Raw stir-fried chicken
Raw stir frying (shengchao, shenbao) is indicated, because in Chinese cooking, it is more common to parcook or deep-fry an ingredient before stir-frying. This speeds up the stir-frying process and ensures even cooking.
Take a young chicken, chop it into square pieces, and mix with a marinade of autumn [soy] sauce and rice jiu [alcohol]. When the diners are ready for the chicken, take the pieces out of the marinade and sear them in a pan of boiling-hot oil. Remove the chicken from the pan, and repeat this searing process three times in a row. Sprinkle vinegar, rice jiu, starch thickening, and chopped green onion on the chicken immediately before plating.
In modern Chinese cooking this dish is usually stir-fried without the extra step of steaming, giving it a more assertive flavour than Yuan Mei had in his time.
Take the legs of a plump chicken, remove their tendons and bones, then mince the meat finely. Be sure not to damage the skin. Mix the meat together with egg whites, starch thickening and chopped pine nuts. If there is not enough leg meat, substitute with some cubed chicken breast meat.
Fry the meat in sesame oil until golden brown and place it in an earthenware crock. To the crock, add half a jin (298g) of [baihua] liquor, a large cup of autumn [soy] sauce and a ladle of chicken fat, along with the likes of winter bamboo shoots, shiitake, ginger and green onions. Cover the mixture with the reserved chicken skin, add a large bowl of water, and steam it until done. Remove the chicken skin when serving.
This is essentially a soup made with scraped chicken, but because of the paste and the addition of rice flour, the soup has a texture similar to rice congee.
Take a fat hen, skin and cut off both breasts, then use the knife and scrape the breast meat into a fine paste. One can also use a planning knife for the task. Only scrape and do not chop the meat, since the desired fine texture cannot be achieved by chopping.
Use the rest of the chicken to make the broth for cooking the scraped meat. When one is ready to serve the dish, pound together a mixture of ground rice flour, minced dried cured ham, and pine nuts, and add the mixture to the cooking soup. Finish by adding green onions, ginger and a drizzle of chicken fat.
The soup can either be skimmed of the froth from its surface or left as is, if preferred. It is well suited for serving to the elderly. In general, if the breast meat was chopped for preparation of this soup, then the froth should be skimmed. If the meat was scraped, however, then no skimming is required.
Four fennel seeds seem very few. Perhaps the measure was left out in the Chinese. When cooking soy sauce duck, browning it before braising is standard. Yuan Mei’s method does the browning when the chicken is almost done, which is less common. It probably changes the texture of the skin.
Wash a fat hen clean and boil it whole in a pot. Add two liang (74g) of lard and four fennel seeds to the chicken and cook until it is around 80% done. Take out the chicken and sear in sesame oil until golden brown, then put it back into the liquid to cook. Simmer until the cooking liquid has thickened, then add autumn [soy] sauce, jiu, and a whole stalk of green onions, and simmer to reduce the liquid to a glaze.
When one is about to serve the chicken, chop it into slices and ladle on the glaze. One can also toss the chicken in the glaze or serve it on the side as a dip. This is a recipe from the household of Yang Zhongcheng, but the one from Brother Fangfu’s household is also good.
• Recipes taken from Recipes from the Garden of Contentment
Yuan Mei, translated by Sean JS Chen. Read the book review here