Vegetable Dishes 36: Braised Wood Ear and Shitake

The Dinghui Monastery of Yangzhou knows how to braise wood ear until they double their thickness and braise shitake until they triple in thickness.1 Prepare a mushroom broth first to use as the cooking liquid in this recipe.


1Extra thick and extra big? Whenever I hear about how well someone is about to reconstitute some dried food item, a process which is referred in Chinese cuisine as fa (發), I can’t help but think they added something to the soaking liquid. One of the more popular agent’s used for “Fa”-ing meats and dried foods in modern Chinese cuisine is baking soda. A tiny pinch in chicken makes it tender and gives the meat a slight “bounce”, too much gives everything an odd flavour and texture. I’ve had chicken that is so over “fa”-ed that it has the texture of fish. Perhaps the monastery has added something to make their reconstituted wood ears and shitake so thick?

Vegetable Dishes 26: Spinach

Spinach are plump and tender and can be prepared by boiling with soy sauce, water, and tofu. In Hangzhou, people know this as “Gold inlaid on a slab of white jade”. This vegetable is thin but quite meaty2 and thus does not require cooking with bamboo shoot tips or shitake.


1Bocai (菠菜), or spinach, in Chinese literally translates to “Persian vegetable”, which points out the degree of trade between the two peoples in Ancient times.

2Say literally “lean but fat”, I’m going out on a limb here with this translation but I don’t think it is inaccurate.

Vegetable Dishes 8: Frozen Tofu

Freeze tofu for one night, cut into square pieces, and boil them to rid them of their bean-like smell. Add them to a mixture of chicken broth and extracts, ham extract, and pork extract and braise. When serving, remove the chicken and ham and the like, leaving only the shitake and the winter bamboo shoots.

When tofu has been braised for a long time its texture becomes spongy, with its surface becoming honey-combed like frozen tofu.1 For stir-frying use soft tofu, while braising should be done with firmer tofu.2 The household of Officer Jia Zhihua cooks tofu with mushrooms, even during the summer they follow the same recipe for frozen tofu, since it is very good. Do not use strong flavoured hun meat broths3 for this dish since doing so would destroy to delicate light flavours of this dish.


1I think Yuan Mei is trying to say normal tofu looking like frozen tofu after prolonged boiling.

2This feels slightly off on a tangent, and may not apply exclusively to frozen tofu. In fact, the rest of the paragraph goes on a tangent.

3Though the term hun 葷 (pronounced hoon) is commonly used to refer to any meat from any animal, this is clearly not the meaning here. When Yuan Mei say’s “葷湯”, or “hun soup”, he is not saying “animal broth” since there is already chicken and ham used to make this dish. Most likely he is referring to the stronger and richer tasting pork, and possibly beef broth, thus I translating it as such. It seems that every “vegetable” dish here is full of animal ingredients. This is still true for most Chinese vegetable dishes where lard and broth (or MSG) are “musts”.

Vegetable Dishes 6: Prefect Wang’s Babao Tofu

Take tender tofu, then slice and cut it until thoroughly pulverized. Add to it pulverized1 shitake, pulverized mushrooms, pulverized pine nuts, pulverized melon seeds, pulverized chicken, and pulverized dried-cured ham. Put everything into concentrated chicken extract, and boil2 the mixture until boiling, then plate and serve.3 One can also used douhua in place of the tofu. Eat this with a spoon and not with chopsticks.

Prefect Meng Ting recounted: “The recipe for this dish was bestowed by the Sagely Forefather4 to Minister Jian An. When the Minister went to acquire the recipe, the Imperial kitchens charged him one thousand taels of silver.”5 The Prefect’s ancestor was Master Lou Cun, who was born to the aformentioned Minister, which is how he got the recipe.


1I have translated xue 屑 as pulverized, which is not the best or most accurate translation. However, I feel it’s better than calling it “bits” or “crumbs”, since they have the same meaning of even fineness that one get by cutting in an orderly manner. The term “dice” would give the “orderly cut” meaning, but even if one said “dice finely” one still cannot describe the fineness required, thus we have “pulverized” until something better comes along.

2The actual term used here is chaogun 炒滾, which literally means “stir-fry until boiling”. Basically you boil this thick mixture at high heat and stir continuously, just like you are stir-frying food.

3This feels like a more tedious version of wensidofu 文思豆腐). While Wensi needs everything to be cut into fine threads, this require another set of cuts to “dice” all the ingredients into bits around <1mm cubed.

4The Qing Dynasty Sagely Forefather/Saintly Ancestor 聖祖 is none other than Emperor Kangxi.

5A recipe from the Qing Imperial kitchens, all the way back around 300 years ago!

6Babao 八寶 means “eight-treasure”. While I could translate it as such, I think it cheapens this otherwise culturally rich phrase. If interested, the reader should go figure it out for themselves what it’s all about.

Vegetable Dishes 2: Yang Zhongcheng’s Tofu

Take tender tofu and cook it in water to rid it of its bean-like smell,1 next put it into chicken broth, and boil with abalone2 slices for several moments. Add zaoyou3 and shitake then plate the dish. The chicken extract used must be quite concentrated and the abalone must be thinly sliced.4


1The text does not directly mention the used of water, but in this context of “cooking” (煮) it most likely involves it. The processing of douhua for Furong tofu below supports this reading.

2In Chinese, fu 鰒 means abalone. In Japanese, the same character 鰒 refers to the fugu or puffer fish. How this happened I don’t know.

3Zaoyou 糟油 is a sauce made from rice wine lees, salt, and spices, that has been aged. See the relevant section much much later in the book. (Probably will be posted next year.)

4For short cooking times, the abalone must be sliced thin as flakes, or else it will be too tough.

Scaleless Aquatic Creatures 12: Rice-Eel Segments (段鱔)

Cut the rice-eel into inch long pieces and braise them in the same manner as eel. It can also be first fried in oil to firm up its flesh, then cooked together1 with winter melon, fresh bamboo shoots, and shitake. Use only a small amount of diluted soy sauce, and larger amounts of ginger extract.


1The words used here are actually zuopei (作配) or “match up”, which does not actually tell one how to prepare the dish. Hence the use here of the equally ambiguous term “cooked together”.

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


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.