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.

凍豆腐
將豆腐凍一夜,切方塊,滾去豆味,加雞湯汁、火腿汁、肉汁煨之。上桌時,撤去雞、火腿之類,單留香蕈、冬筍。豆腐煨久則鬆,面起蜂窩,如凍腐矣。故炒腐宜嫩,煨者宜老。家致華分司用蘑菇煮豆腐,雖夏月亦照凍腐之法,甚佳。切不可加葷湯,致失清味。

Notes:
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”.

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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.

王太守八寶6豆腐
用嫩片切粉碎,加香蕈屑、蘑菇屑、松子仁屑、瓜子仁屑、雞屑、火腿屑,同入濃雞汁中炒滾起鍋。用腐腦亦可。用瓢不用箸。孟亭太守云︰﹁此聖祖賜徐健庵尚書方也。尚書取方時,御膳房費一千兩。﹂太守之祖樓村先生為尚書門生,故得之。

Notes:
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

楊中丞豆腐
用嫩豆腐煮去豆氣,入雞湯,同鰒魚片滾數刻,加糟油、香蕈起鍋。雞汁須濃,魚片要薄。

Notes:
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.

段鱔
切鱔以寸為段,照煨鰻法煨之,或先用油炙,使堅,再以冬瓜、鮮筍、香蕈作配,微用醬水,重用薑汁。

Note:
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

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 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?