For the first method, fry the gluten with oil in a wok until toasted and dry, then braise them plain with chicken broth and mushrooms. For the next method do not toast them but rather soak them in water. Cut into slices and stir-fry with concentrated chicken extract, then add winter bamboo shoots and green onions. The household of examiner Zhang Huaishu prepares this extremely well. When plating, it is more suitable to roughly tear the gluten than slicing them. Stir-fry them with the soaking liquid of dried shrimp and sweet soy-sauce1 for an exceptionally good dish.
1Tianjiang (甜醬), is basically a sweet fermented sauce. The question though, is what is it. Is it sweet flour sauce (tianmian sauce)? Or is it sweet soy-sauce like in Taiwanese thick soysauce? Or is it a soy sauce with sugar added? I defer the interpretation to the rtrieader.
2Mianjin (麵筋), literally translated is “dough tendon”, which may sound odd but is arguably exactly what gluten does for a ball of dough.
How to make gluten for cuisine:
Making wheat gluten for dishes is easy. First, make a ball of dough that’s not too firm nor soft. Knead it until the gluten in the dough is well-formed then allow to rest. Next, take the ball of dough and soak it in a large bucket of water with a colander, while lightly rubbing, squeezing, and recollecting the ball of dough. The wheat starch will start washing out and the water will turn cloudy. Change the water and repeat. After a while, work the ball of dough harder and squeeze and fold it in the water. The dough will start feel more “gummy” than “doughy” and the rinsing liquid will become clearer as most of the starch has already been washed out. That ball by then would consist of almost all gluten.
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.
Jiaobai1 can be stir-fried with pork or chicken. These shoots are very good when cut into pieces and grilled with soy-sauce and vinegar. They also very good when stir-fried over high heat with pork.2 Before cooking, the shoots must be sliced into inch long pieces for the best effect. The weak and thin shoots have no flavour.3
1Jiaobai (茭白) or jiaobaisun (茭白筍), is actually the pithy ligule and sheaths of an aquatics grass related to American wildrice (Zizania latifolia) that has been infected by the fungus Ustilago esculenta, the latter of which is closely related to the corn smut fungus (I’ve always been impressed how English can make so many foods sound unappetizing). When the thick infected sheaths has been peeled like bamboo shoots, they reveal a firm creamy-white plump centre “shoot”. When stir fried, this shoot-like food is delectably crisp in texture, refreshingly sweet, and utterly delicious.
2Found in the 2nd last recipe in the next chapter for dried jiaobai.
3This either means that thin weak specimens are not tasty, or if you slice it too thin it won’t taste good. Most likely the former though likely true for either.
Pan-fry whole shrimp with shells over high heat in wine until yellow then remove them from the pan.1 Next, braise them in light soy sauce and rice vinegar. When done, cover the shrimp with the bowl to cook with its residual heat. When ready to serve, place them in a dish. Their shells should be tender enough eat.2
1This is a a very different drunken shrimp compared to the modern version, which is basically shrimp marinated in wine.
2The shell has been made tender likely because the shrimp were braised in vinegar. While interesting, with all the braising, I wonder if the shrimp hasn’t also turned mushy and disgusting.
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”.
Par-boil a soft-shelled turtle,1 remove its bones, heat up a wok, and stir-fry over high heat. Add soy sauce, water, green onions, Szechuan pepper, reduce the cooking liquid to a sauce, and serve. This is a Hangzhou recipe.
1 Parboiling raw meat ingredients before stir-frying is de rigueur in Chinese cuisine especially if it tends to emit bloody liquids while cooking. Contrast the technique here with the previous recipe.
Braise the eel in wine and water until soft, adding sweet sauce instead of the usual autumn sauce.1 Reduce the broth, add fennel seeds and star anise, then plate it. There are three common errors when cooking this eel dish. First, the skin had become marked by wrinkles and folds, thus rendering it no longer tender. Second, its flesh falls apart in one’s bowl, making it impossible to pick up with chopsticks. Finally, when salted fermented beans2 are added too early when cooking, the eel’s flesh will no longer be tender. The household of Officer Zhu from Yangzhou is most skilled in making this dish. In general, red-cooked eel is best when its cooking juices are reduced, which allows the flavours to be fully absorbed into the flesh of the eel.
1Does Tianjiang (甜醬) refer to Tianmian Jiang (甜麵醬), or more like a sweeten soy sauce similar to Taiwanese thickened soy sauce (醬油膏)? While either could work taste-wise in the dish, I’m more inclined towards the latter since this would make the dish less muddy, which may be what Yuan Mei prefers.
2Yanchi (鹽豉) is likely the same as the fermented black bean (豆豉). It is referenced in the Han Dynasty texts.
*Header image (not the best quality) shows the Changji red braised eel (昌吉紅燒炖鰻) restaurant in Taipei. The eel is of course excellent, but the rest of the food is also very good, highly recommended if you’re there!