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Fujian: The Province and Its Foods

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Food in China, Hong Kong, and/or Taiwan

Summer Volume: 1999 Issue: 6(2) page(s): 13, 20, 22, and 28


Facing Taiwan sits the Fujian Province (previously spelled Fukien) of China. It has lots of coastline on the eastern side and many interior mountains that reach the sea. More than twenty-eight million people inhabit the forty-eight thousand square miles of this province and they speak more than a hundred dialects, many Min and Wu languages. Fuzhou (once written Foochow) is its capital city. With access to salt water and large rivers such as the Min, there is a plethora of foods available from both sweet and salt waters, foods grown on the mountain slopes, and on other available land.

Ten percent of the land is arable and the province produces lots of sugar, rice, wheat, sweet potatoes, and tea. In addition, they grow many oil seeds such as peanut, soy and rape. The latter, as an oil, is called 'canola' in most western countries. Fujian has many fruit trees, their yield providing raw ingredients for their famous longan, lychee, pineapple, and other preserved fruits. Other foods in good supply are garlic, scallions, bamboo shoots, Tremella juciformis which are the silver or white cloud ear fungus called yin-er or the black ones known as mo-er. Fujian is also known for its many herbs, the best known are white peony root, the chuangxiong rhizome, Angelica sinensis, and rhemannia root.

Foods from this province are considered by some as one of the classic cuisines of China. Some early writers identified it and the foods of Shandung, Honan, Sichuan, and Guangdong similarly.

Raw ingredients were not always in ample supply and there were many years of famine. In those earlier times, many young men went overseas to seek their fortunes. Thus overseas Chinese were not only from Guangzhou but also from Fujian and other nearby areas. Those who remained and those who left were descendants of ancient Hakka migrants from Northern provinces and from aboriginal groups. Some were also Han Chinese. Over time, Fujian became known for its fine soy sauce, for other special sauce tastes, for their many soup and noodle dishes, for the preserved fruits already mentioned, and for a fermented red rice paste used to color and flavor many dishes. Fujian Roast Suckling Pig became well known because it was served in many ways at one meal from plain roast pig, to roast pig in soups and/or main dishes.

Fujianese people developed a reputation for eating meat and fish in the same dish and for serving as many as five different soups in a single meal. Their soups are laced with local wines, some are red in color made with the famous red wine paste or lees, a left-over sediment from making rice wine, and some are clear broths served plain or with fish balls filled with meat in their center.

Rice, the main carbohydrate in Fujian is used alone, in juk (they use the northern word for congee), and in various other ways from the grain to its flour; it appears often in their beloved soups in any of these ways and, of course, as noodles. Soups in this province might also have turtle meat, sweet or salt water eel, and the aforementioned fungi as well as small clams and/or pieces of coagulated blood coming from pigs or chickens.

In Fujian, mealtime means eating and drinking black tea, perhaps Tit Kuan Yin, the tea known in English as Iron Goddess of Mercy. Though the serving of tea with meals is rare in China, this is not so in this province nor in neighboring Guangzhou. In these two provinces, tea at meals and other times are commonplace.

Though the soy sauce made in this region is famous, only a little is used in dishes, more is incorporated into dipping sauces such as garlic and chili, garlic and vinegar, garlic and scallions, and sweet dipping sauces. Dishes themselves are more apt to include stick cinnamon, Lychee chinensis, star anise, fagara (Sichuan pepper, also known as prickly ash pepper), and a variety of herbs.

Razor clams are popular and made many ways. One favorite preparation includes adding garlic and black beans, others use starch mixtures or are made with eggs. Oysters are popular in pancakes and omelettes and used in a plethora of soups, braised dishes, stew-type preparations, and in the many local fire-pot dishes that are direct descendants of Mongolian chafing dishes. People here adore fire-pots in colder weather cooked at their table.

Use of cooking oils is also popular in Fujian as is cookery in lard. Fried or stewed, foods are cooked a little less than foods prepared by their Northern Shanghainese neighbors, but a bit more than foods made by their Southern ones, the folks from Guangzhou (Canton).

Foods from Fujian have influenced and been influenced by the foods of Guangzhou (Canton), Chiuchow (Swatow), Chaochou (Teochiu), the island of Hainan, and also regions in South East Asia. All of these have had an impact on the use of noodles from rice, wheat, and sweet potatoes. Throughout the province, they are popular both thin and wide. Rice is used plain and as the base on which the many braised dishes prepared are served. Should that rice be mixed with some red fermented paste left over from making wine, it will offer texture as well as color when used alone, in soups or in other dishes such as Drunken Spare Ribs, Braised Meat in Red Wine Sauce, Pork Pickled in Wine, and Tanjo Bright Prawns, just to name a few.

Used as a coating, the red wine paste or lees is loved on chicken and duck, in their soups, and mixed into dumpling skins. It is used the same way that they use dried powdered pork. Dough made with this red wine paste or with any powdered meat is called 'swallow skin.' Not sure why this name; perhaps a reader can provide the answer. These swallow skins, or the lace-like caul fat, wrap foods prepared for frying. When not available, a thin dough similar to spring roll skins are used.

Until recently, the foods of Fujian were not well-known outside of China. It is the rare cookbook that gives more than one or two recipes of foods special to this province. I have only one that is only Fujianese recipes; it provides one complete menu intended for six persons and includes: Fukienese Dumplings in Soup, Abalone with Miniature Corn and Straw Mushrooms, Braised Chicken in Red Wine Paste, Fukienese Pork with Scallion Sauce, Fukienese Crab Rolls, and Boiled Rice. This book has no recipes that include the use of this wine paste, nor has any been located in any market. Our only source to date, is through the kindness of a Fujianese restaurant owner. He provided some and gave me a recipe for a red paste that comes close to the real thing.

This province uses a food that can be held over several seasons, the sweet potato. It is kept not in a root cellar but in the dried form. People shred and dry their sweet potatoes to be eaten as a snack. When completely dry, they are reconstituted for use alone or with another grain, and when dried, ground into a flour to make noodles, coatings, congees, mixed with eggs, or used in a variety of ways.

In the United States, Fujianese restaurants are the new kids on the block. Recently we counted six in New York (one of these in Flushing Queens). We also saw one in San Francisco, and even a couple in Portland, Oregon. Several are reviewed and found in the On the Menu: Fujianese Restaurants, in this issue.

A few Fujianese recipes follow for your pleasure, including one that uses the red wine paste from the product made at home. Most restaurants serving foods of this province use this variation or get it imported or ferment wine in their basements. One owner suggested the recipe and we hope you try it and the other recipes from Fujian.
Red Wine Paste (also known as Red Wine Lees)
Ingredients:
2 squares fermented red bean paste
1/4 cup cooked glutinous rice
3 Tablespoons mao tai or other hard liquor
1/2 cup Fujian rice wine such as Loh Chiew
1/2 cup Chinese brown wine such as a Shaoxing
3 ounces or a slab of brown sugar, broken into small pieces
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced ginger root
2 teaspoons rice or sweet potato flour
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
2 or 3 drops of red food coloring
1 tangerine peel, soaked then minced very fine
Preparation:
1. Pour all ingredients into a blender and let stand for about fifteen minutes until the sugar is wet and dissolved. Then blend for two minutes. Do this in half minute to one minute amounts of time so that you do not burn out the motor.
2. Put the blended items into an enamel or other non-reactive metal pot and simmer on very low heat for half an hour. Cool and store in the refrigerator. This paste will keep about a month in the refrigerator or it can be frozen for up to six months.
Fujian-style Crab Rolls
Ingredients:
1 piece caul fat or a package of spring roll skins
1/2 cup crab meat, cartilage removed
1/2 cup dry fine-shredded pork
1/2 cup water chestnuts, minced fine
2 scallions, minced fine
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 egg white
1 Tablespoon corn starch
1 cup corn oil
Preparation:
1) Cut fat into six-inch squares or use sheets of dough called swallow skin wrappers.
2) Mix crab meat, pork, water chestnuts, scallions, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and white pepper then put about three tablespoons of the mixture on a wrapper and seal with egg white, dust with cornstarch, and set aside. Repeat until all filling is wrapped and sealed.
3) Heat oil and deep fry the rolls for five minutes or until golden brown turning them several times. Fry only a few at one time. Serve with a dipping sauce of your choice such as a mixture of light soy sauce, sesame oil, and slivers of garlic.
Five w/Five Oyster Cake, Fujian Style
Ingredients:
5 Tablespoons oysters, cut in half if large
5 Tablespoons shredded carrots
5 Tablespoons shredded Chinese celery cabbage
5 cloves garlic, minced
5 scallions, minced
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
1 cup corn oil
Preparation:
1) Combine oysters, carrots, cabbage, garlic, scallions, soy sauce, sugar, and five-spice powder.
2) Mix flour, cornstarch, and water and then mix with the oyster-vegetable mixture.
3) Heat oil, immerse the ladle in the oil until it is hot, then fill the ladle almost full with some of oyster mixture. Immediately hold it just under the surface of the oil until set, then tip it out and fry the cake until golden, turning it several times. Drain and put into a warm, not a hot oven, until all of the rolls are fried.
4) Serve with or without a dipping sauce of your choice or use soy sauce, ginger, and/or garlic.
Steamed Fish in Sweet Potato Flour
Ingredients:
1 pound fish filets, cut into four pieces per filet
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon Fukien Low Chiew wine
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 cup sweet potato or yam flour
1/4 cup pickled mustard greens, minced fine
Preparation:
1. Dry fish. Mix hot and soy sauces, wine, sugar, and oil and marinate the fish for an hour in the refrigerator.
2. Remove fish from the marinade and coat with sweet potato or yam flour and set aside on a one-inch heat-proof plate (a glass pie pan works well) at room temperature for half an hour, not longer.
3. Top with mustard greens and steam over high heat for eight to ten minutes, depending upon the thickness of the fish (i.e.: flounder needs less time, sea bass needs more). Remove and serve.
Red Wine Hot and Sour Sea Cucumber Soup
Ingredients:
1/2 pound pre-soaked sea cucumber, cut into half-inch cubes
3 ounces pork from the tenderloin, cut into half-inch cubes
1/2 cup corn oil
3 Tablespoons cubed bamboo shoots
4 shiitake mushrooms, soaked then cut into half-inch cubes
4 cups chicken stock
1 Tablespoon red rice wine paste
1/2 teaspoon each of sugar, salt, and thin soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon each of chili oil and sesame oil
4 pigeon eggs, hard-cooked and cut in half with zig-zag edge and top and bottom sliced off (there is an illustration in the hard copy of this issue)
1 chicken egg
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon each black and white vinegars
1 scallion, sliced very thin
Preparation:
1. Simmer the sea cucumber in water (or chicken stock) for one hour or until tender.
2. Deep fry the pork for one minute, then drain.
3. Using one Tablespoon of the oil, fry the sea cucumber, pork, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms for one minute, add the stock, red rice wine paste, and all the seasonings. and simmer for half an hour, then add cut hard cooked eggs.
4. Beat the chicken egg with the cornstarch and 1 tablespoon water and stir into the soup in a thin stream. Then add the vinegar and the scallions. Serves four.
Mung Bean Boxed Treasure
Ingredients:
1 pound mung beans
1/2 teaspoon black vinegar 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 Tablespoon corn oil
1 and 1/2 cups flour
3 ounces brown sugar
1/2 cup lard or butter
1 egg
2 Tablespoons flour
2 Tabelspoons corn oil (optional)
Preparation:
1. Soak mung beans overnight, then grind them with four or five cups of water. Next, drain them and put into a wok or a pot with the granulated sugar, cornstarch, and corn oil. Cook until all moisture evaporates.
2. Cream the flour, brown sugar, and the lard or butter. Add the egg and the milk, and knead until smooth on a well-floured board.
3. Roll the dough into a cigar-shaped piece and cut it into sixteen pieces.
4. Flatten each one and put a teaspoon of filling in the center and fold dough over to make a box-shaped dumpling.
5. Fry in a little corn oil or bake in a 400 degrre F. oven until golden, then serve. Note: If baking them, brush a little oil on all sides of the box before putting them on a baking sheet.

                                                                                                                                                       
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