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TOPICS INCLUDE: Upright chopsticks; Steaming foods; Skinning eel; Eggs packaged in straw

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Fall Volume: 1998 Issue: 5(3) page(s): 10


FRED of St. LOUIS MO asks:
Can you reply to two related questions? I love eel but can not locate any Chinese recipes for this wiggly creature; do you have some? And, I have difficulty in skinning and boning them; is there an easy way.
FRED: You and others asked questions about eel, yours about technique, others about recipes. People from Shanghai have recipes galore, they eat lots of river eel. In that city, vendors have a board with a nail to secure the tail end of this wiggly creature, as you called it, then with cleaver chop off the head. (A board and an ice pick also works well.) Next they use a scissor to cut the skin, their hands to pull it off, and the cleaver again to remove the bone (a pliers is a good tool to grab the skin and pull it off).

MARK of DALLAS TX asks:
I noticed on a March James Beard Newsletter chopsticks standing up, never before have I seen chopsticks in an upright position, was that for the eye or does it have a meaning I do not understand?
MARK: Your query was the first to Flavor and Fortune but not the first to see that newsletter cover (nor am I the first to respond). Barbara Tropp has already commented correctly saying that "The Chinese never cross chopsticks (or) stand then upright in a bowl of rice unless they are bound for an ancestral altar." Actually, if Ms. Tropp (author of the William Morrow publication The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking copyright 1982, and the Workman book: China Moon published in 1992 and named after her now gone Chinese restaurant) came to New York she would find that in dim sum restaurants waiters cross a pair of chopsticks on a plate to tell the servers not to serve that table with any more food, the bill is already tallied, and to tell the busboy to clear the table.

From EDITH in BROOKLYN NY:
Do you know how long the Chinese have been steaming foods and what were some of the first foods steamed?
EDITH: Kuang-Yuan Chang at the National Palace Museum once gave a talk on that very topic; the paper (in Chinese) advises that by early Neolithic times, eight or seven thousand years ago, man started to create and use earthenware vessels. About seve thousand years ago, a bowl-shaped tseng was used as a lining for such a vessel; its bottom had holes and food could be cooked in it when placed over another vessel that had water in it. Chang then advises that vessels for steaming were primarily made from bronze during the Shang and Chou dynasties (1766 - 1122 BCE and 1122-256 BCE, respectively) and that they were used for both banquets and worship at ancestral shrines. See the steamer picture below, from Chang's article, in the hard copy of this issue.

                                                                                                                                                       
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