Fish 14: Shrimp on Shad Xiang (蝦子勒簽鯗)

During the summer, choose a white, clean, belt shad xiang1 and soak it in water for a day to remove its salty taste. Dry it under the sun and pan-fry with oil. When one side of the fish is golden brown, remove it from the pan. Place shrimp the side of the fish that that has not been fried, then put everything on a plate, add white sugar, and steam for a stick of incense’s duration in time until done. This dish is perfect for late summer.

蝦子勒簽鯗2
夏日選白淨帶子勒鯗,放水中一日,泡去鹽味,太陽曬乾,入鍋油煎,一面黃取起,以一面未黃者鋪上蝦子,放盤中,加白糖蒸之,以一炷香為度。三伏日食之絕妙。

Notes:
1 Xiang is basically a salted dried fish similar to Western salt cod except in this case, it is made from leyu (勒魚, sometimes written as with the “fish” character as root) or Ilisha elongata. In English, this long-ish fish is commonly known as “slender shad”. In the Chinese text “daizi lexiang” (帶子勒鯗, literally: belt slender shad xiang) probably refers to a particularly slender, long, and belt-like specimen of slender shad made into salted fish.

2 Xiazi le qian xiang (蝦子勒簽鯗) sounds cryptically poetic, if we listen to the Mandarin phonetics of this creatively it could be interpreted as: “The blind happily holds the elephant”. Reminds me of that Indian blind people and elephant story.

Pork 18: Pork Braised with Taixiang (台鯗煨肉)

持牲單::台鯗煨肉
作法與火腿煨肉同。鯗易爛,須先煨肉至八分,再加鯗;涼之,則號「鯗凍」。紹興人菜也。鯗不佳者,不必用。

Xiang, or dried-salted yellow croaker, being aired out on a sunny Hong Kong street, infusing the surrounding air with its pungent and alluring fragrance. (Credit: Leesia)

Pork(List of the Ceremonial Animal)::Pork Braised with Taixiang[1]
The technique for this dish is essentially same as the recipe for “pork braised with ham” from before. However, since dried fish softens rapidly when cooked, it should be added only when the braising pork is close to being done [2].

When this dish is allowed to cool and jellify, it becomes a Shaoxing dish known as “xiang aspic” [3]. Note, if the dried fish is of bad quality, do not even consider using it.

Random notes:
[1]: Taixiang (台鯗) is the Chinese name for this particular type of salted and dried yellow croaker. For the same reasons why people don’t call miso soup, “Japanese fermented bean-paste soup”, I will not call the recipe “Pork Braised with Chinese Dried Fish”. However, I’ll use the term “dried-fish” in the actual translation since it does make it more readable by those unintiated to Chinese cuisine.

[2]: Ba-fen (八分) translates to “eight parts” or 8/10 or 80%. Although it would have been more accurate to say “braise the pork until 80% done”, fact is this is a completely qualitative metric and I will not translate it in a manner that allows it an “air” of accuracy. I’ve been doing this in previous recipes and will continue doing so.

[3]This dish in now known in China as “鯗凍肉” or “白鯗燜肉”. Google for pictures.

Essential Knowledge 1 : Basic Nature (先天須知)

須知單::先天須知
凡物各有先天,如人各有資稟。人性下愚,雖孔、孟教之,無益也;物性不良,雖易牙烹之,亦無味也。指其大略︰豬宜皮薄,不可腥臊;雞宜騸嫩,不可老稚;鯽魚以扁身白肚為佳,烏背者,必倔強於盤中;鰻魚以湖溪游泳為貴,江生者,必槎枒其骨節;穀餵之鴨,其膘肥而白色;壅土之筍,其節少而甘鮮;同一火腿也,而好醜判若天淵;同一台鯗也,而美惡分為冰炭。其他雜物,可以類推。大抵一席佳餚,司廚之功居其六,買辦之功居其四。

List of Essential knowledge::Basic Nature
All things have their basic nature, just like each person has their own qualities. If a person is by nature dim-witted, it would be pointless even if they were taught by Confucius or Mencius. Similarly, if the starting ingredients are of low quality, even the extraordinary culinary skills of Yi-ya [1] would produce an mediocre dish. As a brief overview on the qualities of ingredients:

  • Good pork should have thin skin and lack any strong or foul smells [2].
  • Good chicken should be tender and neither too old (tough) or too young (under-developed).
  • Quality carp [3] should have flat bodies with white bellies. Carp with darker backs will prove less edible.
  • Eel taken from the lakes and streams are exquisite, while those who have lived in the large rivers tend to be scrawny and full of spines and bone.
  • Grain-fed ducks should be round and fat such that their flesh is pale.
  • Cultivated bamboo shoots with less segments taste fresher and sweeter [4].

The difference between a quality of a good ham and a bad one is miles apart. As for the xiang [5] of Taizhou, one cannot even begin to measure the difference between a good and bad. The same sort of reasoning applies to other food-stuffs. For the quality of of a banquet’s dishes, 60% of the credit goes to the cook, but 40% goes to the person who selected the ingredients.


Random notes:

[1]: A famous chef of great cooking prowess from the Spring and Autumn period of China’s tumultuous history. Infamous for allegedly cooking his infant son in soup after his king expressed interest in tasting meat from human babies. Go state-sponsored cannibalism!

[2]: Literally fishy/raw meat smells (腥) and foul urine-like smells (臊)

[3]: The Crucian carp

[4]: How does one translate “甘鮮”? Sweet and umami? Sweet and fresh? Sweet and delectable?

[5]: A dried salted fish usually made from Yellow croaker