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Sweet Like Honey

by Irving Beilin Chang

Food in History

Summer Volume: 1996 Issue: 3(2) page(s): 9

At the end of the Ching Dynasty, also known as the Manchu Dynasty, the Emperor died and his son (the Last Emperor) was still an infant. Therefore, the Dowager Tze Xi took the reins and ruled the country for a brief period (1895-1905). During this period, in order to find money, she raided the navy's treasury.

Obviously, the Dowager was very resourceful; she was also cunning and strong minded. She used the purloined funds to build a garden, called I Ho Yuan, and made it with Dien Lake in its center. Today this beautiful garden is a public park; it is in Beijing. The Dowager's famous marble boat stands at the edge of this lake as, among other things, a reminder of the misguided efforts expended then and when her people tried to modernize their navy.

The Dowager loved beauty and she relished beautiful things to eat. As a matter of fact, she drove the palace chefs crazy because she demanded new tastes and exotic dishes all the time. She wanted novel foods and exhibited her preferences, many included a variety of sweet dishes. Lamb was a favorite staple of the Manchu people who originally came from the steppes and grasslands that bordered Mongolia and Manchuria. There they raised large herds of sheep.

On one occasion, the chef decided to present the Dowager with a new lamb dish. Although lamb is often prepared with garlic and spicy red peppers, he took a different approach and chose a combination of sugar and ginger to flavor the lamb. This was a calculated and fairly safe move since he knew the Dowager liked sweet things and that ginger was a very popular seasoning. One thing he did not think of was an appropriate name for the dish.

When the Dowager tasted this new item she immediately summoned the chef and said, "What do you call this dish?" Instead of responding to her question, he asked one of his own, namely "Your Honor, do you like the dish?" She replied, "Yes, it is very different, it is sweet like honey." So the cunning chef said, "Your Honor, that is the name of the dish, Sweet Like Honey."

Of course, Chinese cooking draws its strength from its people and the palace chefs in order to survive often scoured restaurants far and wide for new ideas. Their success was in the way they made their presentations in the royal court. In this instance, this particular chef became very famous and his creation became the toast of Beijing.

Here is the recipe, I recommend that you try it.
Sweet Like Honey
6 ounces fresh ginger
1/2 pound deboned leg of lamb
1/2 Tablespoon brown bean sauce
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons vinegar
1 and 1/2 teaspoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons sherry
2 teaspoons corn starch mixed in half-cup of water
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1. Wash and peel the ginger root.
2. Cut it into small pieces then mince it in a food blender with two tablespoons water. Strain the ginger through a wire screen. It will yield about one-quarter cup of juice. (Any extra juice may be kept in an airtight glass jar in the refrigerator for several days.)
3. Cut lamb into thin strips about one to two inches long; then mix it with brown bean sauce, sugar, and corn starch and set it aside.
4. Mix vinegar, soy sauce, sherry, one tablespoon of the ginger juice, and the corn starch and water mixture.
5. Heat two tablespoons of oil in a wok and stir-fry lamb mixture for two minutes. Remove it to a dish and drain removing the excess oil. Set aside
6. Add one tablespoon oil to the wok, then add the honey and stir until it bubbles, then add the ginger juice mixture and stir until this thickens.
7. Next, add the lamb mixture and the sesame oil and cook for a minute or two.
8. Remove from the heat and serve.
Note: Thie recipes is excellent with hot rice.

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