、筍、香蕈、蔥花悶之,收鹵起鍋。

duck_breast2c_smoked_and_panfried
Tea smoked duck breast with fried potatoes. Not much similarity to the recipe here, except for the duck breast and the fact that tea smoking is a very Chinese cooking technique. (Credit: FotoosVanRobin)

Another braised duck recipe, except in this one the duck has been glazed by the reduced cooking liquid.

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 35: Steamed Duck (蒸鴨)

“Remove the bones from a raw fat duck. Stuff the duck’s body cavity with a mix consisting of one wine cup of glutinous rice, diced dried-cured ham, diced kohlrabi,[1] shitake, diced bamboo shoots, autumn sauce, wine, warm-pressed sesame oil,[2] and chopped green onions. Place the duck on a plate and ladle chicken broth on it. Steam the duck, separated from the water, and do so until it is thoroughly cooked. This recipe definitely comes from the household of Prefect Wei.”

蒸鴨

生肥鴨去骨,內用糯米一酒杯,火腿丁、大頭菜丁、香蕈、筍丁、秋油、酒、小磨麻油、蔥花,俱灌鴨肚內,外用雞湯放盤中,隔水蒸透。此真定魏太守家法也。

jisaku_kaiseki_ryori_01
There is supposedly steamed duck in this picture. I think it’s those two slices of pink flesh on the boat-shaped glass dish in the center. (Credit: Chris)

 

Not much to say about this other that the fact that this would have been quite an opulent dish back in the day. This would be be served in celebratory meals much like a roast turkey would be served in North American Thanskgiving and Christmas day.  Come to think of it, the stuffing described here could be used directly for turkey too.

Now, to fill-up some space here are some translation notes:

Translation notes:
[1]: In modern usage, datoucai (大頭菜) can be one of three vegetable items, all produced from the mustards of genus Brassica: Kohlrabi, the stem of the tatsai (Brassica juncea subsp. tatsai), or turnip. Of the three, the first two are stems while the latter is a root. It’s hard to figure out which of these are the vegetable selected so I’m going with the kolrabi since it’s the most common modern usage. Still, tatsai is native to China so it would be a strong contender.

[2]: Xiaomo Mayou (小磨麻油) is a warm pressed white sesame oil using hot water to separate out the oil instead of the typical hot roasting and hydraulic pressing. A more gentle sesame taste, than the typical sesame oil.

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.

假野雞卷
將脯子斬碎,用雞子一個,調清醬郁之,將網油劃碎,分包小包,油裡炮透,再加清醬、酒作料,香蕈、木耳,起鍋加糖一撮。

Jpeg
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.

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 10: Diced Chicken (雞丁)

Take some chicken breasts, cut them into small dice, and stir-fry them in boiling hot oil. Add autumn sauce and wine to the chicken and remove from the pan. Toss the chicken with diced water chestnuts, dice bamboo shoot tips, and diced shitake, with the ones producing a dark broth being the best.

羽族單::雞丁
取雞脯子,切骰子小塊,入滾油炮炒之,用秋油、酒收起;加荸薺丁、筍丁、香蕈丁拌之,湯以黑色為佳。

kungpao_chicken
The famous Kungpao chicken can be seen as a variant of this dish. It substitutes the crunchy texture of peanuts in place of water chestnuts and bamboo shoots, and the flavour of hot chilies instead of the mild tasting shitake. (Credit: Prince Roy)

Lightly par-fry chicken, season, add some veggies, and it’s done. All in all, a rather typical Chinese chicken dish.

The only weird part here is the note in the last sentence saying that dark broth is the best. This is weird since the dish has mainly light coloured ingredients so a dark broth will not work. One can only assume that Yuan Mei was referring to the shitake, which when soaked from its dry form or cooked in soup lends a clear darkish tan broth.