The Garden of Accord Food Book
Translated by Beilei Pu
Edited by E. N. Anderson
And Jerry Schmidt (intro only, so far)
Version of June 2015
Yuan Mei (1716-1797) was known as a champion of women’s education, a versatile and brilliant poet and writer, and a foodie par excellence. He earned a jinshi degree, roughly equivalent to a Ph.D. (though demanding much more memorization), at 23, a striking accomplishment. He duly received high office. In 1748, however, he retired, to live on family income and devote his life to writing, teaching, and eating. Born and raised in the area of Hangzhou and living his life in the Yangzi delta, he had access to the most sophisticated food culture in China, and indeed in the world at the time.
Yuan participated in an intense, talented world. The literary and artistic scene in the Yangzi delta was an open, tolerant, peaceful one. Yuan’s adult life coincided with the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1636-1696), an era of peace and prosperity. Trade and commerce flourished. Unusual in Chinese history was the respect for women, at least among the intellectual and literary circles in which Yuan moved. He may well have known Cao Xueqin, whose great novel Hong Lou Meng idealized the brilliant but fated girls with whom Cao grew up. He was a friend of Zheng Xie, whose poems speak movingly of women of all ages and in all walks of life. The wider context—footbinding, Neo-Confucian morality, and all—was terribly harsh on women, but Yuan and many others tried to give them the fairest chance possible.
Perhaps the best short insight into Yuan’s complex and fascinating character is one of his later poems:
Seventy, and still planting trees…
Don’t laugh at me, my friends.
Of course I know I’m going to die.
I also know I’m not dead yet.
(Tr. J. P. Seaton, 1997, p. 92).
One can easily imagine Yuan smiling happily and a bit ironically, as he watches his workmen plant a row of trees. Perhaps he even took up a shovel himself (though at 70 he probably did not). The combination of resigned realism, playful enjoyment of life and society, and deep probing into what life and death really mean, is pure Yuan Mei.
All of which merely sets the background for China’s most popular traditional food book. Yuan’s birthday, March 25 in the western calendar, has been declared by the Chinese as International Chinese Food Day.
The title literally means “the Sui Garden Recipes.” Shidan literally means “eating documents.” Dan can also mean “single” or “simple,” and I strongly suspect it is a pun, since Yuan loved simple food. Sui means “to follow, to be in accord.” Jerry Schmidt, an expert on Yuan Mei, translates it “Harmony Garden” (Schmidt 2015). Exactly what Yuan had in mind when he gave that name to his garden is somewhat unclear, but one can be sure he had all the meanings of the character in his thoughts somewhere. He apparently worked on this food book till he died, with drafts circulating for many years (Waley 1956:195).
Yuan’s good humor and delight in writing about his friends and his good dinners rather steal the show in this book. A true recipe book it is not. The recipes herein are as vague and cursory as only traditional home recipes can be. Often all pretense of a recipe is dropped, and Yuan simply reminisces about good food in good company. It is beyond us to convert the recipes into usable form; they are simply too fragmentary. The reader is thus turned loose to use his or her imagination. It is hard to imagine, for example, that the stewed and red-cooked dishes were as completely spiceless as they are here; one assumes that Yuan would add star anise, white pepper, fennel, ginger and the like, according to taste and mood, as a modern Chinese cook would do. We have silently added some necessary explanatory words, but any substantial explanation not in the text is marked by square brackets.
References to Yi Yin and Yi Ya are to legendary chefs of ancient China, who were supposed to be incomparable. Yi Yin appears to be purely fictional. Yi Ya may have existed, but stories about him include some tall tales.
We have tried to provide scientific names for obscure itsems, checking against Shiu-ying Hu’s definitive encyclopedia, Food Plants of China (2005).
“Autumn oil” is a common term used herein for soy sauce. It may indicate a special kind, though probably it just means the regular sauce made in the fall after the soybean harvest. We leave it as “autumn oil” a few times for the effect, otherwise simply call it soy sauce. However, there is probably more to Yuan’s soy sauces than we understand, and probably a soy sauce expert needs to look at this book (see Huang 2000—but, alas, H. T. Huang is no longer with us).
“Liquor” here translates jiu, actually meaning any alcoholic liquid. Unfortunately, an old literary tradition in English translates jiu as “wine,” causing endless confusion. In Yuan Mei’s book, jiu normally refers to a still (noncarbonated) ale made from rice or millet, but in Qing times there were many other jiu, ranging from true wine (from grapes) to a very wide variety of distilled liquors. Yuan does refer to these occasionally; unless otherwise noted, though, “liquor” was a still ale. There were, and are, countless forms and local versions of this, and until recently people often brewed their own; older cookbooks all have recipes for doing this, and sometimes for distilling as well. We cannot fight usage all the way. For instance, we retain “winecup” for the small cups used for drinking jiu.
A jin, “catty” in English, was historically 1 1/3 lb or about 600 gr. A liang or “catty ounce” is 1/16 of this, about 38 gr. A qian is a tenth of a liang. A fen is a tenth of a qian. A liquor cup is a very small amount; traditional Chinese liquor cups hold only one or two ounces.
The standard measure of time in the old Chinese kitchen was an incense stick. It takes about a half hour for an ordinary incense stick to burn down. Two sticks means an hour.
Giles, Herbert A. 1923. Gems of Chinese Literature. Vol. II, Prose. Shanghai: Kelly and Walsh.
Hu Shiu-ying. 2005. Food Plants of China. Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong Press.
Huang, H. T. 2000. Science and Civilisation in China. Vol. 6: Biology and Biological Technology. Part V: Fermentations and Food Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Seaton, J. P. 1997. I Don’t Bow to Buddhas: Selected Poems of Yuan Mei. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press
Waley, Arthur. 1956. Yuan Mei: Eighteenth Century Chinese Poet. New York: Grove Press.
Our edition of Yuan Mei was edited by Chen Weiming and published in Beijing in 2010 by Chinese Culture Publishing House, reprinted 2012.
Part 1: Introductory Basic Knowledge
In all things one needs to know the essentials. Thus, in cooking we need to know basic skills.
All things in the world have their inherent characteristics, just as people have different natural qualities. If one is really stupid, even Confucius’ and Mencius ‘ teachings can do him no good. And if the food ingredients are intrinsically not good, even if Yi Ya cooked them, they would still not taste good.
Turning to the main points: pork with thin skin, not rancid or stinking, is the best. For chicken, it is best to select a castrated rooster less than a year old, not an old or overly young one. Crucian carp with flat bodies and white bellies are the best; if they have black back ridges, they will have hard bones, which look bad in a dish, diminishing appetite. The best eels are from lakes and flowing streams; eels from a river have harder bones, looking like cluttered branches. Ducks fed with natural grains produce white and juicy meat. Tender bamboo shoots are found in good loam, and are small, fresh and delicious. Hams can differ as much as sea and sky. Similarly, dried fish from Taizhou in Zhejiang can differ as much as ice and hot coals. The same goes for other kinds of ingredients. As a general rule, in a meal, 60% of the credit should go to the chef, 40% to the persons doing the shopping.
Information on Condiments
The chef’s seasoning is like women’s use of clothing and jewelry. A woman of heavenly beauty, good at make-up, but dressed in rags, even if as lovely as Xishi will not seem attractive. A truly skilled cook choosing sauce will choose soy sauce made in summer, and will always taste first to check if it is sweet. Sesame oil is the type of oil to pick, and one needs to identify the source. Liquor should be real fermented brew, with the lees filtered out. For vinegar, use rice vinegar, not muddy but clean and mellow. Clear or thick sauce, oil from animal or vegetable sources, sweet or sour liquor, old or new vinegar, must be used without the slightest mistakes in choice. Other items, such as onions, brown pepper, ginger, cinnamon, sugar, and salt, even if you do not use much, always try to choose top quality. Suzhou autumn oil sauce sold in the store comes in three grades with different qualities. Zhenjiang vinegar whose color is good, but is not sour enough, loses the important function of vinegar. The best vinegar is made in Banpu; vinegar from Pukou follows.
(Zhenjiang vinegar is still a top-quality item, but some is better than others; users of it today will know from experience exactly what Yuan means.)
Knowledge about Cleaning
Rules for cleaning food and raw materials: For birds’ nestss, remove any remaining feathers. To clean sea cucumbers, rinse off the dirt. For shark fin, brush off the sand. For deer tendon, get rid of anything rank-smelling. Meat has tendons and bones—take these out so it will be succulent. Duck has rank-smelling kidneys; cut these out to make it clean. As to fish, once the gall bladder is broken, the whole dish tastes bitter. The slime of eel, if not washed off, makes the whole bowl smell fishy. Use only the white stems of chives (take off the leaves) and the heart of a cabbage. The Rites says: “For fish, take out the cheek bones; for sea turtle, cut off the anus,” indicating the cleaning methods for these raw materials. A proverb says: “If you want to eat good fish, first take out the white tendons.” This has the same meaning.
(The white tendons are on both sides of a fish’s back, inside the body cavity, right and left of the backbone; they have to be removed to avoid nasty smells.)
The rules for seasoning foods are determined by the type of cuisine. There are foods cooked in water, others cooked in liquor, others in both liquor and water. There are dishes that use salt, others that use soy sauce, others that use both. Some food are very greasy, and need to be fried first; some foods smell very fishy, and must first be moistened with vinegar. Some foods need to be cooked with crystal sugar to bring out the original flavor. Some foods are best dry-scorched, which can make the food flavor more concentrated, as in stir-frying. Some cooking is best done as soup, to get the flavors outside the food item and into the broth. This method is commonly used for those foods that are limpid and refreshing, and that easily float on the surface of the dish.
Information about Matching Foods
The saying goes: “A woman needs a good match for a husband.” The Rites also said: “A qualified person needs a good match.” For cooking methods, isn’t it the same? To cook anything, one must have ingredients that match. Light dishes should go with light ingredients; strong dishes should blend heavy ingredients. Soft dishes should have soft ingredients. Hard dishes need hard ingredients. In this way, one can make the best dishes. Some ingredients can be cooked with either meat or vegetables, such as mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and wax gourd. Some ingredients can be cooked with meat only, like onion, leek, fennel, and fresh garlic. Some can be cooked only with vegetables, such as celery, lilies, and sword bean. Often one sees someone put crab meat into a birds’ nests soup, or put lily in a chicken or pork dish. This match is like Su Jun and Tang Yao sitting in front of each other—highly absurd. However, if meat and vegetable products are used wisely, they can also give a good effect: for example, fried meat with vegetable oil, and stir-fried vegetables with lard.
(Su Jun was a Jin Dynasty general who rebelled and briefly occupied the capital, saying “I would rather be on a hill looking at a prison than in a prison looking at the hill”; Tang Yao was an emperor in mythic times, in the days of Shun.)
Information on Cooking Single Ingredients
If food tastes too strong, it can only be used alone; it cannot be combined with other foods. As the famous statesmen Li Jiang and Zhang Juzheng had to stand alone, in order to give full play to their talents, so foods such as eel, turtle, crab, fish, beef, and mutton and lamb, should be separate dishes. They do not mix well with other materials. Why? Since they have strong flavors, they are quite enough for a dish. However, there are shortcomings: they need five-spice, and cooking by skilled chefs, to bring the fragrant flavor out without bad smells. Therefore, when I see people in Nanjing liking turtle cooked with sea cucumber, or shark fins with crab meat, I cannot help but frown. Turtle, crab meat, and sea cucumber’s flavors can not mix well with shark fin and sea cucumber. Instead the tastes of shark fin and sea cucumber can ruin turtle and crab meat.
(Five-spice is a nonstandardized spice mix that can have anything from four to seven spices. Standard ingredients include black pepper, cumin seeds, cinnamon, star anise, fennel seeds, and similar pungent warm flavorings. It is still used with strong-flavored meats. A modern diner would usually agree with Yuan Mei on the unlikely mixes noted in the last sentences.)
Cooking Temperature Information
Among cooking methods, the most important thing is to master the fire. Sometimes it must be a high fire, as in stir-frying, deep-frying, and similar things. Insufficient fire makes unpleasing dishes. Sometimes it must be slow, as in simmering, boiling, and the like. If the fire is too hot, these dishes look dry and dull. Some dishes need a military fire and then a civilian fire [a delightful metaphor for a fierce fire and then a gentle one], to keep the stock [from boiling away]. Impatience would make the dishes burnt on the outside but raw inside. For some dishes the longer you cook, the tenderer it will be, such as kidney, eggs, and the like. For some food, even with a short time of cooking, it would lose its tenderness, such as fresh fish, clams and the like. In cooking meat, if we fail to get it out of the pan in time, the color will change from red to black. In cooking fish, it is the same: fish meat will turn dry. While cooking, if you keep lifting the lid from the wok or pot, the dish will end up with less flavor but more foam. If you stop the fire and cook again, the oil and flavor will be lost. In Taoist alchemy, after nine rounds of cooking down, cinnabar becomes elixir. Confucians concentrate everything, avoiding excess and deficiency, and finding the center. When a chef knows fire and can correctly and carefully manage it, he has the Way of cooking. When the fish is put on the table, its color is as white as jade, and without dryness it keeps freshness and deliciousness. If the fish is white like powder, and its meat is loose, it looks dead. A beautiful shining fresh fish, cooked till it seems long dead, is a really hateful thing for me.
Color and Odor Information
The eyes and nose are the mouth’s neighbors. They are also the mouth’s mediators. When a dish is placed in front of the eyes and nose, the color and smell can give different feelings. Sometimes the dish looks fresh like autumn clouds; sometimes brilliant like amber. The delicious odor greets you before chewing and tasting, and you notice something wonderful about the food. But to keep the color vivid, do not fry it with sugar; to keep the delicious freshness and fragrance, do not use flavorings. Using such complex methods destroys the food’s delicious taste.
Information on Timing
To invite guests to dinner, the host usually sends the invitation about three days ahead. That is a good amount of time to consider preparing a wide variety of dishes. However, if guests drop in suddenly, then it’s necessary to prepare a simple meal. Or if the host is outside, away from home, the situation is similar. Can you take the water of the Eastern Sea to put out a fire in the south? It is necessary to draw up an easy-to-cook list. Examples are frying chicken slices, frying tofu with dried shrimps, fish in wine lees, ham, and the like. To be a good cook, one must know how to make quick tasty dishes in such circumstances.
Various Cooking Information
Each food has its own unique flavor, and foods cannot be cooked all together. Sages teach students in accordance with their aptitude. Gentlemen [junzi] cleave to human goodness. Yet, now, I always see bad cooks put chicken, duck, pork and goose meat in one pot to cook. The result is that everyone gets the same tastes in dishes—no surprises or uniqueness. I think if the chickens, pigs, ducks, and geese had souls, in the city of the dead they would definitely complain of their grievances! A cook who is good at cooking must have extra pots, stoves, basins, and various pots and utensils, in order to highlight the unique flavor of the food. So each dish has its own characteristics. If we can experience the uniqueness of each dish, our hearts will blossom.
Knowing Kitchen Utensils
The old saying has it: Delicious foods need to be placed in beautiful utensils. This is quite right. However, Ming dynasty wares from the times of Xuande, Chenghua, Jiajing,and Wanli are extremely expensive, and people are worried about damaging them. Rather than taking the risk, people prefer Qing dynasty wares produced in imperial kilns. These are also very delicate and beautiful. Whenever appropriate, use bowls with bowls, plates with plates, large with large, small with small, with appropriate colors. Varied furnishings for all kinds of food on the table make the food look attractive and striking. On the other hand, rigidly using ten bowls and eight plates [a dully conventional setting] on the table appears crude and stereotyped. Precious food should be placed in big utensils; ordinary food is suited to small utensils. Stir-fry dishes go in plates, and soups in bowls. Fry-cooking should be done in an iron pot, simmering and stewing food in sand pots.
(This last sentence has something to do with the presentation, but more with the actual technique of cooking, so it seems an odd fit with the previous sentences. “Sand pots” are coarse sand-tempered earthenware casserole pots, ideal for stewing because they distribute the heat well and develop a seasoned taste. They could be seen in any old-time Chinese kitchen.)
Serving Order Information
Rules for serving order: Salty dishes should be served first, then mild dishes. Rich cuisine should also be served first, then light dishes. Non-soupy dishes should go first, then the soup dishes. Under Heaven, cuisines have five flavors; one cannot generally use one region’s flavoring in another’s cuisine. Estimate when guests have eaten until they are almost full and feel tired and sleepy, then serve spicy dishes to stimulate their appetite. If the guests drink too much and their stomachs are tiring, serve with sweet and sour dishes to refresh them.
(The five regional flavors are classically defined as sour in the east, bitter in the south, sweet in the center, spicy in the west, and salty in the north. The last two, at least, are quite accurate characterizations of food in those regions of China even today, and the east still produces the best vinegar.)
Information about the Seasons
In summer, days are long and hot. If you slaughter livestock too soon, the meat will easily go bad. In winter, days are short and cold; if the cooking time is slightly shorter than normal, food will not be cooked thoroughly. It is best to eat beef and lamb in winter [they are hearty, high-calorie foods]. Summer is not the right time. Dry cured food is fit in summer; in winter it’s out of season. As to condiments, in summer use mustard and in winter use black or white pepper. [Pepper is hot; mustard feels cooler.] Marinated pickles are inexpensive food in winter, but eaten in summer they taste precious. Bamboo shoots are also inexpensive food, but cook them in cool autumn days, and they will seem a first class dish. Some food eaten before its season will taste more delicious, such as eating fresh shad in March [a bit before the main run starts]. Some food eaten after its season will taste better, such as eating fresh taro in April. Some are better if eaten in season, such as radish, which goes hollow inside [if left too long], bamboo shoots which turn bitter [again if left too long], and saury fish, whose bones harden up after the season. So all things have their place in the four seasons. Choose the best time to eat them to avoid losing the original tasty flavors.
In a given dish, [if it is to feature an expensive ingredient,] the expensive material should take the main role, and inexpensive material should be used in less amount. In frying and stir-frying, too much [in the pan] and too low fire result in tough meat. Therefore, to cook one dish, use no more than a half jin [about 300 grams] of pork, beef and lamb meat; for chicken or fish, no more than six liang. You may ask: Is this enough food? I say: when you’re done, just cook more later. Some dishes need larger amount of material. In cooking dishes like boiled streaky pork, if you cook less than 20 catties, it would be tasteless. [There needs to be a huge amount to create a really concentrated, rich stock—but 20 jin is a bit much, and there may be some mistake here.] Congee is the same; without a lot of rice [lit. a peck, but water quantity unspecified], the porridge will not be thick and heavy. Also, water must be regulated: with too much water or too little rice, the porridge will taste weak.
Information on Cleanliness
A knife used to cut onions is not used to cut bamboo shoots. A pepper-stamping mortar cannot be used to stamp rice powder. When a dish smells like a rag, it is because the cloth is not clean. If dishes smell like a [dirty] cutting board, it is because the cutting board was not clean. “If a craftsman wants to do a good job, he must first prepare his tools.” [Evidently a proverb.] A good cook should often sharpen his kitchen knives, change rags, scrape the cutting board, and wash his or her hands, and only then cook dishes. Smoking ashes, head sweat, flies and ants on the kitchen range, black coal in the pan, once they pollute the dishes, they ruin the carefully made goods. If Xi Shi the beauty got dirty, everyone would cover his nose and quickly pass on by. [Another more or less proverbial expression; Xi Shi was the traditional “beauty” of China, like Helen in ancient Greece.]
Information on Using Starch
Commonly people refer to bean starch as a binder, meaning something like the way ships are pulled by fiber ropes. From this name, we can understand the role of starch in cooking. In making meatballs, it is not easy to bind the meatball together; starch is needed to do this. In making soup, the soup cannot be too greasy. You need starch [in the meatball] to solve the problem. In sautéing meat, if the meat sticks to the pot, then it easily gets burnt. Starch [coating] protects the meat from getting burnt. This is the advantage of using bean starch in cooking. For good cooks who understand how to use starch right, it is a great help. However, wrongly used starch only creates a mess, and leads to jokes [presumably unkind quips by diners]. The book Han Zhi Kao calls bran the mediator; the mediator should really refer to starch.
Information on How to Choose the Right Materials
Some rules for using materials: for a small stir-fry, use hindquarters meat. To make meatballs, use “sandwich” meat. [“Sandwich” meat is meat has three lean layers and two fat layers evenly distributed; it is found just under the shoulder]. For simmering, use pork rib. Make fried fish fillet with herring or Mandarin fish; make dried fish floss with grass carp and common carp. Make steamed chicken with chicken less than a year old, make stewed chicken with castrated rooster, and make chicken broth with old hen. Female chickens are fresh and juicy, male ducks are fat and meaty. With Brasenia schreberi [a succulent water plant], use tip parts with the young leaves; for celery and chives, use the stems. These are some basic material selection methods which also apply [in general] to other selections.
Information about Uncertain Tastes
We want the dishes taste rich, but not greasy; or taste light, but not plain. It is really hard to fully understand and grasp the skill. Slight mistakes lead to poor cooking. When we say rich flavor, it means that the cook should extract the essence and reject the dross. If one pursues only richness and heaviness, why not just eat lard? To “taste fresh and light” refers to bringing out the prominent good flavor. If one seeks only weak and tasteless things, why not just drink water?
Information on Fixing Mistakes
When master chefs cook dishes, they know how to use the right amount of seasonings, how to control fire intensity, and how to time the cooking. So the dishes come out perfect and no need more making up. However, I still have to talk about how to correct the mistakes when they happen. When seasoning, make it light rather than strong, because one may add salt but one cannot take it out [once it is in, and the same for other seasonings].. Cooking fish, it is better cook it too little rather than too long. If it needs more cooking time, one can still cook it longer; if it’s overdone, nothing can make it tender again. The way to know the key points is observing carefully while cooking and cutting, watching the fire to understand it fully.
(Age-old advice, taught by every veteran cook to young learners. Always make your mistakes in the direction one can correct. One is reminded of the folktale of the ancient Greek sculptor’s advice “Make the nose too big and the eyes too small.”)
Knowing When to Keep Your Roots
Manchu cuisine focuses on simmering and stew cooking. Han cuisine focuses on soup and broth. Since childhood, they have learned to be good at their own styles of cuisine. Han dinners for Manchus and Manchu dinners for Han people are good ways to explore different styles of cuisine. Do not imitate Han Dan, who dropped his own walking style to copy all sorts of others. People nowadays forgot themselves often, tending to calculate how to please the visitors. Han invites Manchu, offers Manchu cuisine; Manchu invites Han, offers Han cuisine. The result is like “painting a gourd while looking at a gourd” [a Chinese saying, meaning to copy mechanically] or like “trying to draw a tiger but ending up with a dog” [another saying]. If a xiucai [roughly, an M.A.] goes to the examination [for the equivalent of a Ph.D.], and concentrates on doing his own writing excellently, he will naturally get someone’s appreciation or career opportunity. If he just imitates a famous essay, or make an imitation of an examiner’s essay with only a little knowledge, it’s wasted effort.
(The Chinese second-highest and highest academic degrees required more memorization and cultural knowledge than their western equivalents, and were tested by formidably difficult written examinations; they did not require independent research but did require serious independent thought about real-world problems, contra some claims in western literature.)
Part 2 What Not to Do
As politicians, to get political gain, find it better to help people solve their problems than to get promotions through new projects regardless of existing problems, so with food: one has understood half the art of cooking when one has gotten rid of the bad habits. This is why I write my “Not-to-do Lists.”
Don’t Add More Oil or Fat
Bad cooks like to prepare a pot of pork lard for adding a scoop on top of each dish before serving, thinking it’s the way to enhance the taste, even with a light dish like birds’ nestss. It totally ruins the original taste of the dish. If the diners don’t know, and swallow food without chewing, they may think that eating greasy food was good, but they will look like hungry ghosts reborn.
(“Hungry ghosts” are a Buddhist concept; greedy people and the like are apt to be reborn in the hell of hungry ghosts, where they will have vast appetites but vanishingly small mouths. Here, the greedy guests look like hungry ghosts reborn as humans and making up for lost time.)
Don’t Use the Same Cooking Tools All the Time
The disadvantages of this has been noted in the Cleanliness section of the “to-do lists” above.
Don’t Eat with Your Ears
What is an “Ear Banquet”? It is a dinner provided in pursuit of fame. Wishing to serve something precious, so as to boast to the guests, is an ear banquet, not really [the serving of] a delicious dish. You should know that if tofu is done well, it’s better than birds’ nests. And if you don’t cook sea cucumber [the text says “sea vegetable,” which Giles 1923:261 takes as an error for sea cucumber] right, it’s not as good as vegetables and bamboo shoots. I have said that fish, chicken, pork, and duck are the knights of the kitchen. Each has its basic own flavor and cooking style. Sea cucumbers and birds’ nests are like ordinary persons—no characteristics. They can be cooked well only with the help of other food. I have seen an official’s dinner, each bowl is as big as a big jar, containing four liang of water-cooked birds’ nest—no taste at all. The guests were trying to compliment him. I smiled and said: “we came here to eat birds’ nests, not to traffic in birds’ nests.” If the valuable item hasn’t been cooked well, although there’s large amount, it’s a waste. If he serves it only to boast how rich he is, why can’t he just put a hundred jewels in each bowl, or a quantity of gold? Then it doesn’t matter if it’s inedible.
(Birds’ nests, by themselves, are tasteless. Their virtues, other than the medicinal one of providing digestible protein and minerals, are that they provide a crunchy texture and are very good at absorbing other flavors. They are good only if cooked in a very flavorful soup. Sea cucumbers, also valued more for their medicinal protein and mineral value than for their flavor, are somewhat more flavorful, but do indeed need much supplementing to make them good.)
Don’t Eat with Your Eyes
What is an “eye meal”? An eye meal is one in which there are too many dishes at a time. Now some people pursue the fame of the food; they cover the table with dishes and stacks of plates and bowls. They eat with their eyes, not with their mouths. [Angl. “their eyes are bigger than their stomachs.”] They don’t know that when famous writers and calligraphers write too much in a short time, there must be some failures; when famous poets write too many poems, there must be some bad lines. It is the same with a good chef. In one day, he can probably make four or five good dishes; that is about his limit. But to arrange a huge feast, even with others’ help, most likely will result in a mess. Because more people come to help, there are more different opinions. [“Too many cooks spoil the broth.”] This can result in bad discipline during the cooking. I once went to a merchant’s house for dinner. They had three tables of dishes—desserts of sixteen types, total main course dishes of more than 40 types. The host felt proud of his treats, thinking it must have increased his face in front of the guests. However, after I got home, I needed to cook some congee to satisfy my hungry stomach. Due to my experience, I think this merchant’s dinner was less than successful—indeed, it was not very sophisticated! The Southern-dynasty writer Kong Linzhi (369-423) once said: “People nowadays have many dishes, but rather outside the mouth—it’s more for the eyes’ satisfaction.” In my words, too many dishes on one table create unsatisfying views as well as unsatisfying flavors.
Don’t Overcook the Food
Everything has its basic nature, and cannot be distorted to be something else. Let nature take its course. For a good thing like birds’ nests, why mash it down to make a ball? A sea cucumber is a sea cucumber, why cook it down to a sauce? When watermelon is cut, it won’t stay fresh for long. Why make it into cakes? When apples are too ripe, they are not crisp. Why steam them to make dry fruit? Other things like Autumn Vine cakes from Zun Sheng Ba Jian and Magnolia Cake made by Li Liweng are all pretentiously overcooked pieces. It’s like twisting osier branches to make cups—they lose their main features. It’s also like daily ethical behavior; one can benefit the household just by performing normal good virtue. There is no need for strange practices.
Don’t Set Food Aside to Wait
When flavors are fresh, they should be taken out of the pot and tasted soon. If set it aside and eaten later, all the good flavor will be gone. It’s like clothes that have grown moldy—it doesn’t matter how expensive and shiny the fabric is, as long as the mold is on it, it smells bad and looks grey. I know an impatient host; every time he invites friends for dinner, he always wants all the dishes to be served together. So his cook has to put all the dishes in steamers to keep it warm until the master rushes him to serve. With such a way of serving food, how can anyone keep the flavors in? Good chefs cook every dish with hearts and thoughts, but those eaters who only know how to swallow without chewing, in a rush, don’t really appreciate the hard work of the chef. It’s like a person who has got the best fruit, such as a Mourning Pear. They don’t eat it when fresh; instead they steam it to eat. When I was in the eastern part of Guangdong, I went to Governor Yang Lanpo’s house and had eel soup there. It was so tasty that I asked how it was made. He answered: “I just killed the eel, cooked it and ate it right away without a pause.” Other kinds of dishes should be made and tasted the same way.
Don’t Waste, and Don’t Kill without Mercy
A violent person won’t appreciate others’ hard work, a wasteful person won’t make good use of materials. Chicken, fish, duck and goose, from head to tail, all have their special flavors. One should not take only a bit and then throw away the rest. I once saw a person cook a soft-shelled turtle; he only used the soft meaty edge of the shell and didn’t know the best part was the interior–the turtle meat. And there are people who eat only a fish belly, not knowing the best part is the fish’s back. In pickled eggs, the most delicious is the egg yolk, not the white. However, to toss all the egg whites, and eat only the yolks, would make the eater feel less interested in the eggs. I point it out not only because I treasure food in life, but also to bring up the point that we don’t need to over-trim in cooking food. If to do so would make a better dish, it may worth doing, but if to do so only results in wasting and poor taste, it’s better not to act this way. As for grilling live geese on charcoal for a goose web dish, or cutting live chickens open for livers, these are very cruel acts that should not be done by gentlemen (junzi). Why is this? If domestic animals are used for food, they have to be killed, but killing has to be kind, not merciless.
Don’t Abuse Alcohol
In judging a matter, only sober people can understand it. Similarly, as to telling good food or bad food apart, only sober people can do it. Yi Yin [the legendary chef of ancient China] said: “The essence of flavor is hard to elaborate in words.” Even sober people can’t do it easily. How can noisy drinkers taste the flavor? I often see those who drink hard, eating while playing finger-guessing games. Even if the food is very good, they cannot taste it; it’s like chewing on wood chips. They care only about the drink, not the food. In fact, if occasionally it’s necessary to drink, we should eat the food first, then drink and play. In this way, both drink and food are enjoyed.
No Hot Pot
In winter time, people like to eat hot pot with guests. During the hot pot season, however, loud talking and a noisy atmosphere really disgust me. Also, different food needs different cooking time and temperature and fire level. These can’t be mixed up. Now all food is cooked in the hot pot. How can we get delicious flavors? Recently, people are using distilled alcohol as fuel instead of charcoal, thinking it’s a better way, but it’s still not the right way. As long as food has been cooked too long and too hot, it cannot maintain proper flavor. Someone might ask: “What about food that gets cold, is it still tasty?” I say: “Food that has been improperly cooked, with the cooking mistimed, can only taste awful when it’s cold.”
(The hot pot, firepot, huoguo, or—in Cantonese—tapinlou, is a pot with a charcoal burner in the center, keeping the stock boiling. In a proper hot pot, the diners hold thinly-sliced food in chopsticks and cook them in the stock to their taste. Evidently Yuan Mei had to suffer hot pots in which all the food was thrown in at once and boiled to death—not the proper way.)
No Forcing Guests to Eat
To invite friends for dinner is a matter of good manners. It’s up to friends to decide which food they want to taste. Hosts should make their guests feel at home. This is the polite way to treat the guests. The host should not force guests to eat. I often notice the host taking all kinds of food with his chopsticks and piling it up in front of guests, making guests’ plates look ugly and greasy and disgusting. The host should know his guests have eyes and hands, and they are not children or hungry brides who are shy to take the food themselves. Why treat the guests in a vulgar-woman style that is extremely insulting? Lately, courtesans have come to love this ugly habit; they pick up food with chopsticks and stuff into customers’ mouths. The scene looks as terrible as a rape. In Chang’an, there’s a very hospitable person who can’t seem to manage to serve tasty food. One of his guests asked him:” Are you and I good friends?” He answered: “Of course!” Then the guest kneeled down, and said: “If so, I have one request, and you must say yes before I get up.” The surprised host asked: “What can I do for you?” The guest said: “In future, if you want to invite friends for dinner, please don’t include me.” Everyone laughed.
Don’t Waste Good Fat
Fish, pork, chicken and duck all have lots of fat, but we wish to save the good fat in meat and turn it to good flavor, not waste it in cooking liquid. In this way we can keep its natural essence. If the good fat was cooked into soup, it tastes less delicious than if it stays in the meat. For this [loss of fat], there are three reasons: first, if the fire is too high, the moisture leaks out and evaporates, and multiple times we must add water during the cooking [leaching out still more fat]. Second, if the fire is shut down, later be turned on again, [the fat seeps out]. Third, if the cook is impatiently checking the food by opening the lid over and over during cooking, that will make the good fat leak out of the meat.
Don’t Fall into Stereotyping
Tang Dynasty poems are the best, so why don’t all masters choose Tang’s regulated-verse form? [This form—eight-line poems with complex rhyme and tone systems—was the “signature style” of the great Tang poets. Yuan himself was a master of it—but of many other forms too.] Because it has become a cliché. If poetry is thus, so is cuisine. Nowadays, official cuisine forms include “sixteen plates”, “eight big bowls”, and “four desserts” or “Man-Han [Manchu and Han Chinese] Banquets,” “eight snacks,” “ten main courses,” and so on. These cheap names are created by chefs and have become mere stereotypes that can be used for wedding ceremonies, welcoming superiors, and such reputation-related events. They are also coupled with chair covers, table cloths, fancy screens, and incense burner tables. But for casual dinners, as when one invites friends to drink and write poems, such things are unnecessary. All we need are different types of plates and bowls, and food displayed in order. This shows dignity. My household, when we celebrate birthday and wedding feasts, unfortunately has fallen into these stereotypes, because we hire chefs from outside. However, with my training, they will henceforth follow my directions and each feast will have its unique style.
Don’t Make Turbid Meals
Turbid and muddy doesn’t mean thick or thin. For soup, it means coming out not black or white, but like filthy water. For braising food, it means coming out not clear or rich, but like waste material poured out from a smelly dyevat. In these cases, the color and taste are really hard to bear. The way to avoid this is to wash well the basic materials; know how to add seasonings; pay attention to control of the fire and the broth; control the sourness and saltiness so as not to make strange or dull sensations on the eaters’ tongues. Yuxin once mentioned in his work: “Flavorless, flavorless, like pure vapor; muddled, muddled, vulgar at heart.” This is what “turbid” means.
Don’t Be Careless
Don’t be careless about anything, still less in cooking. Cooks are persons from the lower classes. If for a day they are not duly rewarded or criticized, in that day they will be lazy and casual. Their cooking will be bad because of lack of timely attention. If we eat that food anyway, then tomorrow they will cook even worse food. Continuing with this, the food becomes trash, their job not performed well. I say that one needs to reward or criticize them strictly and at the time. A cook who has done well needs to be praised, with details of how his cooking is good. A cook who has done a bad job needs to be told straightforwardly why it was a bad job and how he can correct it. When cooking, seasoning must be performed well, not too plain or too salty; cooking time must be enough but not overlong. Lazy cooks who don’t love their cooking, like eaters who don’t care about the food, are problems for one who is dining and does care. Studying thoroughly and thinking through details are the keys to success in a scholar. Similarly, guiding in culinary theory and learning from each other are the duties of teachers. For cooking and diet, shouldn’t it be the same?
Part 3. Seafood
In the original list of the “eight precious dishes,” there were no seafoods included. Nowadays, people like to add seafood to the precious foods, so I follow the trend and have written a section on seafood.
Birds’ nests make a very expensive food material which is not used in a casual meal. When cooking it, use two liang in a bowl, soaked with boiled natural spring water , and then pick the dark foreign substances out. Cook with fresh chicken soup, best ham soup, or fresh mushroom soup together until it turns to a white-jade color; then it’s ready. Birds’ nests are mild and fresh food material that cannot be cooked with greasy food. They are also very smooth and cannot be cooked with other food contains bones or any hard subjects. Nowadays, people cook birds’ nests with sliced pork and chicken. In my opinion, this is not an appropriate way to eat it because it’s more like eating pork and chicken instead of birds’ nests. Some people wants to have a taste of the birds’ nests. They cook a little of it with a bowl of noodles, so little that after a moment the eaters have only noodles left. This is another inappropriate way. It seems to be like a beggar pretending he’s rich, but only appearing poor. If there’s not much birds’ nest material, it is all right to cook it with mushroom slices, bamboo slices or tender pheasant slices. Once, at the Yang Ming government house in eastern Guangdong, I had a top-quality winter melon and birds’ nests dish. It tasted mild and fresh, smooth and tender, cooked with enough chicken broth and mushroom broth only. Birds’ nests are the color of jade, not pure white. Those who smash it into balls or dough are bad cooks.
(Birds’ nests are the nests of swiftlets, Collocalia spp., the best being from Collocalia esculenta. Long harvested sustainably, they are now becoming extinct, because modern economies have no place for sustainable management. Yuan’s instructions are all perfect, and still the rules for proper presentation.)
The Three Ways of Cooking Sea Cucumber
Sea cucumber is actually free of taste. It smells fishy and has lots of sand inside. Cooking it well is difficult. It’s best to cook it with strong-flavored food. Do not make it into a mild soup. The way to prepare it, first, pick out the small spines, then soak it to wash off sand and mud, and next boil with meat soup three times over. Finally, stew it with chicken broth and meat soup till it’s tender. It also can be combined with black mushrooms and black fungus. Because they are all black, they match the color of the sea cucumber. Usually it should be made a day before the meal, so it will be tender, juicy and smooth enough. I once observed how the household of the investigating official of Qian make sea cucumber. In summer time, they drizzled chicken soup and mustard on cooked sea cucumber slices. It turned out a very good dish. Or they would cut the sea cucumber into small cubes, stew it with bamboo, black mushroom pieces, and chicken broth. At the Officer of Jiang’s house, they use tofu skin, chicken legs and mushroom to cook with sea cucumber. It’s also a very successful dish.
(Sea cucumber, eaten more for health than taste, actually has a slight seafood flavor. It is still cooked as described here.)
Two Ways of Making Shark Fin
Shark fin is really hard to cook to tenderness. It has to be cooked for two days; by then it will probably be tender. There are two ways to make it: One way is to use the best ham and chicken broth, add fresh bamboo shoots and a qian of crystal sugar, then slow-cook it on a small fire; or combine broken shark fins with thin sliced turnip slices and thick chicken broth and cook it slowly on a small fire. This way the eaters wouldn’t be able to tell turnips and shark fins apart. When using the ham option, one should make it with less soup; with the turnip option, make it with more soup. Melting the shark fins into other food materials is the best general way to cook it. If sea cucumber pokes one’s nose tip or if shark fin sticks out of the plate because it’s still hard, the whole dish then becomes a joke. In the Investigator Wu’s household, they only use the top part of the shark fins. This is another option to make the dish well. Turnip slices must be boiled in hot water fast twice to get rid of the muddy flavor. Once I was at Guo Geng Li’s place eating a shark fin dish. It was the best I ever had, but sadly I didn’t get to find out how they cooked it.
(Shark fin is now fading away, because the sharks are overfished; many chefs now refuse to cook it, since the fishery is now unsustainable. Like the previous two items, it was more a medicinal food than a good-tasting item in itself. The medicinal value was as a “supplementing” or “strengthening” food—a dietary supplement. We now know this value is due to its easily digestible protein and high mineral content. This made it very valuable in China’s malnourished past, especially to older persons.)
The best way to make abalone is to stir-fry thin abalone slices. At Zhongcheng Yang’s house, they slice the abalone, and cook it with chicken broth and tofu. This dish, named “ Abalone Tofu,” was then dressed with special rice liquor flavored oil. At Governor Zhuang’s, big abalones are slowly cooked with a whole duck, a very special dish. Abalone is hard to make tender enough to chew easily. It has to be cooked for three days.
(The last figure refers to dried abalone, though even fresh abalone takes a good deal of cooking. A zhongcheng is a vice-manager of important national security matters.)
Clams are best for making meat soup and are famous for their fresh taste. Simply pick out the insides and cook with liquor.
Haiyan, a tiny fish from Lingbo, tastes like small shrimps. It is best used by cooking in steamed scrambled eggs. It makes a good snack.
Squid meatballs are incredibly tasty but most difficult to make. The squid has to be boiled with river water to wash off the sand and get rid of the fishy smell. Then cook it with chicken broth and fresh mushrooms till tender. Military Officer Gong Yunrou’s squid meatballs are the best of all.
(These are traditionally made from the squid’s nidamental gland, a large glandular structure involved in producing eggs. It is high in protein and has a mild smell—a very valuable sea food.)
Dried River Scallops
Dried river scallop are from Lingbo. The way of cooking is similar to cooking clams and mussels. The delicious part is the tiny meat part [the adductor muscle] attached to the shells. This being the case, when getting the scallops, people often throw away more than what they get.
(Scallops are not river animals, but for some reason are called jiang yao zhu, “river dried scallops.”)
Oyster Yellows [a standard term for oysters]
Oysters live on rocks. Their shells stick to the rocks, which makes it hard to pry the oysters off. Open the shells, take the meat, and make thick soup, the same way as for clams and mussels. Oysters have another name, “ghost eyes.” They can be found in Leqing and Fenghua in Zhejiang province.
Part 4. River Fish
Guo Pu’s “River Discourses” mentioned numerous types of river fish. I choose the common kinds to talk about here, to make a River Fish section.
Two Ways of Making Saury
Saury can be pickled in honey liquor, soaked in light sauce and then placed on plate for steaming, as for herrings. For the best flavor, there is no need to add any water. If you want to take out the bones, just fillet the fish and pick [any remaining] bones out with tweezers. Cook it in ham soup, chicken broth or bamboo shoots soup; these are the tastiest. Nanjing people don’t like the bones, so they roast it with oil first, then fry. [This would make the bones so carbonized that they would be edible along with the fish.] There is an old saying: “Don’t flatten a humpbacked person’s back, or he will die.” The same is true of saury. Cut the back multiple times to smash the bones, then fry it to golden color, sprinkled with seasoning; this is the method from Tao Datai’s house in Wufu town. This way it’s hard to feel the saury bones when eating.
(The Chinese name literally means “knife fish,” a name which includes saury and some similarly thin-bodied sea fish. Saury is a mackerel-like fish of particularly fine flavor. Knife fish are bony, hence the advice. Presumably one wants to have the saury die, and get deboned too.)
You can stew shad with honey liquor, as with saury, and it is very good. Or it can be slightly fried, adding clear sauce and fermented rice liquor. This is also a good method. But don’t cut it into pieces and cook it in chicken soup. And don’t take only the belly part and throw away the back, because the flavor of shad is in the [meat along the] backbone.
(Northwest Coast people in Canada sometimes have “feasts of salmon backbones,” which sounds awful until you learn that the salmon too has some of its finest meat in the backstrip.)
Yin Jishan said he knew how to cook the best sturgeon dish. But his sturgeon dish was overdone and tasted too strong. At Tang’s house in Suzhou, I had stir-fried sturgeon slices that were very delicious. His method is to oil-fry the sturgeon slices first, then boil the slices with a bit of liquor and soy sauce for 30 seconds. Then, last, he adds some water to boil the whole dish with spices, pieces of black sauce pickled cucumber, ginger, and green onions. Another method is to boil the fish in water for 10 seconds, then cut out the big bones, cut the meat part into small cubes including the cartilage of the head. Boil some chicken broth, put in the fish head cartilage, and cook it till it’s almost done, then add liquor and soy sauce, and then the fish cubes. Cook it until the meat part is 80% done. Then add liquor and autumn oil [probably a type of soy sauce made in the fall]. Then take the fish meat, slowly stew it for the last 20% of cooking with green onion, brown pepper, chives and a big glass of ginger juice for the last step.
(Sturgeon is a rather tough, meaty fish that needs stronger flavoring than the preceding delicate fish. It has a great deal of cartilage that is good but needs long cooking.)
Yellow fish is cut into small cubes, pickled in sauce and liquor for about an hour, then hung to dry, then fried until golden. Add a teacup of Jin Hua salt black beans, a bowl of sweet liquor, and a small cup of autumn oil [see above] to cook on high heat. When the dish juice looks a bit dry and red, then add sugar , black-sauce-pickled cucumber, and ginger to cook for a minute. Then it is done. This dish smells and tastes really good. Another way to cook it is to get rid of the bones, mash the meat, then cook in a soup with chicken broth. One can also add a bit of sweet bean sauce and corn starch to thicken the texture. Yellow fish is best cooked in strong-flavored dishes, because of its rich and strong essence.
(“Yellow fish” is a term widely used for any yellowish fish, but it very possibly means yellowfin tuna here. The cooking directions are right. They are certainly wrong for yellow croaker, another fish often called “yellow fish.”)
Grouper is the tenderest fish of all. Peel off the skin, take out the intestines, and use only the liver and meat. Cook it with chicken broth over a low flame, adding three parts liquor, two parts water, and one part soy sauce. When it is about done, add a big bowl of ginger juice and a few green onions to remove the fishy smell.
(Grouper remains an extremely popular fish, often still cooked more or less as in this recipe. There are literally countless species in the seas off China—no one has finalized a taxonomy of all of them.)
Boil two yellow fish [presumably still tuna] until done. Remove all the bones. Scramble four uncooked pickled eggs. Then first fry the fish meat on high, then add chicken broth to boiling, and then stir in scrambled egg fluid slowly. Add black mushrooms, onion, and ginger juice and liquor to cook. When served, people can add vinegar to taste.
(Again, the recipe makes yellowfin tuna the logical candidate for the yellow fish here.)
Part 5 Ritual Livestock- Pigs
Pigs are used in so many circumstances that they can be called Majority Leaders. Since our ancestors used the whole pigs as gifts for courtesy [including sacrifice to gods and ancestors], I named this part Ritual Livestock.
Two Ways to Cook a Pig’s Head
Pick a five-jin pig’s head, and wash it thoroughly. Prepare three jin of sweet liquor for cooking. For a seven or eight jin head, then prepare five jin of sweet liquor. Then, first boil the head with the liquor, add in 30 roots of green onions and three qian star anise, and boil for about 10 minutes. Then add in a big cup of soy sauce (“autumn oil”) and a liang of sugar. Continue cooking the head till fully done. Check the flavor; if it is too mild, add more soy sauce. Then add boiling water. Remember to cover the pig’s head one inch deep. Press it down with a heavy object. Cook it for about an hour on high, then turn to a civilian fire [or literary fire, i.e. a gentle fire. Recall from above: this is the opposite of a “military” fire]. Continue cooking till not much juice left and the head is soft and tender. Remove the lid when the head is cooked, or the juicy taste will dissipate in the oil. Another way to cook it is to use a bucket, split across the middle by a copper filter. Wash well a pig’s head; marinate it with spices. Fill the bucket to just below the copper filter. Put the head on the filter and cook it on low till done. The greasy material will drop to the bottom. The rest is the best dish.
(Pig’s head remains a popular delicacy.)
Four Ways to Cook Trotters [pigs’ feet]
Take a trotter without the nails. Boil it to tender in clear water, then discard the greasy liquid. Take one jin of good liquor, a half glass of flavored liquor, a qian of orange peel, and four or five jujubes [“Chinese dates”]. Cook them together with the tender trotter until it falls apart. Before serving, take out the orange peel and jujubes. Then add green onion, brown pepper and liquor. This is one way to cook it. Another way is stew the trotter in dried-shrimp stock with liquor and soy sauce. Another way is boil the trotter well first, the fry the skin in vegetable oil to a crackling, then add seasonings and brown sugar to slow-cook it. There are rural people who like to peel the skin before eating. This is called “removing the blanket.” Another way is to use two combined pots. Put the trotter, liquor and soy sauce in the inner pot, add water in the outer pot, steam the pots for two hours. This is called Immortal Spirits’ Meat [shen xian rou]. Official Observer Qian’s house makes very fine Immortal Spirits’ Meat.
Pig Foot and Pig Sinew
Use only pig foot, get rid of the larger bones, cook it in chicken broth. It can be paired with pig sinew. They are a perfect match. If there is a good leg part [attached], it can be added in.
Two Ways to Cook Pig Stomach
Cooking the stomach is not difficult. The only concern in cooking it is to wash well the stomach to get rid of the smells. This requires some type of process. The normal way is to rinse off the dirty mucus, then boil it in hot water till the surface hardens, then put it in cold water, then shave off the hard surface (including dirty material) with a knife. When the outer part is cleaned, cut open the stomach, cut off the grease on the stomach wall, and rub it with vinegar and salt to rid of the smells, and then rinse the wall till smooth. Now it is finally cleaned and ready to cook in any way. The northern style is to deep-fry the stomach till crisp. The southern style is commonly to boil it till tender, then slice it and eat it with dipping sauce. When boiling the stomach, don’t add salt because the meat will shrink. But if you add in liquor, the meat’s shape will recover and become crisp and tender.
Two Ways to Cook Pig Lung
Washing the lungs is very difficult. First rinse and clean the lung tubes till there is no more blood, then cut off the coating. Hang it upside down and beat it, then pull off the veins. Considerable skill is necessary to complete the job. After cleaning, boil in water and liquor for one day and one night. The lung will shrink to the size of a white hibiscus. It will float on the surface. Add seasonings and eat. It tastes juicy and soft. Officer Tang Xiya once held a small dinner party. Each guest had four slices in his bowl. This required four lungs. Recently, people are lacking in cooking skills, and usually just cut lungs to small pieces and stew these with chicken broth. If using pheasant broth, this dish has a milder and fresher taste. Cooking lungs with good ham is also possible.
(The reader will get the correct idea that lungs—“lights” in old-time culinary English—are not the choicest part of the animal. The Mongolian equivalent of “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” is “today’s lungs are better than tomorrow’s fat.”)
Pig kidney slices are hard to cook well. If overcooked, they taste dull and dry. If tender, eaters might think the slices are not well done. So it is better to stew it, then eat it with a salt and brown pepper dip or other spices. Use your hands to separate the kidney; do not use a knife to cut it. If cooked a whole day, it becomes soft as mud. It also should be cooked alone, not with other things, because its smells would ruin the whole flavor [of a mixed dish]. The kidney becomes hard after stewing for 45 minutes but gets tender after stewing for a day.
(Modern Chinese eaters tend to prefer pork kidney slices cooked for a very brief time. Long cooking as described by Yuan would be very rare now.)
Pork loin is good quality and tender meat. Lots of people don’t know how to cook it. Once I had pork loin at Yangzhou Governor Xie Wenshan’s house; it tasted really good. They sliced the meat, coated it with starch-powder batter, then put it in shrimp broth and cooked it with black mushroom and seaweed, immediately removing it from the fire when cooked.
Boiled Pork Slices
For making boiled pork slices, it’s best to use one’s own home-raised pig. Kill and clean the pig, then boil it in a big pan to cook till 80% done. Then leave it in the pan with the stock for another two hours. Get it out and cut off the muscle meat, then thinly slice this. When serving it, it tastes best when it’s not too hot or too cold. This is a northern style. Southern styles seem always less good than northern. Also it won’t taste good if you use purchased pork parts instead of the whole pig. That’s why when “cold knights” need to invite guests for dinner, they prefer to serve birds’ nests instead of boiled pork slices. To make boiled pork slices requires a lot of pork. The right way to slice it is to use a small sharp knife and to cut pieces which have fat and lean parts evenly mixed. The best pork-slice dish is the Manchu people’s “Tiao Shen Pork.”
(“Cold knights” is an expression from the Northern and Southern Dynasties, a cheerfully ironic way to refer to less-than-affluent students and such. Compare the Spanish nickname “poor knights” for French bread—a dish that looks noble but costs almost nothing. The point here is that an entertainer with slender means will be more prone to serve very expensive foods that can be served in limited quantity rather than a food that demands investing in a whole pig. The Tiao Shen is a ritual dance used by people to get blessings from the gods, and the pork is the offering, made with the whole pig for ritual ceremonies.)
Red Braised Meat
To make Red Braised Meat, it needs sweet sauce or soy sauce. Some use neither. One can cook a jin of pork with three qian of salt and stew it in pure liquor or water till the liquid is boiled dry. All three methods can make the meat color look like red amber. This dish cannot use sugar to add color. In cooking Red Braised Meat, if you remove from the pan too early, the meat looks yellowish. If you remove it just in time, it’s red. If you remove it too late, it turns to purple and the lean part gets really dry. While cooking, if you frequently lift the lid, the fat [actually the aroma] will leak away, and it holds the flavor of the dish. We often cut the meat to 1 or 1.5 inches cubes, and cook them until there are no more sharp corners and the lean meat melts in mouth. This is the best. The most important thing to cook this dish is timing. As the old saying goes: “high fire for cooking congee, low fire for cooking meat.”
White Braised Meat
For white braised meat, choose a jin of meat, boil it in water till 80% done, then set the soup aside. To the meat, add a half jin of liquor and two qian of salt, and stew for two hours on low. Then add half of the soup back in, and keep on stewing until all liquid is gone and meat is tender. At this time add in green onion, brown pepper, black fungus, chives and similar vegetables to cook on high for a minute. Then turn the fire low and cook until done. Another way: to a jin of meat, add one qian sugar, a half jin of liquor, a jin of water and half a tea cup of clear sauce. First cook the meat and the liquor on high for about two minutes, then add in a qian of dried fennel and enough water for cooking, then cook until meat gets tender. This is also a pretty good way.
(This is almost a usable recipe; Yuan must have cared a lot about this dish.)
Deep Fried Marbled Meat
Cut streaky meat into cubes, cut off the membranes, then marinate in liquor and soy sauce for preparation. Deep fry the pork cubes in vegetable oil to make it crisp outside and tender inside. When serving, add green onions, garlic and a bit of vinegar.
Dry Pot Steamed Meat
First, cut the meat into cubes, place it in a small ceramic container, sprinkle on sweet liquor and soy sauce [“autumn oil”]. Then put the container in a bigger ceramic container, sealed. Then place it in a wok on low fire, and cook it without any water for about two hours. The actual amounts of soy sauce and liquor depend on the meat. Usually one keeps the liquid just above the surface of the meat.
Steamed Meat in Ceramic Covered Bowl on Stove
Instead of using a wok, just place the bowl on the stove.
Steamed Meat in Porcelain Jar
Same method as above. The only difference: seal the jar well and use rice husk as fuel and cook it on low heat.
Skinless Ground Meat Pie
Take skinless pork and cut it up. Use three eggs, both whites and yellows, for each jin of meat. Scramble the eggs and mix well in meat, adding in half a liquor cup of soy sauce and green onion pieces. Mix well. Use one lard net [the mesentery, or the net-shaped fatty tissue wrapped around pig muscles] to wrap the meat mixture. Then fry the meat pie in about four liang of vegetable oil till the two sides turn golden. Then take it out and strain the oil. Next, use one teacup of good liquor and one half liquor cup of clear sauce and pour it over the meat pie, and cook it sealed in the wok. When done, slice the meat pie, and add chives, black mushrooms, and bamboo shoot pieces on top.
Sun-bathed Dry Meat
Slice lean meat thinly and sun it until dry. Stir-fry it with salt-preserved turnips.
Ham and Fresh Pork Stew
Cut the ham into cubes, put it in cold water. Boil for 30 seconds, then strain the water. Cut the pork, put it in cold water, and boil for 20 seconds. Strain the water. Place ham and pork in clean water, add in four liang of liquor, green onion, chili pepper, bamboo shoots and shiitake to stew on low heat.
Air-dried Fish and Pork Stew
The method is as same as the ham and fresh pork stew. One only needs to cook the pork first until 80% done, then add in air-dried fish. If one waits, it gets cold, and is then called “fish pork stew jelly.” This is a Shaoxing-style dish. If the fish is too old, don’t use it at all.
Steamed Rice Pork
Use pork slices that are half lean and half fat. Stir-fry broken rice grains to a yellow color. Then mix them with sweet flour paste and steam, remembering to place Chinese cabbage underneath. When done, the cabbage is as tasty as the meat. Because there is no water added, the method of cooking saves all the flavors. This dish is Jiangxi style.
Smoky Stewed Pork
First stew the pork with soy sauce and liquor, then smoke the whole ingredients over a sawdust fire for a while—not too long. When the meat gets half dry, it tastes extremely tender and juicy. Officer Wu Xiaogu’s Smoky Stew Pork is acclaimed as one of the best.
Take a jin of lean pork slices. Marinate in mild sauce, then air-dry the meat for about two hours. Use 40 big shrimps, and 2 liang of lard. Cut the shrimps to size of dice. Place one shrimp on one slice of meat, beat it flat, then boil the slices in water and screen them out [take them out with a wire-mesh ladle]. Heat a half jin of vegetable oil, set the meat in the wire-mesh ladle, then deep fry until done. Screen the fried meat. For making sauce, use a half liquor cup of soy sauce, a cup of liquor, a teacup of chicken broth, and boil it all. Then pour the sauce on the meat, adding steamed rice flour [presumably as starch powder to thicken the sauce so it coats the meat], green onion, and some brown pepper, mix it, then serve.
Cut the meat to the size of dominoes. Boil it in water for 20 to 30 seconds [lit. “turns,” gun, i.e. of boiling water rolling over], then strain. Using a half jin of vegetable oil, deep fry the meat until it is done. Screen it, then immediately cool it in cold water to make it shrink, then screen it out once again. Last, put the meat in the pan, add a half jin of liquor, a small cup of mild sauce, and a half jin of water. Stew it until tender and soft.
Pork with Eight Treasures
Use one jin of pork, a piece that is half lean and half fat. Boil for 10 to 20 seconds [lit. “turns”], screen it, then slice it to the shape of willow leaves. Prepare two liang of small clams, two liang of eagle-claw tea sprouts [named from the shape], one liang of black mushrooms, two liang of jellyfish, four walnuts, four liang of bamboo shoots, two liang of good ham, one liang of sesame oil. Put meat, soy sauce and the liquor in the pan to stew for five minutes, then add the rest of the ingredients, except the jellyfish, which should be added last.
Daylily Pork Stew
Use young daylily buds, add salt to pickle, then air dry for future cooking.
(The stew recipe is obviously missing here. No doubt the buds were to be stewed in casserole with pork, as they still are.)
Stir-fried Pork Shreds
Prepare a piece of meat by getting rid of membranes, skin and bones, then slice it very finely. Marinate with mild sauce and liquor, while heating some vegetable oil in the wok. When the smoke turns from white to light gray, put in the meat and stir-fry it constantly, meanwhile add in pea starch, a bit of vinegar, a bit of sugar, white stems of green onion, chives, and similar spices. It is best to use one jin of meat and a high fire, adding no water. Another way to cook this dish is: after stir-frying the meat in oil, add sauce and liquor to stew until the color of meat changes to red, turn off the fire, add chives, and serve.
(The chives are presumably to be mixed in for very quick cooking, but perhaps they were chopped as garnish on top.)
Stir-fried Pork Slices
Use half fat and half lean pork slices. Marinate in mild sauce. Stir-fry in a pan over a high fire. When it makes a crackling sound, add in some sauce, a little water, green onion, cucumber slices, bamboo shoots, chives, and the like.
(Cooking by ear is common in Chinese kitchens; the change in sound when a piece of meat is properly stir-fried is hard to describe but useful to learn.)
Eight Treasure Meatballs
Mince half fat and half lean meat. Add pine nuts, black mushrooms, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, gourds, ginger, and things of this sort. Mix them all with starch powder and shape to pingpong ball size. Put the meatballs on a plate, add some sweet liquor and soy sauce, then steam. When eaten, they taste juicy and crisp. Jia Zhihua once said: “To make meatballs, it is best to mince it by slicing, not to chop it with force.” This is the right way to proceed.
Slice the meat to mince it. Marinate with seasonings. Use solid lard as filling to wrap in the meatballs. Steam the meatballs; the lard melts inside, making hollow meatballs. People of Zhenjiang are good at this cooking method.
(Evidently any seasoning will do, since the recipe is for a trick, not a particular taste.)
Braised Pork Steak
Boil the pork thoroughly, with the skin. Then broil it in sesame oil in the pan. Cut it into cubes and eat with salt or light sauce.
Soy Sauce Pork
Marinate the pork for a bit, then brush salty flour paste on it. Or just marinate it in soy sauce, then air dry.
(This and the following recipes are for preparing pork in various ways for cooking; they do not detail how to cook it. They appear to be ways of readying the meat for a red-cooking recipe or something similar.)
Rice Dreg Pork
Marinate the pork with sauce first for a short time, then add in rice dregs to marinate longer.
Use salt to scrub and rub the pork, salt it for three days; then it is ready to cook.
The three styles of preparing for the pork mentioned above are only suitable to eat in winter, not for summer.
(They are all rich and heating—ideal for a cold winter day, but overwhelming in summer.)
Mr. Yin Wenduan’s Air-dried Pork
Slaughter a pig; cut it in eight pieces. Saute the salt first in the pan. Rub four qianof salt on each piece. Rub this in everywhere. Then hang the pieces in an airy and shady place. If maggots appear, use sesame oil to rub [on the meat—but it would not work well]. In summer, when cooking, the air dried pork should be soaked in water for a whole night, then boil it in water. The water amount is enough when it just covers the surface of the pork. When the pork is boiled, slice it with sharp knife, and do not follow the muscle lines; slicing it should cross the lines. Yin’s house makes the best air dried pork, suitable for tribute to the Emperor. Today, even Xuzhou’s air dried pork is not as good as Yin’s, though we are not sure why.
Household Style Pork
Hangzhou’s hometown pork has different levels of quality, divided into first class, second class, and third class. In general, when the pork tastes mild but very delicious, and the lean part is not tough, it is the first class pork. When cured for a long time, the hometown pork becomes good ham.
Bamboo Shoots and Ham Stew
Cut bamboo shoots and ham to cubes, then stew them together on low heat. After stewing out most of the ham’s salty flavor, add in crystal sugar to continue stewing till the ham collapses. Officer Assistant Xi Wushan said: After the ham is cooked, if it is saved for the next day, one must keep the original broth. The next day, rewarming the ham in the broth is the best way to keep the tasty flavor. If the broth is not saved, and the ham is rewarmed without the broth, the meat will turn dry and the flavor will be gone.
Prepare a piglet of about six or seven jin. Take off the hair, and clean internally. Set it on a large fork, and roast it over a charcoal fire. It should be turned while roasting, till its color turns deep gold. While roasting, spread butter from cream on its skin several times till it is fully cooked. When serving, the meat tasting crumbly and flavorful is the best; crisp is moderate; hard is the lowest quality. Manchu people sometimes steam the piglet with liquor and soy sauce, and this method of cooking is one that my good friend Long Wen has mastered.
(The first method sounds rather like Cantonese cha siu—literally “fork-roasted,” because it used to be roasted hanging on forks in an oven—but Cantonese use oil and flavorings, not butter.)
Barbecue Pork Roast
It takes patience to barbecue pork. First roast the inside in order to cook the fat in the skin. This way makes sure the skin part gets roasted crumbly with a rich flavor. If one roasts the outside first, the fat will melt down in the fire and the skin taste rough and burned, with poor flavor. The same rules apply to barbecuing piglets.
(This recipe is evidently for a whole pig, of the sort found at large temple sacrifices.)
To make ribs, use half fat and half lean ribs. Take out the spinal cord, and replace the space with chopped leek. Brush vinegar and soy sauce on the ribs, then place in the oven. While they are in the oven, make sure the ribs are moist by brushing on vinegar and sauce multiple times.
It is cooked the same way as chicken shreds. Save the whole sheet of skin, but chop the pork finely and then cook it with seasoning. Chef Lie is good at making this dish.
Three Types of Meat Dishes Cooked in Duanzhou
One is Luo-Suo Pork. One is water-boiled plain pork mixed with sesame seeds and salt. The last one is stewed pork slices mixed with mild sauce. These three pork dishes are good on home-style food menus. In Duanzhou, Chef Nie and Chef Li are good at cooking them. I sent Yang Er there specially, to learn them.
Yang Ming Fu’s kitchen makes special meatballs which are as big as teacups, but taste very fine and delicate. The soup is especially delicious. I think they prepare the meat by getting rid of tendon and veins, then chopping it very fine, using half fat and half lean, and last mixing in starch powder.
Dried Day Lily and Ham Stew
Take a good ham, peel off the skin, cut off the fat and save the lean meat. First stew the skin with chicken broth until soft and tender, then add the lean ham and stew until soft and tender. Take day lily buds, cut into pieces two inches long. Then add honey, fermented glutinous rice and water, to stew with ham and skin for another half day. The dish tastes sweet and juicy. The day lily and ham are both tender and soft, but the day lily still has its shape. The soup is delicious. The recipe is from a Daoist in Chaotian Palace.
Choose the best ham, cut into big cubes with the skin, stew it in honey liquor until very soft and falling apart. This is the best. As for grades of ham, there are various qualities. Even though they are all from Jinhua, Lanxi and Yiwu, most of them are not very good. Some are really bad, so poor that they can’t be used for making salted meat. Only Wang San Fang’s ham store sells the best ham. It costs four coins per jin. I had this kind of ham once at Yin Wenduan’s house. It smelled good even when I was still outside the house. Since then I have never had such good ham again.
Part 6 Livestock-Cattle, Sheep and Deer
Cattle, sheep and deer: these three kinds of livestock are not common food in Southern families’ household menus. But it is important to know the way of cooking them. So I wrote this chapter.
The way to purchase good beef: first go to the butcher’s to pick out leg meat. This part is neither too fat nor too lean. When you get home, scrape off the skin, then cook the meat in 3/5 liquor and 2/5 water till soft. Then add in soy sauce to continue cook until the meat absorbs all the juice. Beef has a unique flavor, so it is best to cook it alone. Don’t combine it with other food.
Beef tongue is among the best of foods. Peel the skin and membrane, then slice it, then cook with beef. It can be salted, then air dried for a year. Thus prepared, the tongue tastes like first-grade ham.
Sheep’s head has much hair. It must be cleaned well. If you can’t clean it off [by ordinary scraping], then burn the hair off. Then wash it well and cut it open. Cook it in water until the meat separates from the bones. If there is old skin around the mouth, make sure it also has been washed clean. For eyes, keep only the vitreous fraction, cut them to halves, take off the dark skin, then chop the rest finely. Use an old hen for making broth, add in black mushrooms, bamboo shoots, four liang sweet liquor, and a cup of soy sauce. If you prefer spicy flavors, add 12 white peppercorns and 12 one-inch-long pieces of green onion. If prefer sour flavor, then add in a cup of good rice vinegar to the cooking liquid.
Stewing lamb trotters is done the same way as cooking pigs’ trotters, except that there are red and white methods. Normally, cook it in mild soy sauce—that is, red-cooking. Stewing it with salt is white-cooking. It’s best to combine with Chinese yams.
(The text has “sheep” instead of “lamb,” but for this and the next recipe a young animal would be used.)
Slice the cooked lamb meat into the size of small dice. Stew it in chicken broth with bamboo shoots, black mushroom and Chinese yam.
Sheep Belly Soup
Clean the sheep belly, cook till quite soft, slice thinly. Stew the sliced belly in the original broth. One can add pepper and vinegar. This is a northern-style method. The southern style of cooking the soup is not as good as the northern. The best lamb pot stew was made by officer Qian Yusha. I wanted to learn the recipe from him.
Same as red-stewed pork. Add a pricked walnut [presumably green] to get rid of the smell. This is a very traditional method.
Stir-Fried Lamb Shreds
Same as stir-fried pork shreds. They can be coated it with starch powder. The thinner the lamb shreds, the better. Stir in green onion shreds when serving.
Use big lamb chunks, about five or seven jin. Set the lamb on big pitchforks and roast over the fire. It tastes so good that it even made the Song Emperor Renzong crave it at midnight [in a well-known story].
Whole Lamb Feast
There are 72 ways [i.e., “many”; a traditional figure] to make a whole lamb feast, but only 17 or 18 ways are good. It requires very high cooking skills. Ordinary cooks can never manage the skills. For this dish, the lamb parts need to be cooked in different ways, separately. Even though it is all lamb in bowls and plates, the flavors need to be different to have a successful feast.
Deer meat is very rare. It tastes more tender and more flavorful than roebuck. It can be roasted or stewed.
Two Ways of Cooking Deer Sinew
Deer sinew is hard to cook to the soft point. It must be prepared three days ahead by beating and boiling it repeatedly, in order to extract the smelly liquid. Until the sinew is swelled, it is not ready to cook. Add meat broth first, then chicken broth for stewing, then add in soy sauce, wine and a bit of starch to make a thicker white soup. Serve in plates. If stew with ham, bamboo shoots and black mushrooms, the soup will be red. There will then be no need to add starch. Serve it in the bowl. For white soup, one can sprinkle a bit of Chinese brown pepper on it.
(More a medicinal item—a nutraceutical—than a gourmet dish.)
Cook roebuck meat as in cooking beef and deer meat. It can be made into dry jerky. Roebuck meat is not as delicate as deer meat, but is finer and smoother.
Masked Palm Civet (Paguma Larvata)
It’s hard to find fresh civet meat. Cured meat can be steamed with honey wine, then sliced to serve. Or soak it in water that has been used for washing uncooked rice. The rice water can soak away the salty dirty residue on meat. When eating the meat, it tastes juicy and tender.
(Palm civet, a mongoose-like animal, is said to be excellent eating, but is, alas, too good for its own good, and is now almost extinct from overhunting.)
Scramble egg whites with honey and fermented rice, beat the mixture really well, then steam it. This imitation milk is smooth and delicate. If cooked on a high fire, it tastes overdone. Too much egg white also makes the fake milk taste too old.
Yin Wen Duan Gong ranked deer tails as the first among dishes. For people living in the southern part of China, deer tails are rare [they come largely from China’s far north]. When shipped from Beijing, the tails do not stay fresh. I once got a very big tail. I wrapped it in vegetable leaves to steam. It made an amazing dish. The best part of tail is the fattest part.
Part 7 Birds
Chicken is very much used in many dishes, and should get the highest credit. It is like the case of a person with a good heart who does good things without others’ knowledge: he should get the full credit. So I write chicken dishes ahead of other birds. This chapter is called Bird Dishes.
White Chicken Slices
Fat chicken slices should be just as the flavor of Taigeng. [This was an ancient ritual meat broth; it had no seasonings, only the original meat juice flavor.] And also of Xuanjiu [an ancient ritual water, later referred to as a mild liquor]. It is best when in the countryside, staying in an inn and having no time for complicated dishes. White chicken slices are the easiest. When cooking, do not add too much water.
Dried Chicken Floss [i.e., finely cut meat]
Take one fat chicken, use the two legs, pick out the tendons and bones. Chop the meat part, but do not hurt the skin. Add egg white, cornstarch, and pine seeds, then chop the chicken leg meat into cubes. If there is not enough chicken leg meat, one can add chicken breast, cut similarly into cubes. Fry in aromatic oil (sesame oil) till it has golden color, take it out and place it in a bowl. Add a half jin of hundred flowers wine, a big cup of soy sauce, and one metal spoon of chicken fat. Then add winter bamboo shoots, black mushrooms, ginger, green onion, and similar flavorings to taste, and cover it with chicken bones and chicken skin. Add a big bowl of water to steam in the bamboo steamer. When done, remove the bones and skin.
Chop the small chick into cubes, soaked it in soy sauce and wine. When you feel like eating it, fry one chicken cube in hot oil for a very few seconds, pick it up, repeat the action three times, then put it on a dish, spray it with vinegar, wine, starch, and chopped green onion.
(Try this and you will understand the name!)
Take one fat hen; use the breast. Peel the skin and scrape the meat with a knife, or with a planing tool. Only scrape or shred, do not chop. If one chops the chicken breast, the flavor will be lost. Then use the rest of the hen to make broth. Cook it with the shredded chicken breast. When almost done, take some fine ground rice, ham crumbles, and pine seeds. Mash them together. Then add in the congee. When serving, sprinkle some chopped green onion and ginger. Pour some chicken fat on top. Screen the dregs, or not, [as desired]. This congee is best for the old people. Normally, if the chicken was chopped when preparing, then screen the dregs out; if it was scraped, then there is no need to screen the dregs.
Wash one fat hen well. Boil the whole chicken in a pot. Add four liang lard and four fennel seeds. Cook till it is 80% done. Then fry it till golden color. Cook it again in the original broth. Add soy sauce, wine and unchopped green onions. Cook till no more liquid remains in the pot, and pick the chicken out. When serving, slice it, and pour the original broth on top, or eat with dipping sauce. This is Yang Zhongchen’s cooking method. Brother Fan Fu’s house has another good way to cook it.
Beat the whole chicken, then cook it with soy sauce and wine. Nanjing Governor Gao Nanchang’s house cooks the best wrecked chicken.
(The whole raw chicken was beaten with a wooden stick to break the bones inside, but the chicken stays as a whole piece. This would allow the essence and flavor of the bones to get into the meat. This can also be translated “wrecked chicken,” reminding one of the Spanish “wrecked dessert,” bread or sweet potato chunked and cooked in sugar syrup till it looks like a mess but tastes wonderful.)
Stir-fry Chicken Slices
Use chicken breast, peel the skin off, slice thin. Mix with bean powder, sesame oil and soy sauce, scramble with starch and egg white. When about to stir-fry, add some soy sauce, cucumber, ginger and green onion bits. It must be cooked on a big fire. Each serving can be no more than four liang, for cooking thoroughly in a short time.
Use a whole young chicken [presumably something like the “game hen” of today]. Place it on a plate, add soy sauce, sweet wine, black mushrooms, bamboo shoots on top of the chicken, then steam it on rice cooker.
Braised Chicken with Soy Sauce
Take a whole raw chicken. Marinate it in mild soy sauce for a whole night, then air-dry the chicken. It is a winter dish.
Use chicken breast. Cut into small cubes. Fry these in hot oil. Add autumn oil and wine, then remove it from the frying pan. Add some diced water chestnut, bamboo shoots and black mushrooms—for the juice, the black the best.
Chop the chicken breast into fine paste. Shape it into chicken meatballs, each about the size of a Chinese liquor cup [an ounce or two]. They taste tender and juicy like shrimp meatballs. Yangzhou Grand Master Zang Ba’s house makes the best. Their method is to use pork lard, turnip and starch to knead the meatballs; no fillings.
Mushroom Simmered Chicken
Take four liang of mushrooms. Soak off the sand and dirt in hot water. Then rinse under cold water, brush with a toothbrush, then rinse with cold water four times. Fry the mushroom in two liang of vegetable oil. Spray on some liquor . Chop the chicken, place it in the pot, boil it, get rid of froth, put in some sweet wine and mild soy sauce. Stew it until 80% done. Then put in the mushrooms. Keep stewing for the other 20% of the time. Add in bamboo, green onion, and pepper to serve. No further water is needed. Add in crystal sugar, three qian.
Pear Stir-Fried Chicken
Use young chicken breast. Slice it, heat up 3 liang pork lard, put in the chicken slices. Stir-fry 3 or 4 seconds . Add in one tablespoon of sesame oil. Then add in one teaspoon of each of the following: starch, salt, ginger juice, Chinese pepper powder. Then add in pear slices and black mushroom cubes. Stir-fry together 3 or 4 seconds. Serve on a five-inch plate.
Imitation Wild Chicken [or pheasant] Wrap
Chop a chicken breast finely, crack one egg in. Add mild soy sauce to marinate. Divide a lard net [caul, or equivalent] into parts, wrap the chicken meat in, then deep fry in the hot oil. Add mild soy sauce and wine for seasoning. Stir in black mushroom and black fungus [i.e., black shiitake and black wood-ear]. To serve, add a little sugar.
Chinese Cabbage Stir-Fried with Chicken
Cut the chicken into cubes. Stir-fry until half done. Add wine and continue stirfrying 20 to 30 seconds, then add soy sauce to stir fry another 20 to 30 seconds, then add water to boil. Cut the cabbage into cubes. Put in when the chicken is almost 70% done. Cook the whole dish till done, add in sugar, green onions, fennel. The cabbage should be cooked first [before adding the other items] and each chicken needs about four liang of oil.
Chestnuts Fried with Chicken
Chop the chicken into cubes. Fry in two liang of vegetable oil. Add in a bowl of wine, a small cup of soy sauce, and a bowl of water. Stew it on a small fire till 70% done. The chestnuts need to be fully cooked before being added to the dish. Toss some bamboo shoots to cook. When the dish is done, sprinkle a little sugar to enhance the flavor.
Broiling Eight Pieces
Take one tender chicken. Chop into eight pieces. Deep-fry these in hot oil. Strain the oil. Add a cup of mild sauce and a half jin of wine. Cook until done. Serve immediately. Do not add water. Use a high fire.
Cut fully cooked chicken breast into the size of yellow beans; mix with mild soy sauce and wine, then roll in dry flour. Stir-fry in oil in a pan. Use vegetable oil.
Astragalus-Steamed Chicken for Curing Tuberculosis
Prepare a young chicken which has not laid eggs. Do not get water on it. Clean out the inside and stuff in one liang of astragalus. Place the chicken on chopsticks in a steaming pot. Seal the pot. When it is done, take out the chicken. The soup is thick and delicious. It is good for people who has poor health.
[The chicken is held above the steaming water by the chopsticks. The drippings of the chicken would mix with the water to make a very pure, concentrated broth. This is considered especially digestible and medicinal, today as in the 18th century. Astragalus is a medicinal herb of very dubious value for TB.]
Take one whole chicken. Stuff with 30 spears of green onion. Add two qian of fennel powder. Use one jin of wine and one and half cup of soy sauce. Cook for an hour. Then add in one jin of water, and two liang lard. Stew it together. When chicken is cooked, get rid of the lard. The water needs to be boiled before adding. When there is a bowlful of thick juice left, take out the chicken. The chicken can be torn apart by hand or thinly sliced by a knife, and served with the original juice.
For one whole chicken, use four qian of salt, one tablespoon of soy sauce, a half teacup of old liquor, three big slices of ginger. Put all the ingredients in a casserole. Steam the casserole until the chicken falls apart. Pick the bones out. Do not add water. This is Yushi Officer Jiang’s family cooking method.
(A characteristic part of the Tang Dynasty’s bureaucratic system, the Qing Dynasty’s renewed Yushi system was a typical aspect of Chinese imperial supervision institutions.)
Take one chicken, weighing two or three jin. If choosing a two-jin chicken, use one bowl of liquor, three bowls of water; if choosing a three-jin bird, allow additional liquor and water. First, cut the chicken into pieces. Use two liang of vegetable oil to fry the chicken until well done. Add wine, cook for 20 seconds, then add water and cook for about 5 minutes. Add a winecup [1-2 oz.] of soy sauce. When about to serve, add one qian of sugar. This is a recipe from Tang Jianhan.
(Possibly in the style of the Tang Dynasty?)
Quickly stir-fry chicken liver with liquor and vinegar. This is the best to preserve the tenderness.
Solidify the chicken blood, cut it to long pieces, add some chicken broth, mild sauce, vinegar and starch to make soup.This is a superior dish for old people.
(“Solidify” with a coagulant, normally one of the ones used to make tofu. The blood becomes a cake much like tofu and tasting rather similar.)
Shred cooked chicken. Add with some soy sauce, mustard-green tips, and vinegar to make a salad. This is a Hangzhou dish. One can add bamboo shoots and celery. To stir-fry the shredded chicken, use bamboo shoots slices, soy sauce and wine. This is also very good. For making chicken salad, use cooked meat; for stir-frying shredded chicken, use raw meat.
The way to cook rice-dreg chicken is the same as the method for cooking rice-dreg pork.
Slightly boil 30 chicken kidneys in water. Peel the coating, then add chicken broth and seasoning to stew. They taste extremely tender and juicy.
(This certainly shows the amount of labor a Chinese cook was willing to put in. Chicken kidneys are about the size of split peas.)
Crack eggs in a bowl, scramble with bamboo chopsticks for a thousand times [hyperbolic!]. Then steam till very tender. Eggs taste dull when cooked for a short time; cooked for a long time,they taste tenderer. [An odd comment, at least by modern standards.] When cooked with tea, control the cooking time around two sticks of incense. [To burn one stick of incense takes about a half hour; here the text says two sticks of incense time, thus about one hour. This was, even within living memory, a very common way of telling time, especially in the kitchen.] To cook 100 eggs, use one liang of salt; to cook 50 eggs, use 5 qian of salt. Or use soy sauce to stew eggs. Other methods could be either frying or stir-frying. Steaming eggs with chopped Eurasian Siskin [a small bird] also tastes good.
(This is a rather chaotically mixed account. The first part refers to Chinese omelet or frittata; then attention shifts to tea-cooked eggs, hardboiled for a very long time in tea and soy sauce; then attention shifts again to a whole set of suggestions.)
Wild Chicken [or pheasant] Cooked Five Ways
Slice off the breast part of a casseroled chicken. Leave the skin on. Marinate in mild soy sauce, wrap it in a lard net [caul, mesentery, or equivalent], then place it to roast in an iron pan [tie lian, an ancient pot-like cooker. A lian can be made of metal like iron or copper, porcelain or clay. Here the text specifies an iron lian.]. The chicken breast could be wrapped in a square shape or a roll shape. This is one way. One can also slice the chicken breast, stir-fry it with seasoning; this is another way. Or one can cut the chicken breast to small cubes to stir-fry, or stew the whole wild chicken the same way as a domestic chicken. Or pour hot oil over the chicken breast to cook it well done, then shred it, add in wine, soy sauce, vinegar and celery to make a salad. Or slice the chicken, put it in a hot-pot, eat immediately when it is done; however, this way of eating wild chicken has the disadvantage that if one wants to eat tender chicken, it lacks flavor, but if one wants the flavor, it tastes dull.
[“Wild chicken” can refer to any wild gallinaceous bird, including pheasants and the like as well as actual wild chickens. All of these once were, but no longer are, common in China.]
To make red pot-roasted chicken, wash the chicken well. For every jin of chicken, marinate with twelve liang of good wine, two qian plus five fen of salt, four qian of crystal sugar, a few cinnamon bits, all put in a casserole. Then stew on a mild charcoal fire. If the wine is almost gone, but the chicken is still not well cooked, then add one teacup of water per one jin of chicken.
Mushroom Chicken Stew
One jin of chicken, one jin of sweet wine, three qian of salt, four qian of crystal sugar. Use fresh mushrooms without any mold on them. Use a mild fire. Two sticks of incense cooking time is appropriate. Do not add water, stew the chicken to 80% done, then add mushrooms.
Stewing pigeons with good ham is the best. Stewing without the ham is also good.
(As this recipe, or lack of a recipe, implies, a well-raised Chinese pigeon is so good and so delicate that least is best. Unlike the French, the Chinese use the adult bird, not the young squab.)
The way to cook pigeon eggs is the same as cooking chicken kidneys. Or one can fry the pigeon eggs, adding a bit of vinegar.
Slice the wild duck into thick slices. Marinate with soy sauce. Bind each slice of duck meat between two slices of snow peach and fry. Fu Daotai’s family cook made the best wild duck dish, but the recipe has vanished. The duck can be made by the method for steaming domestic duck.
(Daotai was an official position, the highest in the Qing Dynasty city government hierarchy.)
Take one raw fat duck without bones. Stuff with one winecup of sticky rice, some ham cubes, kohlrabi cubes, black mushrooms, bamboo shoots, soy sauce, wine, sesame oil, and green onion. Put these all in the duck. Place it in a plate. Soak in chicken broth, then steam the whole dish till done.This is the recipe from Taishou Wei in Zhengding. [Zhengding is a city in Hebei province.]
Duck All Confused
Use a fat duck. Boil in water till 80% done. Pick out the bones after it cools down. Cut into random, natural-looking pieces instead of regular round or square shapes. Put the meat back into the original broth to continue stewing, add 3 qian of salt, half jin of wine, then mash some Chinese yam into the dish to make soup. When the soup is almost cooked, add in ginger crumbs, black mushrooms and green onion. If want to make thick soup, add some starch in it. One can use taro to replace Chinese yam; it tastes good as well.
[The name of this dish is truly odd. Possibly hutu, “confused and foolish,” is used here in the etymologically original sense of “paste-daubed.” More likely it means “duck all mixed up.” Such is Chinese. One dictionary happily suggested “schlemiel” as a translation for hutu. Chinese yam is not a sweet potato; it is a rather firm root, medicinal, flavorful. White potatoes will do for a substitute, or if you can find a West African market, West African yams are more like the Chinese ones.]
Do not use water, use wine to cook the duck. Take out the bones. Serve with seasonings. This is the recipe from Officer Yang Gong’s house in Guangdong.
Use fat duck, cut into big pieces, use a half jin of wine, one cup of soy sauce, bamboo shoots, black mushrooms, and green onion to braise, cook it until the juice is absorbed. It is then ready to serve.
Use a young duck, place it on a big fork and roast it. The cook from Officer Feng’s family makes the best roast duck.
(About as minimal a recipe as Yuan ever gives us. Presumably this is the modern fork-roasted duck, marinated in a variety of wonderful dips and then hung on a fork in an old-fashioned Chinese oven—or, more likely, today, over a barbecue fire.)
Deep Braised Duck
Stuff green onions inside the duck. Close the cap [of the pot] neatly to braise. Xu’s duck store in Shui Xi Men makes the best deep braised ducks. Ordinary families can not manage the skills. The braised ducks have yellow and black colors [depending on the sauce]; the yellow ones are better.
Dry Steamed Ducks
Hangzhou merchant He Xing Ju’s house made dry steamed ducks with this recipe. Use a fat duck, wash it well and cut into eight pieces. Add sweet wine and soy sauce. Cover the duck. Seal it in a porcelain jar. Then put the jar in a dry wok to cook. Use mild charcoal. Do not use water. When served, the duck tastes soft as clay. The cooking time is best held to two sticks of incense [i.e. the time it takes to burn a stick and then another—about an hour].
Wild Duck Meatballs
Chop duck breasts finely, add some lard and starch to make meatballs, cook the meatballs in chicken broth. Or cook in the original duck broth; this is also very good. Kong Qin’s house in Taixin makes the best wild duck meatballs.
Pick a very large fresh duck. Use 12 liang of Hundred Flower jiu; one liang and two qian of raw salt; one bowl of boiled water. Use the water to dissolve the raw salt, then get rid of the foreign substances [insoluble residue in the salt]. Then add seven bowls of water, and four chunky slices of fresh ginger weighing about one liang [each, apparently]. Put them all in a big ceramic pot, covered. Seal the pot with strong paper. Then put the pot in a big bamboo basket brazier. Choose 15 big charcoal pieces which cost two wen each. Cover the basket brazier well with a bag to avoid the heat getting out. Start cooking in the early morning breakfast time and cook till evening. If not cooked long enough, the flavor is not good. When the charcoals are all burned out, do not replace the pot, and do not open it too early. After the duck is cut open, wash it well with water, then dry it with a clean cotton cloth. Then place the duck in the pot.
(“Xu” remains unidentified. This recipe seems confused; the last sentence may belong before the sentence starting with “Seal…”)
Use 50 sparrows, stew with mild sauce and sweet wine. When cooked, pick out the feet, leave the chests and head meat. Put in a plate with broth. It is very fresh and delicious. This method can be used when cooking other kinds of birds. But fresh sparrows are hard to find. Xue Shengbai often suggests that others not eat pet birds, because he thinks the wild birds are more delicious and easy to digest.
Quail and Siskin Stew
Quails from Liuhe [a district in Jiangsu Province] are the best. They have some which cook down well. For the siskins, stew with Suzhou seasoning sauce and honey wine till really tender, then add seasonings to cook, just as with sparrows. Suzhou Inspector Shen’s Quail and Siskin stew was made so well even the bones are soft as clay. I have no idea how they make the dish. The same household also makes delicious stir-fry fish fillets. Their cooking skill is so perfect that they could be ranked on top in Suzhou province.
Ni Zan’s Yuan Dynasty cookbook Yunlin Collection recounted the method of cooking goose. Take one whole goose, clean it well, wash and rub it inside with three qian of salt, then stuff in a small bundle of green onions. To the outside of the goose, apply honey and wine. In a pot, place a big bowl of wine and a big bowl of water for steaming the goose, the goose can not touch the water. Hold it up by bamboo chopsticks. Two bundles of cogongrass as fuel in the stove. Burn it all up slowly. Wait till the pot cools down, open the lid, turn the goose over, place back the lid fully to steam again, burn another bundle of cogongrass until burnt up. Let the grass burn naturally, do not prick or stir it. Seal the lid with cotton paper. If the paper is too dry and gets cracks, wet it with water. When the cooking is done, the goose is tender as clay, the broth is very delicious as well. Use the same method to cook ducks will get the same taste. Every bundle of cogongrass weighs one jin and eight liang. When rubbing with salt, it could be mixed with onions, grind pepper and wine. The Yunlin Collection recorded many dishes. Only this method is very good. After being tried, the rest just seemed so-so.
(Ni Zan, a.k.a. Yunlin (Cloud Forest, his studio’s name), was a famous artist of the Yuan Dynasty. In his book, this recipe follows one for barbecued pork, and says to follow that recipe except as otherwise specified. Yuan successfully and accurately fuses the two recipes here.)
Hangzhou Roast goose always gets bad reviews, because it doesn’t get cooked long enough and looks half raw. It’s better to let the family cooks make this dish!
(One of Yuan’s non-recipes!)
Part 8 Aquatic Animals with Scales
Every fish should have scales, only herrings don’t. I think fish should be considered as a category with scales. So I write “aquatic animals with scales.”
(Herrings do have scales, but very small ones that can be ignored in eating. Oddly, Yuan missed catfish, some of which truly lack scales. Could he, just possibly, have meant “catfish” and miswritten “herring?”)
White Amur Bream
Take live white bream, add wine and soy sauce to steam. It’s best when steamed to the color of jade [white—not the green that English readers think of as “jade color”]. If the fish turns to a duller white color, the meat will taste overcooked and odd. When steaming, one must place the lid right. Do not let the steam water fall on the fish. When it’s about to serve, add some black mushrooms and bamboo shoots. Or it can be fried with liquor; use liquor, not water. This is called Imitation White Bream. [Presumably because the real thing is the steamed form.]
First, one needs to be good at choosing the best carp. Choose the ones that are somewhat flattened and have a white color. The meat is fresh, crisp and loose. When one picks out the bones after cooking [carp are extremely bony], the meat will naturally fall off of the bones. The ones with a black back and round body have meat that is stiff and rough and contains lots of bones. It’s a bad type carp. Do not eat it. If steaming [the bettrer kind of carp], do it the same way as for steaming White Bream; this is the best. Frying is also a good way. Taking the meat to make soup is good too. Tong Zhou people are very good at stewing carp; the head and tail both are crisp. This is called “ Crunchy Fish.” It’s best for children to eat. However, it still is not as good-tasting as steamed carp. Long Chi in Liuhe produces this kind of fish; the bigger they are the tenderer they are, which is amazing. When steaming, use wine, not water, add a bit of sugar to bring out the essence of the dish. Consider the size of fish when adding soy sauce and wine.
(The white carp is evidently the true carp, Cyprinus carpio. Possibly Yuan means to include other whiter species too. The black-backed rounder one is clearly a different species, possibly the mud carp or noble carp, or perhaps both of these lumped together.)
White fish has very fine meat. Steam it with pickled herrings; this is the best. Or lightly pickle it in winter, add liquor to marinate for two days; this is good also. I catch fresh white fish from the river, and steam it with liquor. It tastes amazingly delicious. Marinating the fish is the best, but not too long or meat turns hard and flavorless.
(“White fish” could be anything. Often it means the culter, Culter brevicauda, but locally it can apply to any fish that is whitish. In Heilongjiang, for instance, the “Heilongzhang white fish” is the Ussuri cisco. The ciscoes are a group within the English-language “whitefish” category. In Guangzhou, it can mean the white croaker, Pseudosciaenia crocea. In China, the term “white fish” is even used as a term for silverfish, a primitive insect. We have no idea which bai yu Yuan was catching.)
Ji Fish (Mandarin Fish)
Mandarin fish does not have many bones. It is best filleted and stir-fried. For stir-frying, the thinner the fillets, the better. Marinate in soy sauce first, then mix it with starch and egg white for batter, then add in seasonings. Use vegetable oil.
(The Mandarin fish or Chinese perch, Siniperca chuatsi, is a white-fleshed spiny fish. Egg batter is considered an Iberian invention; the Portuguese must have brought it to China, if it is not an independent invention there.)
Dark Sleeper (Odontoburis obscura)
In Hangzhou, people rank dark sleeper one of the best fish, but in Jinglin, it is a low ranked form, and is considered a “tiger head snake,” really amusing. [A “tiger headed snake” is a metaphor that refer something looks funny and amusing.] This type of fish has very tender meat. It can be stir-fried, stewed, or steamed. Add pickled shepherd’s purse to make soup; this is extremely tasty.
(A highly regarded large goby.)
Steam mackerels, or grass carp. Take the meat when cooked, fry it in oil in a wok till it turns golden, add some salt, green onion, pepper, melon, ginger. Sealed in a bottle in winter time, it can stay fresh for a month.
(The vegetables would probably be slivered like the fish.)
Use white fish, or mackerel. Cut into halves, nail to a board, and scrape off the meat with a knife, leave the bone on the board. Chop the meat finely, mix it with bean powder and lard by hand. Add in a little salt water, but not mild soy sauce. Add some green onion, and ginger juice, to fishballs. When the fishballs are made, place them in boiling water till they are fully cooked, then take them out and put in cold water to keep fresh. When serving, boil the fishballs with chicken broth and seaweed.
(This remains a common, simple soup in China.)
Use mackerels or Mandarin fish fillets. Marinate with soy sauce. Mix [i.e., cover] with some starch and egg white [batter]. Quickly fry in really hot oil. Place it on a small plate and sprinkle green onion, pepper, melon and ginger. Fillets should not exceed six liang. Too much is not good for cooking thoroughly [the outside would be overcooked before the inside finished cooking].
Asian Carp with Tofu
Fry a large Asian carp till fully cooked. Add tofu, soy sauce, water, green onion and wine to boil it. When the soup color turns somewhat red, it is ready for serving. The fish head is the most delicious part. This is Hangzhou cuisine. Match the amount of soy sauce with the size of the fish.
Braised Mandarin Fish with Wine-based Sauce
Cut a large, fresh Mandarin fish into large pieces, and deep-fry. Add soy sauce, vinegar, wine and other ingredients, and cook in broth—the more the better. When fish is done, quickly take it out. This dish was best cooked by Hangzhou Wu Liu Ju [a restaurant]. However, their dish is not as good as before, because of bad sauce. It truly is a shame. Song Sister-in-law’s Fish Congee is also not as good as its fame. Meng Liang Lu is not very trustworthy either.
The fish should not be too large, too large makes it hard to absorb the flavor. Not to small either, small fish has too many bones.
(Note by Beilei Pu: I am not sure why Yuanmei mentioned Meng Liang Lu here. It is a Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1280) famous book “Meng Liang Lu” (1274) by Wu Zimu, which details social life in Lingan (now Hangzhou). Apparently Yuan Mei is saying that even a famous book can be wrong about fish. The same appears to be the case for the Song Sister-in-Law’s fish congee.)
Whitebait, when freshly caught out of water, is called “icy fresh.” It can be slow-cooked with chicken broth or ham soup. Or fry it, which tastes even more tender. Dried Whitebait needs to soak in water to soften it, first. Then fry it with sauce, which is also a good dish.
Taizhou Dried Fish (Tai Xiang)
Tai Xiang can be of various qualities. The best is from Taizhou Song Men [a small town] It is tender, fresh and fat. Take the meat off when raw. This is a snack dish; there is no need to cook it. When stewing with fresh meat, it must be added in after the meat is thoroughly cooked. Otherwise, Xiang will be overcooked, melt, and disappear. After the dish is cooked, it can be frozen, to become Xiang jelly; this is the method by Shaoxing residents.
Fermented Glutinous Rice with Xiang
In winter, use a big carp, marinated and air dried. Put it in fermented glutinous rice in a pot, sealed. Leave till summer time, then eat it. For this, do not use soy sauce. It will produce too spicy a flavor.
Shrimp Eggs and Ilisha Herring
In summer, pick white and clean ilisha xiang [dried ilisha herring]. Soak it in water for a day, to get rid of the salty flavor. Dry it under the sun, then fry it in oil in a wok. When one side is fried to yellow color, take it out, add a layer of shrimp eggs on the other side, place it on a plate, add some sugar, and steam for one stick of incense. The dog days of summer are the best time to eat this dish.
Take a live black carp. Discard the head and tail. Cut it into small cubes, and marinate it with salt thoroughly. Then let it air-dry. Fry it in oil in a wok, add some seasonings to absorb the juice, then add sesame seeds to stir and serve. This is a Suzhou method.
Homestyle Fried Fish
To make homestyle fried fish takes patience. Wash the fish well, cut into cubes and marinate in salt, press flat. Then put in oil to fry till both sides turn yellow. Add more wine and some soy sauce to slowly stew. Then cook till all the juice is taken in, making the seasonings’ flavor absorbed in the fish. But this is a way to cook unfresh fish. For fresh fish, just take it out of wok as soon as the fish is cooked.
Huang Gu Fish
Yuezhou [now Yueyang, in Hunan province] produces small fish, about two to three inches long. Send for some that have been sun-dried. Peel the skin, add wine to season, put it on top of rice to steam. It gives a most delicious flavor. This is called Huang Gu Fish.
Part 9 Aquatic animals without scales
Fish without scales smell twice as bad as with scales. They must be cooked in a special way. Use ginger, cinnamon to cover the fish smell. Thus I have written this section “aquatic animals with scales.”
Eels should not be cooked without bones. Eels smell quite fishy. If you cook them in an easy way, the natural flavor of eels will be lost. As in cooking herring, one should not remove the scales. [Ordinary eels do not have scales; eel-like fish are evidently intended.] To mildly stew river eel, choose one eel, wash off the slime, chop it into one-inch pieces, put in a sand pot, and stew it in wine till the meat softens down. Before serving, add soy sauce. For eel soup, stir in some winter pickled fresh shepherd’s purse, and lots of green onions, ginger, etc., to get rid of the fishy smell. In Changshu [a county-level city in Jiangsu] Bibu [an official government position in ancient China] Gu family dry-stew eel with starch powder and Chinese yam. This is also a very good method. Or one can add seasonings and steam the eel in a plate, without water. Fensi [an official government position in ancient China] Jia Zhihua family makes the best steamed eel, using four parts soy sauce to six parts wine mixture to cover the eel when steaming. When it is done, take it off the fire immediately; the skin will shrink if you are too late.
Stewed Eels in Brown Sauce
Stew the eels with wine and water till tender and soft. Use sweet soybean sauce instead soy sauce. Cook the dish till the juice is absorbed, then add fennel and spices to finish the dish. There are three problems to avoid: first, if the skin shrinks, it is not crisp; second. if the meat collapses [softens and shrinks too much], it is hard to eat with chopsticks; third, if one puts in fermented soy bean too early, the eel will not taste tender in the mouth. TheZhu Fengsi family in Yangzhou makes the best. In general, stewed eels in brown sauce tastes best when the juice and flavor are absorbed by the eels.
Choose big eels, chop off the heads and tails, then cut pieces one inch long. Fry thoroughly in sesame oil. Take it out; then pick fresh tips of garland chrysanthemum, and fry them in the same oil till done. Layer the eel on top of the fried garland chrysanthemum, add seasoning, stew for the time it takes to burn one stick of incense. The amount of garland chrysanthemum should be half the amount of eel.
Fried Soft-shelled Turtle
Take the bones out of soft-shelled turtle, fry it in sesame oil on a big fire, add in a cup of soy sauce, and a cup of chicken broth. This is the recipe of Taishou Wei’s family in Zhengding [a county in southwestern Hebei].
Fried Soft-shelled Turtle with Soy Sauce
Boil the turtle until half done, get rid of the bones, fry it in oil on a big fire, add some soy sauce, water, green onion, and pepper to cook till all the juice is taken in by the turtle. Remove from the wok. This is Hangzhou style.
Soft-shell Turtle with Bones
Pick one about half a jin in size. Chop it in four pieces. Add three liang of lard. Fry it in a wok till it turns a golden color. Add some water, soy sauce, and wine to stew; first use a military fire [a strong, fierce fire], then a small fire. When it is 80% done, add garlic. When serving, sprinkle some green onion, ginger and sugar. Small ones are better than big ones. The ones called “babyfoot soft-shell turtle” are the fresh tender type.
Soft-shell Turtle with Raw Salt
Chop in four pieces. Deep-fry it in oil in a wok. For every one jin of turtle use four liang of wine, three qian of fennel, one and a half qian of salt. Stew it till half done, then add in two liang of lard. Then chop the turtle to the size of small tofu cubes. Add garlic, bamboo shoots. When done, add some green onion and black pepper. If use soy sauce, then no salt. This is the recipe from Tang Hanjin’s family in Suzhou. A large soft-shell turtle tastes old, a small turtle tastes fishy, so you should choose middle size ones.
Soft-shell Turtle with Soup
Boil the turtle first, then pick out the bones to get the meat. Use two bowls of a mix of chicken broth, soy sauce and wine. Stew the turtle in this until the juice reduces to the amount of one bowl. Then remove from the wok. Sprinkle some green onion, pepper, and ginger crumbs. Wu Zhuyu’s house makes the best. Use a little of starch can thicken the soup.
Whole Shell Soft Turtle
In Shandong, Chanjiang [a Ming military title] Yang’s house cooks turtle thus: They cut off the head and tail, and use only body meat and a circle of soft meat from the shell. Stew it with seasonings till done, then cover by putting the whole shell back on. When hosting a banquet, in front of every guest, a whole shell soft turtle dish will be served. Guests first see it will feel a little surprised, worrying that the turtle may move! Sadly, the full recipe has not been recorded.
Ricefield Eel Soup
Boil eels till half done, pick out the bones and thinly slice the flesh. Add liquor and soy sauce to stew. Use some starch, dried daylily buds, winter melon, and a few whole green onions to make the soup. Nanjing’s chefs often roast eels on dry charcoal; this is really hard to understand.
(Ricefield eels are common eels caught in ricefields—usually small. They are delicate eating, and would be dried up and de-flavored by hot charcoal roasting.)
Stir-fried Ricefield Eels
Prepare thin-sliced eel to stir-fry. Let it get burnt a little. It is just like the way to stir-fry chicken. There is no need to add water.
(Presumably this just means thin fillets are simply stir-fried in oil.)
Inch-long Ricefield Eel
Cut the ricefield eel to one inch long pieces, stew it the same way as cooking sea eels. Or oil fry it first to make it hard, then cook with winter melon, fresh bamboo shoots and black mushrooms. Use less soy sauce, but more ginger juice.
To make shrimp balls is the same as making fish balls. Stew shrimp balls in chicken broth, or just fry and then add water. Be careful to mash the shrimps, but not too fine, otherwise they lose the original flavor. The same happens to fish balls too.
You can also simply shell the shrimps, then stir-fry with seaweed. This is also good.
Smash the shrimps, shape into rounds, then fry. This is called shrimp cake.
(Modern cooks would add chopped water chestnuts or similar vegetables, and one suspects this was done in Yuan Mei’s time too. Another fragmentary recipe.)
Fry the shrimps with liquor till they turn yellow, then remove from pan. Add some mild sauce, and rice vinegar. Stew till done, then place in a bowl, covered. When serving, put the shrimps on a plate. Even the shells taste crisp.
(Modern recipes under this name generally marinate the shrimp in jiu.)
The way to stir-fry shrimps is the same as that for stir-frying fish. One can add Chinese chives. Or add marinated shepherd’s purse from the winter [i.e., pickled in or for winter] to replace the chives. Some people beat the tails to flatten, then stir-fry; this is also a creative cooking way.
Crabs need to be eaten alone. Don’t pair with other foods. The best is to boil in lightly salted water, till fully cooked. Peel, then eat. Steaming can keep all the flavors but would taste very light.
Shell the crabs. To make congee, it is best to use the original broth to stew. Don’t add chicken broth; it is better to cook the crabs alone. I have seen bad cooks add duck tongues or shark fins or sea cucumber, which not only covers the crab’s original delicious flavors but also add more fishy taste. This is the worst ever!
(Amen. Using expensive but incompatible items just to show off wealth is indeed fatal to crab dishes.)
Stir-fry Crab Powder
To make crab powder, it is best to use fresh shelled crabs and stir-fry them when fresh. After two hours, the crab will get dry and be flavorless.
Steamed Sshelled Crabs
Shell the crabs, detach the meat and ovaries, then put these back in the shell. Put five or six eggs on top to steam. When serving, it looks like a whole crab but without legs. This is more creative than Stir-fry Crab Powder.
Yang Lan Po, mayor of Mingfu, has a method to cook crab with pumpkin, a very amazing dish.
Use clam meats. Stir-frying them with chives is the best. Or one can make soup. Remove from the cooker in time, otherwise clams turn dry.
(True, but trust Yuan Mei to leave the exact time to your judgment—correct, since clams differ a lot in how long they take to cook, but not very helpful!)
There are three ways to eat cockles. One can use hot water to spray till the cockles are half done, then take off the shells, add liquor and soy sauce to marinate them; they are then “drunken cockles.” Or one can boil in chicken broth and make soup, without the shells. Or, take off the shells first, then use the meat to make congee. However, remove the dish from cooker in time. If late, the meat will turn dry. Cockles are from Fenghua city [at least that’s where Yuan got them]. The quality is better than quahog and other clams.
Quahog (hard clam)
First, slice pork belly, stew it with spices till really tender. Wash quahogs well, stir-fry with sesame oil, then stew with the pork belly and the juice. The more soy sauce, the more flavor.
They can also be cooked with tofu. The quahogs are delivered from Yangzhou [quite far from where Yuan was living when he wrote], and can easily spoil, so one can shell them to get the meat part, then place it in pork lard to deliver it to faraway places. Or one can sun dry the quahog, which is also good. If you cook the quahog in chicken broth, it tastes much better than razor clam. Or you can mash the quahog, and make it to pancake as in making shrimp pancake. It tastes pretty good with seasonings.
Cheng Ze Gong ‘s Dried Razor Clam [Cheng Zegong was a merchant]
Cheng Zegong’s dried razor clam: He soaked the clams in cold water for a day, then boiled them in hot water for two days, changing the water five times during the two days. One inch of dried razor clam will expand to two inches, looking like fresh razor clams. He would then stew the clams in chicken broth. Yangzhou people tried to copy this recipe of the dried razor clams, but it was still not as good as Cheng’s.
(Those clams were evidently dried to truly rock-like hardness—as they often are today.)
Fresh Razor Clams
The ways to cook [fresh] razor clams is the same as cooking quahog. It’s also good to stir-fry them alone. He Chenchao’s family cooks very good tofu with razor clam soup, and no one can compare to it.
Water Chicken (Frogs)
Get rid of the frogs’ torso; keep only the legs. First fry the legs in oil, then add soy sauce, sweet wine, melon and ginger, then remove from the wok. Or get the frog meat to stir-fry. The flavor is the same as chicken.
(“Tastes like chicken” is the classic line in English, but the Chinese use it too; frogs do indeed taste like chicken, and are universally called “field chickens” or “water chickens” in China.)
Stew the eggs with spices till done, slightly smoke the eggs, then slice to put on plate. This makes a good side dish.
For one hundred eggs, use one liang of salt, and unrefined tea. Boil for about two sticks of incense time. For fifty eggs, then use five qian of salt, adjust the amount of salt by numbers of eggs. This can be an appetizer.
(These two recipes are ancestral to the modern “tea eggs,” long boiled in the shell in tea with spices or in soy sauce with star anise and often other flavorings.)
Part 10 A Variety of Vegetable Dishes
Dishes are divided to meat dishes and vegetable dishes, as clothes are divided into outdoor and indoor wear. Rich families prefer eating more vegetable dishes than meat, so I write the Variety of Vegetables dishes.
(An interesting observation about the rich; not true in China today! However, even now, many gourmets would prefer a perfect dish of fresh, tender pea shoots, or fine mushrooms, to an ordinary meat dish.)
Jiang Shilang’s Tofu
Take 120 large dried shrimps. If you do not have dried big shrimps, use three hundred small ones. First soak the dried shrimps in hot water for one hour, then add a small cup of soy sauce, boil one more time, add a small amount of sugar, boil again.
Then slice the tofu skin off on two sides. Cut every piece of tofu to 16 small slices. Air-dry these. Use pork lard in the wok. Heat it till light smoke starts to rise. Then place the tofu in it, sprinkling a bit of salt. Then turn the tofu slices over. Use one glass of good sweet wine, and Use thin green onions, cut to half inch long, one hundred and twenty lengths. Add to the dish, then slowly remove from the wok.
(Recipe rearranged for comprehensibility. This tofu is obviously the kind sold in a cured form, with a hard skin to preserve it.)
Yang Zhongcheng’s Tofu
Use soft tofu. Boil to get rid of the soybean smel. Add chicken broth and cook with abalone slices till boiling. Then add some rice wine dregs and black mushrooms. Then remove from the wok. The chicken broth should be thick and the abalone slices should be thin.
Zhang Kai’s Tofu
Crush dried shrimps, mix with tofu. Put oil in the wok, stir-fry with spices without any liquid.
Qing Yuan’s Tofu
Soak one teacup of salted black beans in water, stir-fry with tofu, then remove from wok.
Lotus Bean Curd
Use uncongealed tofu, soak in three changes of well water to get rid of the bean smell, then boil the tofu in chicken broth. After removing from the fire, add seaweed and shrimp.
Wang Taishou’s Eight Treasures Tofu
Use soft tofu, crush it, add some crumbs of black mushroom, common mushrooms, pinenut kernel, sunflower seeds, chicken meat, and ham, into thick chicken broth. Boil, then remove from wok. One can use uncongealed tofu as well. Use a spoon instead of chopsticks. Taishou Meng Ting said: this recipe is from Emperor Kangxi to Shangshu Xu Jiang An. When Shangshu got the recipe, the Royal Kitchen charged him one thousand liang Yinzi (silver). Taishoul Meng Ting got the recipe because his grandfather was Teacher Lou Chun, a student of Shangshu.
Cheng Li Wang’s Tofu
In the 23rd year of Qian Long’s rule, I was with Jin the City Gate Keeper, visiting Cheng Liwan’s family fromYangzhou. We ate fried tofu, and it was the best ever. The tofu’s two sides are yellow and dry, without any soy sauce. They have a fresh flavor like quahog, but there was no quahog or other things. The next day, I told Cha (another City Gate Keeper), and he said: “I can make the same dish. I invite you to taste.” Soon, Hang Dongpu and I went to Cha’s for dinner. When it was time to eat, we found out the dish was made with chicken and sparrow’s brain, not real tofu. It was very rich and greasy. The cost of the dish is also ten times more than Cheng’s tofu, but the taste is not comparable at all. Unfortunately, I had to go home quickly to attend my little sister’s funeral, and didn’t have time to ask Cheng for recipe. And Mrs. Cheng died after a year. I have been regretting it all since then. Now all I have is the name of the dish. Whenever there is a chance, I will go look for that recipe.
Freeze the tofu for a whole night, cut into cubes. Boil them to get rid of the bean smell. Add chicken broth, ham broth and meat broth, and stew. When serving, pick out the chicken, ham and similar things, leaving only the black mushrooms and winter bamboo shoots. If you stew the tofu too long, it becomes limp, and the surface will look like a beehive, just as in uncooked frozen tofu. For stir-frying, use soft tofu; for stewing, use firm tofu. Jia Zhihua the fensi (a government title) cooks tofu with “winter” mushrooms, even in summer, and they still use the frozen tofu recipe; it is really good. Do not add in meat broth, or the dish tastes greasy.
Shrimp Oil Tofu
Use old shrimp oil instead of mild sauce to stir-fry tofu. You must fry it till it turns yellow. The wok needs to be hot. Add pork lard, green onion and pepper.
Use the tips of the greens. Fry in oil, then add some chicken broth and boil. Last, add a hundred matsutake [and cook briefly] before removing from the wok.
(Chrysanthemum coronarium, a relative of florists’ chrysanthemum, with spicy-flavored greens; a popular food. Usually called tung hao cai, but an alternative name peng hao cai is used here.)
With bracken, do not try to save and get the most out of it. One must get rid of all the old leaves and stems. Save only the tender leaves and the straight root [rhizome]. Wash well. Stew till tender, then add chicken broth and stew [a bit] longer. Buy the short and soft bracken pieces, which are fat and tender.
(The old tough parts can be somewhat toxic.)
Hair vegetable (Nostoc flabelliforme or N. sphaeroides, an alga growing on rocks after summer rains in northwest China; excellent eating)
Carefully pick and wash. Boil it until half way done, add chicken broth and ham broth, and stew. When serving, one should only see the hair vegetable, not the chicken and ham; then it’s best. For this dish, Tao Fangbo makes the best.
Morels are from Hubei province. The way of cooking it is same as for hair vegetable.
Rock Alga [green algae growing on rocks in rivers]
Cook rock alga in the same way as hair vegetable. In summer time, use sesame oil, vinegar and soy sauce to mix, which is also good.
The way to cook moneywort is the same as cooking bracken. It comes from the upper river area of the river Xinan.
(Swamp loosestrife, Lysimachia fortunei, or centella, Centella asiatica. The term is more specific to the former, but the latter is a much commoner food and probably intended here.)
Vegan Roast Duck
Boil thoroughly Chinese yam, cut it to inch-long pieces, then wrap each piece with tofu skin. Fry in oil in a pan, then add some soy sauce, wine, sugar, melon, ginger, and the like [other seasonings to taste]. Cook the dish till the pieces turn bright red.
Garlic Chive is a hun vegetable. [Hun vegetables are the rank-scented ones: big garlic, small garlic, green onion, garlic chive and onion. In Buddhism, hun means lust. These five vegetables are thought to arouse sexual feeling of people, so Buddhists are not encouraged to eat these.] Only use the white part, stir-frying with dried little shrimps is the best. Or cook with fresh shrimps, corbicula and meat.
Celery is a su vegetable (su is the opposite of hun, see above). The fatter the stalks, the better. Use the stem part to stir-fry with bamboo shoots till well done. People these days fry it with meat, making it hard to distinguish fish or fowl. If it is not cooked till well done, then it is crisp with no flavor. One can use raw celery to make a salad with wild chicken; this will be another dish.
(Celery evidently already had its use as an extender and crispness-provider in meat dishes. It went through a period of enormous popularity for this, especially in “diaspora” Chinese restaurants, in the 1960s and 70s, but has waned considerably since then.)
Bean sprouts are tender and crisp. I love them very much. When stir-fried, they must be cooked till well done, so the flavors of the seasonings can be absorbed. They can be cooked with birds’ nests: softness to softness, white to white. However, people [often] think this match is ridiculous because it uses very cheap and expensive ingredients together. They do not realize that only Cao Fu and Xu You could accompany emperors Yao and Shun.
(Cao and Xu were ordinary people promoted for superior talent.)
Water Bamboo Shoots
Water bamboo shoots can be fried with pork and chicken. Cut and use the whole shoots. Roasting with sauce and vinegar is best. Stewing with meat is also good. One must cut them in pieces, each an inch long. The shoots which are too young and thin are not well flavored.
Green Vegetable [a clear-green form of Chinese cabbage]
Pick the young green vegetable, and fry it with bamboo shoots. In summer, it can be mixed with mustard and a bit of vinegar, making a good appetizer. Or, with some ham slices, it can be made into soup. It must be freshly handpicked to ensure tenderness.
Tai Vegetable [a type of green leafy vegetable; Hu Shiuying’s Food Plants of China defines it as a seaweed, Enteromorpha compressa, but that does not fit Yuan Mei’s description; plant names are fairly loosely used in old culinary texts, and the name could refer to a quite different plant here]
Fry Tai vegetable’s heart [stem base]. It is very tender. Peel the skin and add mushrooms and fresh bamboo shoots to make soup. Frying with shrimps is also good.
Frying Chinese cabbage or simmering with bamboo shoots are both good. Simmering with ham slices and chicken broth is also good.
Peking Cabbage [large, thick, mostly-white form of Chinese cabbage]
This vegetable is best from the northern area. It can be made to cabbage with sweet-sour sauce, or simmered with dried shrimps. Eat right away once it is cooked. Otherwise the flavor will go bad.
(Peking, or Beijing, cabbage is easily stored fresh or dried, or pickled, and thus was the winter mainstay in the old days in the north, where winters are long and hard. It is still quite common.)
Bok Choy [Cantonese pak choi, “white vegetable”; a variety of Chinese cabbage with green leaf blades but white leaf stems]
To fry the heart part of Bok Choy, the best is to make a broth-less dish with dried seafood. The bok choy that has been covered by snow tastes more tender. Taishou Wang Mengting’s household makes the best bok choy. It is needless to add other things. It is best fried with animal fat.
Fat and tender spinach is cooked with sauce and tofu. Hangzhou people call this “gold inlaid with jade.” This dish is thin but also rich. There is no need to add bamboo shoots and black mushrooms.
Mushrooms not only can be cooked to soup, but also are good for frying. However, white mushrooms [probably meaning our common market mushrooms] are sandy and easily get moldy. They must be stored properly, and prepared and cooked right. Shaggy-mane mushrooms are easy to prepare and cook; they are made to good dishes as well.
(Shaggy-manes are Coprinus spp., very superior eating mushrooms if caught in time—they last only a couple of days.)
For frying, matsutakes and white mushrooms are the best. Or one can just marinate it in soy sauce to eat; this is also tasty. The only bad side is that they cannot be stored long. They can be combined with any dish to enhance the flavor. They also can be cooked and layered on the bottom of birds’ nests, because they are tender.
(Matsutake mushrooms abound in much of the forested area of China, and are very widely collected today, following the Japanese boom in matsutake consumption.)
Two Ways of Making Flour Gluten Dishes
One way is to oil-fry the gluten till dry, then add chicken broth and mushrooms, and simmer in mild-flavor style. The other involves no frying: soak in water, then cut into strips and simmer in thick chicken broth, adding winter bamboo shoots, heavenly flower vegetable, and similar things. Observer Zhang Huaishu’s household makes the best flour gluten. When serving, tear it with the hands, do not cut with a knife. One can also add some dried shrimps to make broth, then fry gluten with sweet sauce; this is also a good dish.
(Wheat gluten is made into imitation meat for vegetarian Buddhist eaters. “Heavenly flower vegetable” is defined in our edition as a vegetable from western mountains. The term is now used for cauliflower, but that was almost surely not yet known in Yuan’s China.)
Two Ways to Cook Eggplants
In Wu Xiaogu and Guang Wen’s households, they peel the whole eggplant, then soak it in hot boiling water to get rid of the bitterness. They then fry it with pork lard. Before frying, make sure drain the water off completely, then stew it in sweet sauce; this very good. Landlord Lu Ba’s household cuts the eggplant to small cubes without peeling, fries them in oil till the color turns to light yellow, then adds soy sauce to stir-fry on a high fire. This is also a good way. I have learned both two ways, but still can’t manage the skill well.
After steaming eggplants, then slicing them open, you can make a salad with sesame seed oil and rice vinegar. This is a good dish to eat in summer. Or you can make them into heated and dried eggplants, and place them on the plate.
Amaranth [spinach-like greens of Amaranthus spp.]
Use the top tender tips; fry with nothing else. It is, however, better to cook with dried shrimps or fresh shrimps. Do not add water to make soup.
Taro is soft and smooth. It can be combined with either hun or su vegetables. You can cut it up into small pieces to make duck or meat stew, or stew it with tofu in sauce. At Mingfu Xu Zhaohuang’s household, they choose small taros, stew them with young chicken to make soup; it’s fantastic! Unluckily, the recipe was lost. I assume they only used seasoned broth to stew—no further water needed.
(Mingfu is a more respectful form of the title Tai Shou.)
Tofu Skin [the skin that forms on boiling soybean-in-water mash before making tofu from same]
Soak the tofu skin to softness, add soy sauce, vinegar and dried shrimps to mix together. It is good for summer eating. Jiang Cilang’s household uses sea cucumber to cook with it This is amazing. Add seaweed and shrimps to make soup is also a good dish. Or use mushrooms and bamboo shoots to make a mild soup This is good as well. Cook it till it turns very soft. In Wuhu, Monk Jinxiu rolls up the tofu skin, cuts it, lightly fries in oil, then adds mushrooms to stew till it is very tender. This is an extremely good dish. Do not add chicken broth.
Use fresh-picked hyacinth beans. Fry with meat and broth, then separate out the meat but save the beans. If frying only the beans, it is better to use a lot of oil. Beans are good if they are fat and soft. They are bad if hairy, rough, thin, and flat. These were cropped from weak soil. They are not good to eat.
Hispid Bottle Gourd, Japanese Snake Gourd
Take snapper fish slices to fry first, then add the gourd. Stew with soy sauce. These two gourds are cooked the same way.
Black Ear Fungus and Black Mushroom
In Yangzhou, nuns from Ding Hui nunnery stew the black ear fungus till it is twice its original size, and the black mushroom to three times its original size. Before stewing, use mushroom to make soup base first.
(One of Yuan’s more minimalist recipes.)
Winter melon is usually used with birds’ nests, fish, river eels, ocean eels and ham. Yangzhou’s Ding Hui Nunnery makes the best. It is red as blood-red jade. There is no need to add meat soup.
Fresh Water Caltrop Stew [the water caltrop is the nut of an aquatic plant, Trapa natans. It is often confused with water chestnut, the rootstock of a totally different plant]
To stew water caltrops, boil in chicken broth. When serving, keep only half the soup. The fresh tender caltrops are the ones just picked from the pond, floating on the water surface. Add chestnuts and gingko nuts to stew till soft. This is the best. Or use sugar for stewing. This is also good. The caltrops are good as a snack as well.
Cowpea [the green pods are intended here, not the dry beans]
To fry with meat, before serving, save the peas but separate the meat. Use only the tender part, and peel the ribs [strings] of the pods.
Stewed Three Bamboo Shoots
Use Tianmu bamboo shoots, winter bamboo shoots and Wenzheng bamboo shoots in chicken soup, for “three bamboo shoots soup.”
(Tianmu is a mountain in Hangzhou, Wenzheng is one in Anhui.)
Taro and Cabbage stew
Cook the taro till extremely soft, add the cabbage hearts, then stir in sauce to serve. This is among the best of homemade cuisine. The cabbage should be fat and tender. Light yellow ones are best. If you choose one with green coloration, it tastes old. If you choose one that has been harvested too long, it will be dry.
Aromatic Beans (Young Soy Beans)
The soy beans harvested from August and September nights are the fattest and tenderest, and are called aromatic beans. Boil the beans and soak in soy sauce and wine. They can be eaten with or without shells. They are aromatic, soft and delightful. Other ordinary beans can not be eaten this way.
Wild Aster [Kalimeris Indica, a wild-gathered medicinal food popular in the lower Yangzi area]
Use the tender leaves, mix with vinegar and bamboo shoots, and eat. Eaten after greasy food, it can be a refresher for the spleen.
Yanghua Cai [a vegetable found in southern China, e.g. around Nanjing. It is not in Shiiu-ying Hu’s Food Plants of China. Probably a local form of Chinese cabbage.]
In March, in Nanjing, there is yanghua cai, which is as tender and crisp as spinach. The name of it is very elegant [probably means “it is considered very elegant”].
Wenzheng Shredded Bamboo Shoots
Wenzheng bamboo shoots are available in Hangzhou. Huizhou people give friends bamboo shoots that are mildly salted and dried. They need to soak in water. Then they can be shredded and made into stew with chicken broth. Gong Sima uses soy sauce to cook with bamboo shoots till dry, then serves them. Huizhou people, eating this dish, think it is the best exotic dish of all. I laugh and think they may finally wake up from their dreams.
Stir-fried Chicken Legs and Mushrooms
At Wu Hu ( a lake in An Hui), the Grand Temple monks wash chicken legs well, rinse off the sand from the mushrooms, add soy sauce, and stir-fry with wine till well done. They place it on plates to serve the guests. It is amazing.
Pig Lard with Turnips
Stir-fry turnip in pig lard, add some dried shrimps to stew till it gets extremely well done. When remove from the wok, add some green onions. The color of the dish is like amber.
Part 11 Side dishes
Side dishes are for pairing with the main food. They are like the lower-ranking officers who assist the six highest-ranking officers in government. The side dishes can wake up the spleen and stomach and get rid of waste. This is the function of side dishes.
Preserved Bamboo Shoots
There are many places producing preserved bamboo shoots. The best ones are from the home garden, cooked barbecue style. Boil the fresh bamboo shoots with salt till done, then place them on a basketry rack to roast. They must be watched carefully overnight. If the fire goes low, the bamboo shoots will taste soft and turn yellow. If the bamboo shoots are roasted with mild sauce, the color becomes slightly dark. Winter bamboo shoots and spring bamboo shoots can both be used for preserving.
Tianmu Bamboo Shoots [as noted above, Tianmu Mountain is near Hangzhou]
Tianmu bamboo shoots are usually sold in quantity in Hangzhou. The ones placed above in the basket are the best quality; two inches below are the older shoots. You should buy the sets that are placed on top! They can command a high price. The more baskets you buy from, the more fresh and tender shoots we get.
(I.e., the more you stick to the top ones—and therefore have to skim more baskets—the better you do. Putting the best quality goods on top of the basket and the less good ones below is not a tactic confined to old China…. Check any modern supermarket’s strawberries, for example.)
Yulan Slice (Yulan means “magnolia”; here it refers to dry preserved winter bamboo shoots, the appearance and color of which resemble magnolia. They smell really good.)
Yulan slices are made from winter bamboo shoots, roasted with a little honey. In Suzhou, Sun Chunyang’s household preserves two kinds, one salty and the other sweet. The salty ones are better.
Chu Zhou preserved bamboo shoots are called vegetarian ham. This should be cooked in a short time. The longer it is cooked, the drier it gets. One can just preserve some fresh bamboo shoots on their own.
Xuancheng Preserved Bamboo Shoots
Xuancheng (Xuanzhou, Anhui) bamboo shoots are black and fat, almost the same quality as Tianmu shoots, and very good.
Ginseng Bamboo Shoots
Preserve the thin bamboo shoots in ginseng shapes Add a bit of honey water. Yangzhou people value this, so the price is pretty high.
Bamboo Shoot Oil [actually bamboo juice, not oil]
Take ten jin bamboo shoots, steamed about one day and one night. Pierce the shoots and layer them on a flat board. As in making tofu, press the shoots with boards on top, to make the juice come out. Add one liang of fried salt in juice to make bamboo shoot oil. After the bamboo shoots are sun-dried, they can be preserved. Tian Tai monks like to make bamboo shoot oil as gifts for people.
Rice Wine Dregs
Rice Wine dregs is from Taicang Zhou. The older they are, the better.
Buy a few jin of shrimps, slowly cook with soy sauce. Wen removing from the wok, strain the soy sauce with a piece of cloth and wrap the shrimps up. Then marinate in a jar with soy sauce.
Spicy Tiger Sauce
Chilli, mashed, is steamed with sweet sauce. Add some dried shrimps.
(This is an unusually early recipe for chilli in China.)
The color of smoked caviar is like amber. The more oil it has, the more expensive it is. In Suzhou, Sun Chunyang’s household makes the best. The fresher it is, the better. After a long time, the flavor goes dull.
(Chinese smoked fish roes are as good as caviar, though not true caviar. And they are much more sustainably produced.)
Preserved Chinese Cabbage
Less salt makes tastier flavor, too much salt makes a nasty flavor. However, to preserve it a long time, it needs a lot of salt. I tried to preserve one big jar, opened it in the dog days of summer; the upper half of the jar smelled bad and looked mushy, but the lower half smelled good and looked like jade. It was amazing! So don’t judge by appearances [lit. “don’t just look at the skin and hair”].
(Here and in the next recipe, the maddening issue of exactly how much salt is left to the reader! Chinese pickled vegetables are less salty than Korean kimchi but more salty than good sauerkraut.)
Celtuce [a variety of lettuce grown for its thick, succulent stem]
Two ways to eat celtuce: freshly made celtuce with mild sauce tastes crisp and tender. If it is pickled and preserved, slice it then eat; it tastes fresh. But it must be slightly salted; too much salt ruins the flavor.
Preserved Dry Vegetables
Spring mustard greens can be air dried. Use the stems, slightly salted, for sun-drying. Add wine, sugar and soy sauce, mix well, then steam. Air-dry it, then seal in bottles.
Mizuna is also called red-in-snow. One way to preserve it is to preserve a whole jar. Make sure it is mild; this is best. Another way is to pick the hearts, air-dry, chop up, preserve in a bottle. When this is ready, it can be cooked in fish congee, and tastes fine. Or one can slowly stew it with vinegar, or cook it with spicy dishes; these are also good. It is best of all with eels or carp.
(A form of Chinese mustard greens, variously called pot-herb mustard, thousand-leaf mustard, red-in-snow, etc. in English.)
Spring Mustard Greens
Air-dry spring mustard greens, chop them up, preserve in a jar till ready. This called “portable vegetable.”
Mustard sliced, preserved with green mustard, tastes crisp. Or one can preserve the whole head: sun-dry then preserve. It will taste musch better.
Sun-dry preserved mustard greens, then chop up finely, steam, and eat. This is called “sesame vegetable.” It is best for the elders.
(The name is mysterious; probably the recipe requires sesame oil for preserving and/or sesame seeds for garnish.)
Shredded Dried Tofu
Thinly slice good dried tofu, mix it with shrimps and soy sauce.
Use the hearts [leaf bases] of mustard greens, air-dried. Preserve them, then squeeze out the juice. Seal in small bottles with clay. Then place the bottles bottom up on ashes. This side dish, when eaten in summer, appears yellow, and has a mild and fresh flavor and scent.
Rice Wine Dreg Vegetable
Use air-dried preserved vegetables; wrap them up separately with vegetable leaves. For each leaf, layer some rice wine dregs and wrap. Stack them up in a jar. When eating, open the wraps. The dreg will not mix with the vegetable, but the flavor is enhanced.
Air-dry mustard greens, then slightly pickle them. Add sugar, vinegar, and mustard to put in the jar with the juice. One can add a little soy sauce. When having a meal, this side dish can wake up the spleen and stomach after the guests feel full and drunk.
Tai Vegetable Hearts [again, this obviously refers to some Chinese cabbage relative, not seaweed]
Use the spring tai vegetable hearts. Pickle them, then squeeze out the juice, put it in small bottles, for summer eating. Air-dry the flowers of the tai vegetable, called tai flower head. This can be cooked with meat.
Pickled Mustard Roots [tubers of the rape-turnip]
Pickled mustard roots from Nanjing Cheng En Temple are better as they get older. Cooking it with hun ingredients will bring out the best flavor.
Turnips [actually the large Chinese radishes]
Use the big and fat turnips to preserve with sauce for one or two days, then eat. They taste sweet, crisp and lovely. Sometimes, the mashed turnip can be made into shapes of dried fish, and the slices of turnip for frying can be shaped like butterflies. Some [presumably the radishes, not the butterflies] are as long as one zhang [3.3 meters], which is quite a spectacle. Cheng En temple sells turnips which are pickled in vinegar, the older the better.
Fermented Bean Curd
The best frmented ban curd is sold at the front gate of General Wen Temple in Suzhou. It is black in color, with a good flavor. There are dry and wet kinds. There is also a kind with shrimps in it. I dislike this somewhat, because of its fishing smell. Guangxi produces the best white fermented bean curd. Bank Overseer Wang’s household also makes tasty fermented bean curd.
Three Nuts Fried with Sauce
Peel walnuts and almonds; no need to peel the hazelnuts. First fry them in oil over a high fire till crisp, then add in sauce. Don’t overcook the nuts. Determine the amount of sauce according to the amount of the nuts.
(A typically unhelpful Yang suggestion.)
Agar with Sauce
Wash the agar well, then marinate it in sauce. Wash it only just before eating. It has another name, “kylin dish.”
Boil the agar till really soft, then mash it to make a cake. Cut it with a knife. The color looks like beeswax.
Use mild sauce to cook small matsutake till boiling and the juice is absorbed, then remove from the wok, add some sesame oil, and put it in a jar. It can last up to two days. If kept too long, the flavor becomes bad.
Mud snails are from Xinghua and Taixing. Use the newborn tender mud snails. Soak them in fermented glutinous rice, add sugar. The snails will automatically spit out the oil. Although called “mud snails,” but the best ones are not muddy.
Use tender jellyfish, marinate in sweet wine. They are very delicious. The bell part is white, and called “white skin.” Thinly slice it, mix with wine and vinegar, and eat.
Shrimpfish come from Suzhou. This little fish has roe when it’s born. Cook it when fresh. It tastes better than dried fish.
(The comment about roe confuses us. Either the fry still have some yolk not totally absorbed, or the fish breeds when very young.)
Young Ginger Preserved with Thick Soy Sauce
Use raw young ginger, slightly marinate, first in rough [thick, heavy-flavored] sauce, then in fine sauce. Repeat this three times. Then it’s done. There is an old trick of putting a cicada’s shed skin in the sauce; the gingers will remain tender for a long time.
(Probably magical thinking. We are unaware of preservative value in a cicada skin, but cicadas live underground for years, and people might have naturally assumed the cicadas had a secret of preserving themselves for long periods.)
Cucumber Preserved in Thick Soy Sauce
First pickle the cucumbers, then air-dry them, then put into soy sauce, the same way as with young gingers. It’s easier to preserve them sweet than crisp. In Hangzhou, Shi Luzhen’s household makes the best thick-soy-sauce-preserved cucumber. I heard that re-preserving the cucumber, after it’s been preserved once, will make the thin skin shrink.
It tastes crisp and delicious when eating.
New Broad Beans
The new broad beans are tender. Fry with preserved sherpherd’s purse. This is the best. The right way to eat broad beans is to pick them only when you plan to eat them [very soon].
The best pickled eggs are from Gaoyou [a small town in Suzhou]. They are of red color and preserved in plenty of oil. They are Gaowen Duangong’s favorite dish. At dinner, he always serves the eggs to his guests first. The eggs are placed in plates, cut in halves, with the shells still on. They are served with egg yolks and whites; one cannot only use yolks and throw away whites, If so, the flavor would be gone, and the oil taken away too.
(Evidently the pickle softens the shells enough that they can be sliced.)
Make a small hole in a raw egg, empty out the yolk and white. Use only the white. Mix it with thick chicken broth. Then put the mixture back to the shells, seal with paper, and steam in a rice-cooker type of steamer. When done, peel the eggs. They still look like whole eggs. This way of cooking gives the best flavor.
Preserved Water Bamboo Shoot Slices
Marinate the water bamboo shoots in sauce first, then pick them out to air-dry, slice to eat, as in making preserved bamboo shoots slices.
Niushou’s Dried Tofu
A monk at Niushou makes first-class dried tofu. However, there are seven places selling dried tofu. The Xiaotang Monk’s is the best of the seven.
Pickled Japanese Snake Gourd
When Japanese snake gourds are still young, pick the thin ones to pickle in sauce. They are crisp and fresh.
Part 12. Snacks
Liang Shao Ming (first son of the northern and southern dynasty emperor Liang Wu Di) ate snacks as small meals. Zhen Cansao [another historic figure] also persuaded her uncle to do the same. As we can see, snacks originated from long time ago. Thus I write my section on “Snacks”.
Sea Eel Noodle
Take a big sea eel, steam till very soft, get rid of the bones, mix the meat in flour, add some chicken broth to make the dough, roll flat, cut into thin noodles. Add chicken broth, ham broth and mushroom broth to boil.
Boil thin noodles, then drain, then place in a bowl. Use chicken and black mushroom to make thick sauce. When eating, scoop the sauce and cover on top of the noodles.
River Eel Noodles
Slowly stew the eel in sauce, then add the noodles and boil. This is Hangzhou style.
Use small knife to shred the dough to thin and wide pieces, called “skirt noodles.” Normally, for noodles, more soup than noodles is better. It is good not to see the noodles in the bowl; rather finish the noodles, then add more. This way it will make people want to eat more. This is very popular in Yangzhou, which makes some sense.
Stew mushrooms heads to broth one day ahead,. Strain. Next day, stew the bamboo shoots in broth, then add the noodles to boil. This method is best done by the monk at Yangzhou’s Dinghui Temple, but he wouldn’t teach it. However, it certainly can be copied. The dish is pure black. Some people said he added shrimp broth and mushrooms broth, only making sure the sand and dirt were cleaned well. Do not change the water for washing the mushrooms. Once it is changed, the flavor will be thinner.
Straw Rain Cape Cake
Use cold water to make the dough, not too much. Flatten the dough thinly, then roll up, flatten it again, scatter some pork lard and white sugar evenly on top, then roll it up, and flatten to a thin cake. Fry it with pork lard. If you choose salty-flavor style, then add pepper and salt.
(The lard, sugar and dough create a rough surface like that of a straw raincape.)
Raw shrimps, green onion salt, Chinese brown pepper, and a bit of wine. Add some water to make the shrimp cake. Use sesame oil to fry thoroughly.
In Shandong, Accountant Kong’s household makes flat cakes, thin as cicada’s wings, big as tea plates, and soft with a rich flavor. Nothing can compare with them. My household tried to copy, but ours were still not as good as his. I cannot find the reason.
A tin can from Shanxi can hold thirty flat cakes. Each guest gets one can. The cake is the circumference of an orange. The can has a lid for easy storage. The filling is shredded meat and green onion, thin as hair. It could be pork and lamb together, in which case it is called western cake. [Lamb is a western Chinese dish.]
Pine Cake [Shortcake]
In Nanjing, the best shortcake is made by Jiao Men Fang store.
Use hot water to make a dough. When chicken broth is boiling, use chopsticks to put the pieces of dough in. The size doesn’t matter. Cook with fresh vegetable hearts. The dumplings taste particularly flavorful.
(Simple dumplings, very possibly from sticky rice flour, more or less the size and shape of mice.)
Flatten dough pieces. Fill with ground meat and steam. The key to good dumplings is the filling. Use fresh, tender meat, get rid of sinew, then season it. I was once in Guangdong, and had dumplings at Guang Zheng Tai. These were the best. They used filling made from pig skin paste.
To make wonton, make the same way as for dumplings.
Fried Leek Dumplings
Mince the leek finely, mix it with ground pork, add seasonings, then wrap it in dough wrappers. Fry in oil. It would be better to add some butter to the dough.
(A very unusual reference to butter. Leek dumplings are a central Asian specialty; is there a Tibetan influence here?)
Fried Sugar Pancakes
Use sugar water to make the dough. Heat oil in a pan. Put the dough in the pan with chopsticks, and fry. Make the dough into pancake shapes. It is called Soft Wok Cake.
Sesame Seed Cake
Crush pine nuts and walnuts, add sugar [for the stuffing]. Use pork lard in the dough [for wrapping]. Fry it till both sides turn golden color, then sprinkle sesame seeds on the dumplings. Kou Er (a girl’s name, apparently one of Yuan’s servants) is very good at making this. She sifts the flour four or five times. The color will be as white as snow. You must use a sizable pan, to fry them on both sides. If there is butter [in the dough or perhaps in the filling], the cake tastes better.
(This is a thoroughly west-Asian recipe, up to and including the butter, and reminds us of western recipes in Yuan and Ming cookbooks.)
Thousand Layers Buns
Staff Advisor Yang’s household makes buns, as white as snow, with what seems like thousands of layers. Nanjing people don’t know how to do it. The method is half from Yangzhou, half from Changzhou and Wuxi.
Seasoned Millet Mush
Brew some tea, add in roasted flour [evidently meaning—or maybe replacing—the parched meal of Tibetan usage], fried sesame seed paste, and milk. Add a little salt. If there is no milk, use butter or milk skin.
(This is a central Asian recipe, an elite form of Tibetan tsampa or its Mongolian descendent zompa. The milk skin reprises the qaymaq of central Asia. Yuan did have eclectic tastes.)
Apricot Kernel Custard
Mash the aproicot kernels to paste, then get rid of the dregs. Add the rice powder to the juice, cook it with sugar.
(Another western Asian recipe; in China, apricot kernels normally replace the almonds of the western world. This recipe, or various forms of it, remains common, as a dessert or for soothing a sore throat.)
Made the same way as fried sugar pancakes. Add sugar or salt depending on which is wanted at the time.
Bamboo Leaf Rice Pudding
Use bamboo leaves to wrap the sweet rice and boil. It has a pointy point, like new water chestnuts.
(A totally inadequate recipe for the familiar zongzi.)
Turnip [i.e., radish] Dumplings
Shred the turnip. Boil it to get rid of the smell. Dry it, add green onion and sauce, and mix. Use it as fillings to wrap in sweet rice dough. Then deep fry in sesame oil or cook it thoroughly in broth. Kou Er learned how to make Chun Pufang’s household’s turnip dumplings. She can make leek dumplings and pheasant dumplings with this method.
Sweet Rice Dumplings
Use sweet rice flour to make dumplings. Make them very smooth. Fillings can be made with pine nuts, walnuts, pork lard and sugar. Or make the fillings from tender pork without any veins, ground, with green onion mince and soy sauce. To make the sweet rice powder, soak the rice in water for a day and night, then ground the rice with water, using a cloth bag to strain the rice liquid. Under the bag, layer some wood ash to help drain the liquid out faster. Until the contents of the bag are thoroughly dry, use previously dried rice powder.
Pork Lard Cake
Mix sweet rice powder with pork lard, place on a plate to steam, then add bits of rock sugar in the powder, and keep steaming till done. Use knife to cut it open.
Cooked sweet rice, mashed, is filled with sesame seeds and sugar, shaped into cake, then cut into squares.
Soft Fragrant Cake
The first-ranked soft fragrant cake is made at Suzhou’s Duling Bridge. Second is Huchou cake made by Xishi House. The third is from Nanjing, from Southern Gate Bao En Temple.
Hundred Nuts Cake
In Hangzhou, the best nut cakes can be found at the North Gate. It is best with soft sweet rice, plenty of pine nuts and walnuts, and without orange bits. The cake’s sweetness is hard to define; one cannot tell whether it is honey or sugar. It can be stored for a long time. My household has not been able to find the recipe.
Boil chestnuts to very soft, then mash. Add sweet rice powder and sugar to steam. On top of the cake, add some sunflower seeds and pine nuts. This is a traditional food for the Chongyang festival.
Mash some green leaves to get the juice, mix it in rice powder to make balls. The color is as green as jade.
Happy Together Cake
Steam the rice paste as one would steam rice. Press the rice paste to make the shape of a gongbi Roast it on an iron rack, adding a little oil to prevent it sticking on the rack.
(A gongbi is a jade piece for ritual ceremony; see (http://pic.chinajade.cn/up/jade/2011/09/22/982_110449137d.jpg).)
Grind chickpeas, add some sweet rice powder to make the cake, place it on a plate to steam till well done. When eating, cut it with a small blade.
Grind chickpeas to make congee. Fresh peas are the best, older ones are fine also. Add Chinese yam and Poria cocos [a medicinal fungus]. This will make the congee taste much better.
Gold Sweet Rice Balls
To make Hangzhou-style gold sweet rice balls, carve shapes of peaches, apricots and gold ingots on pieces of wood to make the molds. Press the dough in to shape the gold sweet rice balls.
The fillings can be either meat or vegetable.
Lotus Powder and Lily Powder
If the lotus powder is not homemade, one cannot trust that it is really made from lotus. The same is true of lily powder.
Steam sweet rice till very soft, then make balls. Use sesame seed powder and sugar for fillings.
(If these are then fried, they are the familiar sesame balls of Chinese snack shops today.)
Grind taro, then dry it, mix it with rice powder. Chao Tian Temple’s Daoists make the best taro balls. They use pheasant for fillings, which is very delicious.
(Apparently the “taro horns” of today’s snack shops—again, assuming they are fried.)
Lotus Roots [actually rhizomes—underwater stems—not roots]
To make lotus roots, one should make them at home. Cook with sugar and rice. Eat with soup; this is the best. The lotus roots sold by vendors are cooked with filthy water, the flavor is bad, and they not edible. I love to eat baby lotus roots, because even if been cooked too long and overly soft, I still need to bite it with teeth, and the flavor is all there. But if the old roots have been cooked too long, they become mushy, with no flavor at all.
(Evidently the candied rhizomes found in snack shops then and now.)
New Chestnuts and New Water Chestnuts
Stew new chestnuts till very soft. They then have a pine nut flavor. Some cooks do not want to stew till soft, so some Nanjing people never have tasted the real flavor of chestnuts. It is the same with new water chestnuts; some Nanjing people have to wait until the water chestnuts become old to eat them.
Fujian lotus seeds are expensive and not cooked as easily as Hunan lotus seeds. When cooking, by the time the seeds just begin to get cooked, separate kernels from skins, and put back to the soup to stew on slow fire. Cover with lid, do not open it to check and do not stop the fire. Cook like this for about two sticks of incense time. The lotus seeds should be well done, and when eatent should not taste rough.
When it is sunny in October, sun-dry the taro until very dry. Then store in dry grass. Do not let it get frozen in winter. Cooked next spring, it still tastes sweet and delicious. Not everyone knows about this method.
Xiao the Beauty’s Dim Sum
At Yizhen South gate, there is a store owned by Xiao the Beauty. She is good at making desserts such as buns, cakes, dumplings and such things. They are small and delicate, and snow white in color.
(Dianxin, Cantonese tim sam, corrupted to “dim sum,” is now a familiar word in the western world. It literally means “dot the heart,” and is equivalent to “hit the spot” in English. In religious art, dotting the eyes—painting the pupils in—is the last stage in painting an image; it brings the life and soul into it.)
Liu Fangbo’s Mooncakes
Use the best fine flour from Shandong to make buttery skins. Fillings are made with pine nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, sugar, and pork lard. When eating, they taste mild sweet, soft and fragrant—incredible!
Ten Types of Tao Fangbo’s Desserts
At the end of every year, Mrs. Tao makes ten desserts, all made of Shandong fine flour. They are of strange shapes, colorful, sweet and fragrant. One can’t praise them enough. Governor Sha said: “After I ate Kong Fangbo’s flat cake, other flat cakes taste like nothing; after had Tao Fangbo’s ten desserts, other desserts from around the world taste like nothing.” After Tao Fangbo died, the recipe of the desserts disappeared just like [the long-lost song] “Guang Ling San.” How sad!
Yang Zhongcheng’s Western Pancake
Mix egg whites, water, and fine flour to make a batter. Create a pancake maker: Use the tips of copper tongs to make pancake shapes of butterfly size, on both top and bottom. When you close the tips, the space left should be less than one centimeter. Over a high fire, heat the tongs, add the mixture, close it, then open it: the pancakes are made. White as snow, transparent as cotton paper. Add some crystal sugar and crushed pine nuts to eat with this.
(This recipe is particularly interesting since it is not only a European one but specifically identified as such [xiyang, lit. “western ocean”]. It is, not surprisingly, a rather confused account. The tongs have wide, round, flat tips with a shallow depression, or mold shapes, on the inside. The pancake batter is put in these when the tongs are hot. The tongs are closed and the pancakes are almost instantly cooked. The tongs are then opened and the pancakes taken out. See Waley 1956:196-197; he was rather confused by this recipe too. I have seen these made, and thus at least know what is involved.)
White Cloud Flakes
Make white rice crust, thin as cotton paper. Fry it with oil, add a bit of sugar. It tastes very crisp. Nanjing people know how to make it best.
Wind Xiao (Glutinous Rice Crust)
Glutinous rice powder is mixed with water, made into small thin pieces, then fried in pork lard. Before removing from the wok, add some sugar. Its color as white as frost. It melts right after being put in the mouth. Hangzhou people call it Wind Xiao.
Three-layerdc Jade Stripe Cake
Use pure glutinous rice powder for making this cake. Divide it into three layers: one layer of rice powder, one layer of pork lard and white sugar, and one layer of rice powder. Bind them together, steam, then cut. This is the Suzhou method.
Yunsi Cake [a Yunsi is an official in charge of water traffic]
When Lu Yayu was a Yunsi, he was really old. A Yangzhou bakery made this cake for him. He praised it highly, so the cake got its name. This cake as white as snow, on top of it decorated with a little rouge, red as peach flowers. The filling is made with a small amount of sugar, mild but tasty. This kind of cake is best made by the store in front of the Yunsi department [presumably the one in Yangzhou]; other stores’ Yunsi cakes are rough and of poor color.
Use glutinous rice powder. Steam the cake. The inside is filled with sesame seeds and sugar crumbs.
(Like “sandy cookies” in English and sandtorte in German, this name refers to the sandy, crunchy texture of the granulated sugar.)
Small Buns , Small Wonton
Make small buns the size of walnuts, steam, and eat. Chopsticks can pick up two at a time. This dish is from Yangzhou. Yangzhou makes the best fermented dough, pressed by hand. They flatten it down to no higher than a half inch, release the dough, and it rises high again. Small wontons are as small as longan fruit, and are cooked with chicken broth.
Snowy Steaming Cakes
When grinding the rice, use a proportion of glutinous rice and normal rice of 2:8; that is the standard. Mix the powder. Place it on a plate. Sprinkle some cold water on the powder until it can easily be formed into rice balls, and easily separated as well. First sieve the rice powder. The fraction that is sieved out should be ground again and re-sieved. Then use the rice powder that has been sieved twice. Mix it well with water, not too dry or too wet. Cover it with a towel to avoid drying it up. Save the dough for use. Add some sugar in the powder to enhance the flavor, mixing the powder as for Zhen Er cake’s sold in the markets. Wash a tin steamer and tin cake molds well. Before using, spray with a layer of water and oil, then wipe with a piece of cloth. You must wash and wipe for every steaming time. In one tin steamer, place the molds. Put in half the dough [in a flat layer], then layer on some fruity filling, then cover up with more dough. Gently tap the surface flat. Then cover the steamer, steam above a pot of boiling water till steam comes straight up. Then it’s done. Place the steamer upside down, remove the steamer, then the molds. Decorate the cakes with red food coloring. One can use two steamers in turns. Wash the water pot well, fill it with water till reach the shoulder of the pot. The more steaming, the less water is left in the pot, so carefully watch and prepare for adding hot water when in need.
Crispy Cakes Recipe
Take one bowl of cooled butter, one bowl of hot water. Mix the butter and water first, add in a piece of raw dough, completely knead it till very soft. As if rolling pieces of small dough, knead cooked steamed dough with the butter well. Do not let it become hard. Then make pieces of small raw dough as big as walnuts. Make the cooked steaming dough into slightly smaller balls. Then wrap the cooked steaming dough inside the raw dough. Then roll it flat, to a length of eight inches, and width of two or three inches. Then fold it like a bowl, filled in with fruits, and seal it. [Then, evidently, cook it—presumably by steaming.]
(This confused recipe seems to suggest that you mix the butter and water and some dough till that dough is hot, or possibly use pre-steamed dough; then make balls with raw dough stuffed with steamed dough, as if for central European fruit bread. The recipe resists clear interpretation.)
In Shanxi Jingyang, Ming Fuzhang’s household makes very good “original cakes.” They choose first-class white flour, add some sugar and butter to make buttery dough, then knead it to cake shapes the size of bowls, either round or square, about two centimeters thick. Then they bake them on top of clean small heated cobblestones, regardless of the uneven levels. The cakes can thus be either concave or convex. When the color turns slightly yellow, remove from the stones. They have an amazing flavor. One can use salt instead of sugar.
(“Original” is literally “Heaven-generated” or “Heavenly spontaneity.” The name mystifies us; possibly these have a religious significance.)
Flower-Petal Moon Cakes
Ming Fu’s household’s flower-laced moon cakes are as good as Liu Fangbo’s in Shandong. I often invite Ming’s lady chef to use my own sedan chair to come my place to make the cakes. She uses fine flour mixed with raw lard to knead with hundreds of strokes, then uses jujubes for filling. inside. Then she cuts the dough into the size of a bowl, making the four sides look like flower petals. Use two fire basins, she bakes the cakes on both sides. Using the jujubes with peel gives a delicious favor. Using the raw lard gives a fresh flavor. Once it gets in the mouth, it melts right away. It’s sweet but not greasy, not dense but not falling apart. The secret is in the skill of kneading the dough. The more you knead, the better the dough.
Chinese Steamed Bun Recipe
I happened to eat Xin Ming’s household’s steamed buns. They are white as snow, glowing like silver on the surface. I thought it was because they used fine flour from the north. Long Yun told me that there’s no difference from flour from south or north, as long as it has been finely sieved five times. Then the flour will be naturally white and fine. It is not necessary to use northern flour. The only difficulty is rising the dough. I have invited their chef to teach us, but we still can’t manage getting the same result, with cakes as soft and well-risen as theirs.
(Many a baker will relate to that last confession.)
The Hong Household’s Zongzi
The Hong household in Yangzhou makes superior Zongzi. They use the best glutinous rice. Choose long and white and no damaged ones. Throw away half-damaged or crushed ones. Wash well, wrap in big bamboo leaves, fill in one big piece of good ham, seal and cook in a pot for one day and one night, keep adding firewood without stopping. When rice and ham are all well cooked till soft and melting, it tastes incredibly smooth and good. Another option: use the ham fat, chop it up to mix in the
Part 13. Rice
Congee and cooked rice are the basic foods, dishes should be on the side. Once the basics are established, the [proper eating] Way is produced. Therefore, I write the Rice section./
Wang Mang [briefly Emperor, 9-23 AD] said: Salt is the essential of hundreds of dishes. I said: Rice is the fundament of hundreds of flavors. The Book of Songs says: “The sound of washing the rice is swish, The steam [of cooking rice] floating, floating.” As we can see, ancient people also like to eat steamed rice, and dislike it if there’s no moisture in the rice. Whoever is good at steaming rice knows how to cook the rice separately with liquid locked in. When chewing it, it tastes soft and fragrant. There are four keys: first, use good rice, such as fragrant rice, or winter frost rice [a.k.a red rice, which mentioned in A Dream of Red Mansions, a very expensive kind], or late rice, or Guanyin xian [a type of rice that is long and thin, a very good kind] or peach flower xian [reddish, short rice]. Rice needs to be washed well until it is really white. In humid weather, you need to lay out the rice on the ground to dry. Do not let the rice get moldy and stick together. Second, wash the rice really well. Don’t feel that it is wasting time to wash the rice. It must be rubbed to wash off foreign substances. Keep washing until the water becomes transparent and clear, with no rice color. Third, know how to use the fire: high power first, then small fire. Gradually turn down the fire till it is very low. Fourth, add the right amount of water according to the amount of rice, not too much or too little. The cooked rice should be neither too hard nor too soft. I often see rich families who care only about how fancy their dishes are, but tolerate poor cooking of the rice. Such attending to trifles and neglecting the essentials is very funny. I do not like to soak my rice in soup, because in this way I can’t taste the original flavor of rice. If there’s good soup, I prefer one spoon of soup, then one bite of rice. Take them one after another to satisfy both appetites. If I have to, I would soak the rice in tea or hot water! In this way, I would still taste some of the rice flavor. The essential taste of rice is above hundreds of flavors; Those who know how to appreciate the rice like to eat just rice without any dishes.
(Good advice! One need only add that the rice should be soaked for an hour between washing and cooking. The horrible wallpaper paste that passes for “rice” in American kitchens and restaurants can be banished forever by using this simple advice—especially the part about really caring for and appreciating good rice.)
It is not congee if you can see only water, not rice, or if you can see only rice, not water. You must combine and blend rice and water well. Exquisiteness grows in silkiness! This is real congee. Yin Wen Duangong said: “ It’s better to wait to eat congee than to make the congee wait to be eaten!” These are true words. Avoid waiting a long time after the congee cooked. Its flavor goes bad, and gets dry. Recently, some people make duck congee, adding meat in congee; some people make eight treasures congee, adding fruits in it. Both lose the true flavor of the congee. If you have to add some other items in congee, then it is better to use green beans in summer. In winter, use millet. You can add any of the “five grains” [i.e. any grains], it doesn’t ruin the congee. I once had dinner at an Inspector’s place, at which every dish was good enough except the cheap rice—I barely made myself eat it. After I went home, I got sick from eating it. I joked it with my friend: My five internal organs’ spirits suffered—indeed I couldn’t take it!
Part 14 Tea and Drinks
Drinking seven bowls of beverages feels like riding the wind. Drinking even one cup helps one forget all worries. When talking about drinks, these must be the “six clear things” [water, milk, sweet liquor, rice juice and tea, unfiltered liquor and watery congee]. So I write my Tea and Drinks section.
To make good tea, you must use good water. Water is best from Zhong Leng and Hui Quan. Ordinary families can’t afford transporting this water, but natural spring water and snow water are easy to get and store. Fresh water can have a bit of strong flavor, but the longer it is stored, the sweeter and milder it gets. I have tasted all kinds of tea around the world. The best is the white tea from the summits of the Wuyi Mountains. However, this tea is for the royal court, and really rare. How can commoners easily get it? Second, no other tea is better than Longjing. The teas picked before Qingming time [the third day of the third lunar month, around April] called “lotus-heart” tea is really mild. The tea picked right before the rain is the best, with one leaf on the sprout tip, green like jade.
When storing tea, wrap it in small paper packets, four liang for one pack. Put it in a pot of lime, and change the lime every ten days. Seal the pot opening with paper and press it tight to avoid leaking scent and flavor and to prevent color change. When boiling the water, use a high flame. Once it’s boiling, pour in tea right away. If the water is boiled too long, the water flavor changes. If the water is not boiling, the tea leaves will float on the surface. Once the tea is made, drink it right away. Don’t cover with a lid, or the tea flavor goes bad.
The key to making tea is to be precise and make no mistakes. In Shanxi, Fei Zhongchen had said: “I passed by Shuiyuan yesterday, and finally had good tea.” [Shuiyuan produces good tea.] E ven Fei Zhongchen, a person from Shanxi, said such words. I have seen a Shidafu [a senior official] who grew up in Hangzhou drink boiled tea every time he attends court. The tea tastes bitter like Chinese medicine, red as blood. This is the vulgar way for those fat and cheesy people who like to eat areca.
Except the Longjing from my hometown, every other kind of tea is ranked below it. [Unclear referent here, probably referring to the material on Wuyi.]
(Again, good tips on tea. The water would be jut beginning to bubble, not boiling in our sense, when the tea is put in. I would not recommend the lime, but it may have been necessary in Yuan’s time, to keep bugs and mold out. Many a gourmet would still rank Wuyi white tea at the top. The Wuyi mountains were so important in the tea trade that the English in the old days often referred to tea as Bohea [pron. “bohay”], from the way “Wuyi” is pronounced by the people in the mountain range itself.)
I used to dislike Wuyi tea for its bitterness. It is as bitter as Chinese medicine. However, in 1786, I was traveling in Wuyi and got to Tianyou temple on Manting summit. The Daoists there all rushed to serve me their tea. The cup is as small as a small walnut, the teapot is as small as a citrus fruit. Each cup has less than one liang of tea water. Every sip that I had I could slowly enjoy. First, I smell its aroma. Then I took a small sip, tasting its flavor slowly and meditating on it. It’s absolutely fragrant and fresh. The aroma swirled in my nose, leaving sweetness on my taste buds. After I finished the first cup, I had one and two more. It made me feel calm and refreshed. At this time, I realized that Longjing was refreshing but tasted really mild, and Yangxian tea was good but lacking in sweet tones. It’s like comparing jade with crystal: totally different styles. So Wuyi tea has its good reputation, as it should. The teapot could be refilled with boiling water three times, and the flavor still lasted.
(Many a traveler has had this experience, ENA included. The use of tiny pots and cups is Fujian standard, and truly does make one appreciate the tea.)
Tea from Hangzhou is all fragrant. The best is still Longjing. Every time when it is Qing Ming time in my home town, the tomb keeper will serve us with a cup of tea. Clear water, green tea—this is the tea that even rich families can’t get.
(Tombs were cleaned up and maintained on Qing Ming day.)
Changzhou Yangxian Tea
Yangxian tea, as green as jade, shaped like sparrows’ tongues, and appearing as very large grains. It tastes sronger than Longjing.
Dongting Jun Mountain tea
The tea from Dongting Jun Mountain tastes similar to Longjing. The leaf is wider, the color is greener. It is hard to get. The official Fang Liuchuan once gave me two containers of this tea; they were extremely good. Later someone else gave me some of the tea, but it was not the true original one.
In addition, Lu’an, Silver Needles, Mao Jian, Borneolum, and Anhua Tea all rank after the first cut.
From birth I disliked alcohol, so I am really strict on picking it. This helps me to better know how good or bad the alcohol is. Nowadays, Shaoxing jiu is very popular around the country, but Cang jiu’s mildness, Xun jiu’s coldness and Chuan jiu’s freshness are also as good as Shaoxing jiu. Generally speaking, Jiu is like a well educated scholar: the older, the better. The best is froma jar that is just opened, as the saying “Head start for jiu, foot for tea” [i.e., freshly opened jiu, cured and aged—or possibly reinfused—tea] indicates. To warm the alcohol, inadequate warth makes the taste cold, too hot a warming makes it dull, and setting it too close to the fire makes the flavor bad [smoky]. It must be warmed in water [i.e. the closed bottle put into a pan of water and the water warmed slowly]. It cannot contact the fire directly. It must be covered tightly to avoid the fragrance [and the alcohol] evaporating away. That is best.
I have picked a few that are drinkable; descriptions follow.
(Jiu is usually translated “wine,” but it is almost always grain alcohol—technically beer or ale when brewed, vodka when distilled. The word “wine” in English is correctly restricted to fruit wines, which do exist in China but were rare until modern times. China now has a substantial grape wine industry with rapidly improving quality, and there is every reason to use words correctly in this context. The jiu described below are noncarbonated ales or beers except for the shochu, which is distilled, and thus technically are vodka [unaged] or whiskey [aged]).
Yu’s Gold Jia Jiu
Yu Wen Xianggong’s household makes sweet and spicy two kinds of jiu. The spicy one is better. It tastes spicy and lively, and reaches to our bones. The color looks like crystal flowers. The flavor is similar to Shaoxing but spicier.
Dezhou Lu Jiu (Dezhou used to be part of old China; it is now part of Vietnam)
Lu Yayu’s household made Lu jiu at home. The color is normal, like ordinary jiu, but it tastes richer.
Sichuan Pitong Jiu (Pi is a county in Sichuan Province; tong is a bamboo tube;
people in Pi supposedly made wine in bamboo tubes)
Pitong jiu is extremely cool and crystal clear. It tastes like pear juice and sugar cane juice. It’s hard to tell that it’s wine. But it is transported from thousands miles away, in Sichuan, and almost no Pitong jiu can stand so much travel without changing flavor. I have had Pitong jiu seven times. The one jar carried by governor Yang Li Hu’s raft was the best. [It was least disturbed by the travel.]
Shaoxing Jiu is like an official who is free of corruption, authentic and honest. The flavor is mellow and normal. Also it is like famous old people, who have lived long and experienced more. Its quality is thick and flavorful. Shaoxing Jiu takes at least five years to make. If aged less than that it’s not drinkable. Fake Shaoxing Jiu, with added water, cannot be stored for five years. I often say Shaoxing Jiu is a celebrity, and Shochu is a hoodlum.
(Shochu is distilled jiu—basically, at least in Yuan’s day, raw vodka—and if it isn’t a hoodlum itself it has certainly made many people act so!)
Huzhou Nanxun Jiu (Huzhou is a district in Zhejiang)
Huzhou Nanxun Jiu tastes like Shaoxing, but spicier. The best Nanxun Jiu is that which is more than three years old.
Changzhou Lanling Jiu
Tang poems has sentences such as: “Lanling Jiu is pretty as a tulip; a jade bowl holds it and it shines like amber.” When I passed throiugh Changzhou, Prime Minister Liu Wending shared his eight-year-old Lanling Jiu. Indeed it had amber color, but tasted too thick and strong, no longer containing a fresh lasting flavor. Yixing has a similar brew, Shushan Jiu. Wuxi Jiu is made with second-rate spring water; it should have top quality, but the market businessmen make it roughly. This leads to poor taste and watery jiu. It’s such a pity. It is said hjat there is good Wuxi Jiu, but I have not had it so far.
Liyang Black Rice Jiu
I do not usually like drinking. But in 1766, in Liyan, at Mr. Ye’s house, I drank sixteen cups of black rice jiu. People around me were shocked. All tried to stop me. But I couldn’t help drinking it. I thought they were ruining my mood. This jiu is black, and it tastes sweet and lively. I can’t find words to express my amazement. It is said in Liyang: When a family has a newborn baby girl, they must make a jar of this jiu with fine-quality new rice. Wait till the day of the girl’s wedding day; then it can be opened. So the least time for making this jiu is 15 years. When the jar is opened, there is only half the volume left. It is thick and sweet and is sticky on the lips. The fragrance swirls out from the house.
(Waley 1956:197 provides a freer translation. He assumes fan—literally, cooked grain—means millet here, since millet was usually used for wine, but fan could just as well have its usual south-Chinese meaning of cooked rice.
Chinese wine cups hold only an ounce, but downing sixteen of them is still a truly impressive accomplishment. Yuan’s claims to be unused to drinking must obviously be taken with, as Mark Twain put it, “a few tons of salt.”)
Suzhou Old Three-White Jiu (the “three whites” are white rice, white water, white flour)
In Qianlong’s thirteenth year, I was drinking at Zhou Mu’an’s house. His jiu tasted really delicious, and stuck to my lips. When the cup was filled, it still won’t flow. When I was having the 14th cup, I still didn’t know the name of it, asked the owner, he said: “This is my three-white jiu, more than ten years old.” Because I really liked it, he sent another jar to me the next day, However, it tasted quite different. My lord! The treasure of the earth can not be obtained more than once. Accoding to Zheng Kang Cheng’s Zhou Guan definition of “Ang Qi” [white jiu]: ”Jiu is really old and white.” I think it was talking about this jiu.
Jinhua Jiu (Jinhua is a place in Zhejiang)
Jinhua jiu has Shaoxing jiu’s clearness but no spiciness; it has women’s jiu’s sweetness, but is not cheesy. This jiu is also the older, the better. Perhaps it’s because the water along Jinhua is clear.
Shanxi Fen Jiu
To drink Shochu, the best is to drink one with really high alcohol content. Fenjiu has the highest among shochu varieties. Speaking of shochu, I refer to it as like a hoodlum among people, and cruel officer in government. To defeat the bandits, one needs cruel officers; to chase away chill and cold, one needs shochu. Fenjiu ranks on top, Shandong sorghum shochu follows next. When it has been stored for ten years, the color changes to green, and it tastes sweeter—just as a hoodlum eventually ages out of it, has no more bad temper, and becomes easy to get along with. I once saw Tong Ershu’s family making medicinal shochu, using ten jin of shochu to infuse herbal medicines. They used four liang of Chinese wolfberry, two liang of atractylodes, one liang of Indian mulberry, to a jar of shochu. They wrapped up and sealed the jar for a whole month. When they opened it, it smelled fantastic. When eating pig’s head, lamb’s tail, Tiaosheng Meat, and such types of dishes, shochu is a proper match. This is called eating the dishes with the right drinks.
(Chinese distilled shochu does indeed vary in strength, or used to, from about 20 to 40% alcohol or even more. I have encountered shochu well over 50%. Shochu of various kinds is still used very commonly to produce medicinal tinctures, including the ones mentioned.)
Just to mention a few more jiu: There are Suzhou’s women’s jiu, Fuzhen jiu, Yuanzao jiu, Xuanzhou’s soybean jiu, Tongzhou’s red jujube jiu, but these are all bad types. The worst one is Yangzhou quince jiu. It tastes bad as soon as it touches the lips.
(The jujubes and quinces are put in the jiu to infuse; it is not made from them.)