“Take fifty sparrows and braise them in light soy sauce and sweet wine. When they are done, remove their feet, taking only the sparrows’ meat from their breast and head, and put the collected meat into a dish with the cooking broth. Its flavours are incredibly sweet and delicate. Other birds such as magpies can also be prepared thus.
Unfortunately fresh birds are hard to find. Xue Shengbai often advises: ‘Do not eat food made from domesticated animals.’, since the flavours of wild creatures are more flavourful, fresher, and they are easier to digest.”
There perhaps is some truth to quote in the last sentence. Wild creatures have a more varied diets and thus they have more diverse and richer sets of micro-nutrients in their bodies. For instance, results from this semi-scientific study found many times more Vitamin E, D, and beta-carotene in free-range chicken eggs from various such farms versus traditional factory eggs . I’ve read somewhere else that vegetables grown via organic farming methods are richer in micronutrients than their “green-revolution” counterparts. Nevertheless, these studies are not peer-review scientific research, as such their results must be taken with a grain of salt.
In Taiwan, free-range chicken who are raised on open land feeding on a mix of wild plants, insects, poultry feed and supplemented greens (scraps from the green grocers) are highly prized both for their nutrition and their flavoursome and dense flesh. Whenever I’m Taipei, I make sure to get my fill of it in variousrestaurants serving it there.
On a separate note, the sparrows mentioned here are probably passer montanus.
“Take boneless chicken breasts and chop them into thin slices. Mix the slices with mung bean starch, sesame oil, and autumn sauce. Next add thickening starch and mix in egg whites. Just before stir-frying, add to it soy sauce, soy pickled ginger, and chopped green onion. One must use a burning hot flame to stir-fry the dish. Only four liang of chicken should be cooked per serving so that the heat can properly and rapidly cook the meat.”
This a recipe one could expect to find in an any modern Chinese cookbook. The interesting thing here is that the seasoning/marinade used here includes “doufen”(豆粉), which I translated as “mung bean starch” or alternatively can also be interpreted as “mung bean noodles”.
In both cases, adding either during marinating process seems somewhat strange since the former would give a rather gelatinous textured coating and the latter would mean oddly marinating the meat with bits of noodles. Still, I went with the former since it seems more plausible in my opinion. However, given that hundreds of year went between now and then, your guess is as good as mine.
“Pull the breast meat off a pheasant and season well with light soy sauce. Wrap the breast meat in a sheet of caul-fat and fry it in a flat-bottomed iron pot. The meat can be either wrapped as flat squares or as rolls. This is one method. One can also slice the pheasant meat and stir-fry with seasonings, or do so with its diced breast meat. The whole pheasant can also be braised in the manner for the domestic chicken. Another method is to first fry the meat in oil, then pull it apart into thin shreds, toss it with wine, autumn sauce, vinegar, and celery together as a cold dish.
Finally, one can also serve the raw meat sliced to be cooked in a hot pot and eaten immediately when done. The problem with this latter method is that when the meat is still tender it still lacks flavour, but by the time the flavour has infused the meat it is already too tough.”
Doing the comments footnotes this time since it presents the concepts more clearly. That and I’m being lazy today:
: The Chinese phrase for pheasant is “wild chicken”. This makes sense and is quite an accurate observation since a domesticated pheasant is very similar to the modern chicken in taste and texture and they are of the same family Phasianidae. In fact, genetic studies on the modern chicken pins their closest wild relative as the wild red junglefowl with some other wild pheasant relatives (green and grey junglefowl) mixed in.
: We can see from this that Yuan Mei is not completely adverse to the hotpot after all (See previous section on Chafing dishes), though he is still critical of this class of cooking techniques. I wonder if this aversion is rooted in prejudice since it is one of those techniques favoured by the Mongolian and Western Asian peoples.
“Break the chicken eggs into a bowl and beat it with chopsticks a thousand times, then steam them until tender. Eggs immediately becomes old and tough when cooked, but with prolonged and continuous cooking they become tender again. Those with tea leaves should be cooked for a period of two sticks of incense. To cook a hundred eggs, use two liang of salt. For fifty eggs use five qian. One can also braise them with soy sauce. Other methods of preparation include pan-frying and stir-frying. Eggs steamed with shredded finch is also excellent.”
Over and over again, we see Yuan Mei’s standard for “tender” is quite different from our present standards. To me, an egg done over-easy or even a hardboiled egg can scarcely be call tough. That is, unless you’re lacking teeth, which may or may not be the case with our esteemed scholar. As for this section, it briefly describes six ways of preparing eggs, namely: steamed, boiled with salt, braised in soy sauce, pan-fried, stir-fried, and finally steamed with a species of finch known as the Eurasian siskin (Spinus spinus). All in all, pretty standard stuff for cooking eggs in Chinese cuisine, with the more unusual one being last method, which uses a very cute but also apparently very tasty ingredient.
“Cut coagulated chicken blood into strips and cook them with chicken broth, soy sauce, vinegar, and starch powder to make a geng. This dish is well suited for the elderly.”
Blood is generally good for the anemic since it is high in bioavailable iron. This makes it probably beneficial to many elderly or anyone of weaker constitution, who are susceptible to the condition. The fact that chicken red blood cells are nucleated also means that you get more nucleic acids than regular blood, which probably doesn’t hurt either if you are already eating it.
“Take a young chicken and season it with four qian of salt, a spoon of soy sauce, half a tea cup of aged wine, and three large slices of ginger. Place it in a claypot, steam it separated from water until soft, and then remove its bones. Do not add any water to the chicken when cooking. This is a recipe from the household of Census Officer Jiang.”
An interesting recipe in the sense that the chicken is deboned after being cooked, with the bird still whole after all its bones had been removed. Otherwise, this is more or less like another braised chicken dish.
“Chop cooked chicken breast into small morsels the size of soybeans and toss evenly with light soy sauce and and wine. Roll the chicken morsels in dry flour until well coated then stir-fry them in a wok using vegetable oil.”
A cluster of pearls served to you in a bowl…that definitely sounds better than “pan-fried chicken niblets”.