Fish 13: Xiang in Wine-lees (糟鯗)

In the winter, salt a large common carp and then dry it. Cover it with wine lees, place in a earthenware jar, and seal the jar’s opening.1 Serve it in the summer. Do not use distilled liquors to prepare this dish, since it would have the harsh stinging of the liquor.2


1Somewhat similar to fish kasuzuke, though I’m not sure if the Japanese do this with dried fish as with this recipe.

2Buwu lawei (不無辣味) means “not lacking a spicy taste”, so I’ve gotten rid of the double negative. I’ve also translated the “spicy” part with “stinging” since that’s a more accurate description of the taste of distilled liquors.


Birds 45: Braised Quail and Siskin

Quail[1] from Liuhe[2] are the best. There are even some that have already been prepared.

For siskin finch,[3] braise using Suzhou wine lees, honey, and wine until soft. Add the same seasonings used for braising sparrows to them.

Inspector Shen of Suzhou makes a braised siskin with bones that melt in the mouth, but it’s method of preparation is unknown. His stir-fried fish slices are also exceptional. With such incredible culinary skills, they can truly be ranked number one in all of Suzhou.


[1]: The common quail (Coturnix coturnix)
[2]: Luhe District in Nanjing
[3]: The Eurasian siskin (Spinus spinus), a species of finch.

Assorted Livestock 15: Imitation Milk (假牛乳)

Take egg whites and mix it with honey and wine lees, beat the mixture until even then steam. Cook until the mixture has set but is still tender. Do not overcook or else it will become tough. Likewise, using too much egg whites in this dish will make the dish tough.


Considering how uncommon beef was back in Yuan Mei’s time, one could imagine how rare dairy would be. Perhaps this rarity caused milk to become something so desirable that people would want to imitate it?

Regardless of whether it was desirable because of rarity or because it just tastes so good, imitate it they did. The fact that Yuan Mei had a recipe imitating milk also tells us two things. First, that dairy may have been a popular exotic food when one had access to it. Second, it also shows that dishes such as “stir-fried” (炒牛乳) or “double-skinned” milk (雙皮奶), which are essentially like pan-cooked or steamed egg-white custards, may have had a rather long history in Chinese cuisine.

Like the imitation crab from before, we see how this recipe desperately tries to recreate the flavours of the milk through substitutes. Here, honey and wine lees were used to stand in for the sweet-flavours of boiled milk. I’ve tasted these two ingredient together and actually, if you let things the flavours go “out of focus” one could almost imagine it as being milk-like. Almost.

River Delicacies 2: Shad (鰣魚)


Reeves shad, popular in China. I've never tasted one, but it's probably not too bad. (Credit: FAO)
Reeves shad, popular in China. I’ve never tasted one, but it’s probably not too bad. (Credit: FAO)

List of River Delicacies::
As with the same preparation for grenadier anchovy, Shad[1] is excellent when steamed with sweet honey wine. This fish is also very good pan-fried with oil, and finished with light soy-sauce and wine lees. However, shad must not be cut into small chunks and cooked in chicken broth. As well, do not reserve only the belly of the Shad and throw away its back, in doing so one would lose the true flavours of this fish. [2]

Random notes:
[1]: The shad in question is none other than Reeve’s shad, Tenualosa reevesii. The shad lifecycle is a bit salmon like in that in spawns in freshwater but growns to adulthood in the sea, which I guess makes it qualifiably “river”

[2]: Yuan Mei also spoke of not doing so in Things to Avoid 7: Waste

River Delicacies 1: Two Ways of Preparing Grenadier Anchovy (刀魚二法)


Coilia grayii, yet another species of Grenadier Anchovy. Unlike most mentioned recipes in the Suiyuan Shidan, Grenadier Anchovy prepared using the Nanjing fried-to-dessication method is actually available in canned form at your local Chinese grocers. Problem is Yuan Mei mentions it in this section only to laugh at how poor a way it is for preparing this fish. Indeed, the canned product looks about as appetizing as deep-fried toenails, hence the use of this lovely illustration instead. (Credit:, for all your fish picture needs)

List of River Delicacies::Grenadier anchovy
Grenadier anchovy[1] is best when cooked in the manner of shad: seasoned with sweet wine lees and light soy sauce then placed on a plate and steamed. One does not need to add water in preparing the dish. If one dislikes having to deal with fish bones, use a sharp knife to fillet the fish, then pull out the bones with tweezers. Simmer these fillets in a mixture of ham, chicken, and bamboo shoot broth, and one gets a incredibly delicious soup.

People in Nanjing do not wish to deal fish bones, so instead they bake the anchovies in oil until they are dried and shriveled and then pan-fry them more afterwards.[2] There is an adage that goes: “Straighten a humpbacked person’s back and you’ll surely kill him”, which quite suitably describes this method for cooking Grenadier anchovy. Tao Datai from the city of Wuhu has another way of preparing this fish. A sharp knife is used to obliquely slice down the back of each grenadier anchovy to sever their bones. They are then pan-fried until golden brown and seasoned with the proper condiments when done. One would be hard-pressed to feel any bones when eating anchovies prepared so.[3]

Random notes:
[1]: A quick search of daoyu (刀魚, lit. knife fish) will reveal that the name used to refer to at least half a dozen types of fish. Many of them, like the popular Pacific saury (秋刀魚) or one of the many types of beltfish do not fit the bill here, not only because they are saltwater fish but also because they have bones that are far too thick and coarse to be “tamed” using the methods described here. As such, we have to assume that the fish described is actually the Coilia genus of anchovies that swim in the Yangtze River, either Coilia ectenes, also known as the Japanese grenadier anchovy, Coilia macrognathos, the Longjaw grenadier anchovy also known as the Yangtze dao fish 长江刀鱼, or Coilia mystus. All three anchovies are also known as Phoenix tail fish (鳳尾魚) or simply as daoyu (刀魚).

[2]: In this section, we have “2 ways for preparing grenadier anchovies” and not 3, because this is mention only to make fun of people from Nanjing. Although mocked by Yuan Mei here, this preparation is actually quite similar to that of a rather tasty dish known as “congshao jiyu” (蔥燒鯽魚, lit. scallion braised crucian-carp), whose preparation involves first soaking the fish in vinegar, followed by a long deep-frying, then stewing in a vinegar sauce. The result of this preparation is fish that can be eaten like a think piece of Scottish shortbread, with its head, bones, flesh and all crumbling and melting in one’s mouth; the ultimate lazy diner’s fish dish. This should be available at any good Shanghai cuisine restaurant though one may have to order ahead of time.

[3]: I wonder if “regular” anchovies are any good cooked this way.