kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)

Last week I posted about pig's ears with chilli oil, and mentioned that although I hadn't been able to find any recipes for this in English, I hoped to be able to link to a Chinese one in translation soon. [personal profile] pulchritude has kindly translated a recipe from MeiShiDao for me, and here it is! (Follow that link for the Chinese version, and photos.)

Text in [square brackets] is an aside from either me or [personal profile] pulchritude. I have done some light copyediting (and hopefully have not introduced any mistakes).

Shredded pig's ear and cucumber in chilli oil

Main ingredients
  • one pig's ear, simmered in a flavourful liquid until cooked [you could use master sauce, or a mixture of soy sauce and water; as noted last week, about 20 minutes is enough time to cook a pig's ear to a good level of crunchiness]
  • one cucumber
Seasonings
  • garlic
  • salt
  • Sichuan pepper
  • dried red chillies
  • "numbing-spicy" oil [made during the course of this recipe]
  • light soy sauce [light-coloured soy sauce, not low-sodium]
  • Shanxi aged vinegar [one of China's four famous vinegars; you can subsitute Chinese black vinegar, available at most Chinese supermarkets]
  • chilli oil [made during the course of this recipe]
Preparing the pig's ear
  1. Let the pig's ear cool [after simmering it in the master sauce].
  2. Place your knife at a 45 degree angle.
  3. Slice the pig's ear diagonally into julienne strips.
Finishing the dish
  1. Put the julienned pig ear into a large bowl.
  2. Wash the cucumber, cut into julienne strips, and add to the pig ear.
  3. Peel the garlic and put it into a [small, separate] bowl with a bit of salt, then use the end of a rolling pin to crush it. [Or just use a pestle and mortar.]
  4. [Making the "numbing-spicy" oil.] Put some oil in a pan, then add the Sichuan pepper and the dried chillies (cut into a few pieces each). Fry until the colour changes and the aroma is fragrant, then strain to remove the solids.
  5. [Turning this into chilli oil.] Add the flavoured oil to the small bowl with the crushed garlic in.
  6. Add light soy sauce, vinegar, and salt to the small bowl, and mix well to create a dressing.
  7. Pour this dressing into the large bowl.
  8. Use chopsticks to mix everything evenly.

Please note that I haven't personally tried this recipe! But it looks potentially tastier than the one I made up myself — I'm particularly thinking that the simmering in master sauce would add a lot more flavour than my simple simmering in water.

kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
Description follows.

[Image: A pile of heavily browned pieces of fritter-like omelette, almost blackened in places. The high proportion of starch to egg gives it a very stiff texture. Sliced spring onions are visible in the batter.]

Oyster omelette (蠔煎/háo jiān) is a Fujian dish consisting of a starch-fortified omelette studded with fresh baby oysters. Like many other Fujian dishes, it's also popular in nearby Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore, among other places; and partly due to this geographical spread, it has many variations and also many different names.

As I mentioned on Wednesday, 蠔 (háo) is only one of several names for the oyster; the others include 海蠣 (hǎi lì), 牡蠣 (mǔ lì), and 蚵 (hé). Similarly, the omelette part of the dish may be referred to as 餅 (bǐng/cake), 煎 (jiān/pan-fried), 烙 (láo/seared), or a combination of these. In addition, the oysters used to make this should really be small rather than large, and so you might also see the character 仔 (zǎi/child) used after the 蠔/海蠣/蚵 to indicate this.

New Aroma, the (Fujian) restaurant where I ate the dish pictured above, uses 海蠣煎 (hǎi lì jiān) for oyster omelette, while Leong's Legend, the (Taiwanese) restaurant where I ate the version pictured below, uses 蚵仔煎 (hé zǎi jiān). Wikipedia has a non-exhaustive list of some other possible names.

When I had a go at replicating this at home, I followed the recipe from Jacqueline M Newman's Cooking From China's Fujian Province. This uses sweet potato starch as the thickener and milk as the additional liquid. It also includes pork mince, shiitake mushrooms, and water chestnuts as well as the oysters, and flavours the mixture with spring onions, oyster sauce, and a little salt. (Dr Newman has very kindly agreed to let me reproduce this recipe here — it follows at the end of the post.)

Other versions differ; for example, CNNGo describes a version eaten in Chaoshan, Guangdong province which uses cornstarch rather than sweet potato starch. Lily Ng has a version which includes garlic, soy sauce, and Chinese wine. Finally, Chez Pei describes a Taiwanese variant which includes a green vegetable, attempts to keep the starch and eggs somewhat separate, and is served with a sweetish reddish-brown ketchup-based sauce on top; this is the type pictured below.

Description follows.

[Image: A well-browned omelette laid out flat on a white plate. A light reddish-brown sauce covers the top of it. A metal spoon is being used to turn over one edge of the omelette, showing the underside in which some leafy greens are visible. Lumps here and there betray the presence of the oysters within the omelette.]

Jacqueline M Newman's oyster omelet recipe under the cut )

When I made this, I replaced half of the milk with liquid saved from the oysters, reducing the added salt to compensate. My execution was not entirely successful — it stuck to the bottom of the pan and ended up more like loosely scrambled eggs — but then I've never been any good at omelettes, and my greatest fear when cooking eggs is overcooking, so it's likely that it would have been fine if I'd just left it alone a bit longer before starting to scrape at it. Problems of execution aside, it was pretty tasty even if I did end up eating it from a bowl with a spoon!

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.
kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
A plate of Chinese leaf/Chinese cabbage cut into bite-size pieces and piled up with a few bits of similarly-cut carrots to provide colour.  A light vinegar sauce coats the vegetables and pools shallowly on the plate.

I had a bit of trouble deciding which English translation to give for the name of this dish. One possible name is "sweet and sour Chinese cabbage", but none of the characters in the Chinese name actually mean "sweet", plus (at least to the British ear) the phrase "sweet and sour" in connection with Chinese food generally conjures up images of terrifyingly red gloopy sauces. The version above is one I ate at Le Wei Xiang in Lewisham, where it was simply listed as "fried Chinese leaves in vinegar". However, in the end I decided to go with the name that Jennifer Miller gives in her beautifully-illustrated post on ordering leafy greens in Chinese restaurants — vinegar-glazed Chinese cabbage.

The Chinese name is 醋溜白菜 (cù liù bái cài). 醋 means "vinegar", and I've already covered 白菜 at some length. 溜 confuses me a little. I've seen it in the names of various other dishes too (e.g. 溜肚片/liù dǔ piàn, which is stir-fried sliced tripe), but CantoDict tells me it means either "slippery" or "rapids" (as in rapidly-flowing water). My paper dictionary says the former meaning is pronounced liū and the latter liù — neither meaning really makes that much sense to me in the context of this dish, so I may be transliterating it wrong. I can't actually remember why I had it down in my notes as liù rather than liū!

醋溜白菜 is a dish that really showcases how well-suited Chinese cookery methods are to vegetables such as leafy greens. Also, it's not only vegetarian, but actually vegan. There are a few variations on the theme, but the basic recipe involves stirfrying the chopped cabbage before adding a simple vinegar/salt/sugar sauce and cooking it down until the cabbage is tender yet still crunchy, and the sauce has reduced to a flavourful glaze. If you want it spicier, you can flavour the initial stirfrying oil with a few dried chillies and/or Sichuan peppercorns, or just add some ground Sichuan pepper at the end of cooking. You could also include a few pieces of carrot for extra colour contrast.

I couldn't find any English-language recipes for 醋溜白菜 on the internet (though I have found some since; see below), but Jennifer was kind enough to translate one of the many Chinese-language recipes available, and send her translation to me to try out and post here. The notes in brackets below are hers, not mine.

醋溜白菜 (Cu Liu Bai Cai - Hot, Sour and Sweet Chinese Cabbage)
Jennifer Miller's translation of a Chinese-language recipe
  • 500g Chinese cabbage
  • 10g vinegar
  • 3g salt
  • 3g MSG
  • 20g sugar
  • 5g green onion
  • 4 dried red chilies
  • 10g water/cornstarch mix (I recommend 1 tsp cornstarch in 1 tbsp water)
  • oil for stir-frying

Separate the leaves of the cabbage and rinse them in water. Cut the leafy parts into smallish slices (I suggest 1 cm). For the stalks, cut into 5 x 3 cm pieces, keeping your knife at a 30 degree angle as you slice (this gives tapered ends to the slices).

Thinly slice the green onions and use your fingers to crumple the dried chilies into small pieces (don't touch your eyes afterward!).

In a small bowl, combine vinegar, salt, sugar, MSG and cornstarch mixture,and set aside.

Coat the bottom of your wok with oil (I suggest 2 tbsp) and heat over medium-high. Add the chilies and fry until fragrant. Add green onions and again fry until fragrant (each of these should take a few seconds, the chilies less than the green onions).

Add the cabbage stalks to the wok and stir-fry until just cooked (literally "until the rawness is broken". I interpret this to mean "tender-crisp"). Add the leaves and again fry until just cooked.

Add the contents of the bowl and raise heat to high. Cook until the sauce clings to the cabbage. Remove from wok and serve.

When I tried this, I left out the MSG (since I didn't have any), and I cut the cabbage as shown in this video. I also used more green onion (spring onion) than it says to in the recipe, because according to my scales 5g is less than half of a spring onion, so I just used the whole thing.

Regarding regionality, Jennifer notes that this is probably a more northern dish than a southern one, "because of the use of bai cai and vinegar, plus the general heartiness of the dish. I couldn't see it coming from the eastern provinces south of Shanghai because those places tend to serve more delicately-flavoured dishes." However, she wants me to point out that this is just coming from her own personal experience, not from any sort of formal research, so if anyone has any opinions on this then we'd both be happy to hear them!

Update, April 2011: Sunflower Food Galore now has a recipe for this dish; Sunflower says that it's from Shandong, a province on the east coast of China which is famous for its vinegar.

Update, May 2011: I've also found a recipe by Savour Asia which uses a different type of cabbage, but it's still the same dish.

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.

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