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.
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”.
Chop a live black crap into large pieces, sear the pieces in oil, then add soy sauce, vinegar, and spray with wine. The more broth in the dish the better. When it is done immediately remove everything from the pan. This dish is most famously prepared by Hangzhou West Lake’s Wuliuju.1 But ever since they started using an ill-smelling soy sauce, the fish served there is now inedible. What a pity!
The fame of Songsao Fish Geng2 is not warranted at all. The discussions in “Menglianglu” should also not be believed.3 The chosen fish must not be big, since the flavours will not penetrate into a big fish. The chosen fish must also not be small, since small fish tend to have more spiny bones.
Notes: 1Wuliuju translates to the “house of five willows” 2The famed fish geng by Madamn Song, consists of fish in small pieces and cooked in a thick and rich soup punctuated by vinegar. I guess Yuan Mei did not think much of it. 3Menglianglu (夢粱錄), or “Records on Dreams of Millet” was written in Song Dynasty by Wu Zimu (吳自牧). As for what contents in the work were considered untrustworthy by Yuan Mei, I am not sure.
Groupers1 have few bones and are best when sliced and stir-fried. For stir-frying, the more thinly sliced the grouper’s flesh the better. Lightly season the fish with autumn sauce, then mix it with starch-powder and egg-white before putting it into the wok to stir-fry, adding the appropriate seasonings while stir-frying. The oil that should be used here is vegetable oil.
Notes: 1The grouper in this section is referred to as jiyu (季魚) or as “鲫魚”. It is one of many species of groupers from the genus Epinephelus. It is also known more commonly as shibanyu (石班魚) or sometimes just banyu (班魚). The latter name should not be confused with the fish described in River Delicacies 5: Snakehead Fish (班魚).
“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.
“Take a chicken weighing either two jin or three jin. If it weighs two jin, use one rice bowl of wine and three rice bowls of water. If it weighs three jin, increase the quantity of wine and water accordingly. Cut the chicken into large pieces, then heat up two liang of vegetable oil. Fry the chicken in the oil over high heat until done. Next, boil the fried chicken in the wine for ten to twenty moments, then add the water and cook for another two to three hundred moments. Finally, add one wine cup of autumn sauce. When serving add one qian of white sugar. This is a recipe from the house of Tang Jinghan.”
“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”.
“Chop the chicken into pieces, and fry lightly in two liang of vegetable oil. To the chicken, add one rice bowl of wine, one small cup of autumn sauce, one rice bowl of water, and braise until seventy percent done. Cook the chestnuts beforehand until tender and add them along with bamboo shoots to the chicken and continue braising until the chicken is fully done. Plate and garnish with a large pinch of sugar.”