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Chinese Pickles: Lightly Fermented Foods

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Salads, Pickles, and Other Cold Foods

Winter Volume: 2001 Issue: 8(4) page(s): 21 and 22

In China, pickling foods is commonplace. It is done in vinegars made from various wines, barley, and honey. Foods are also dry-pickled in salt and other preservatives. This type of food, lightly but not quite fermented is certainly not new to the Chinese. There are references to the use of vinegar at least since the sixth century. They can be found in the Analects of Confucius. They are mentioned even earlier, however not directly, as there are four similar words thought to be vinegar that are found in recipes written on solk manyscripts. Though the age of these is in question, they are far from recent. At least one, if not more of these, have been found in a Han tomb. They are dated circa 200 BCE to 200 CE.

I recall earting pickles in a Chinese Auntie's home when I was a child, and I am no youngster. While I can not attest to the earl;iest date that the Chinese in New York began making and using pickles, I do know that in 1847, which is long before my time, New Yorkers saw what m ay have been the first Chinese ship in the harbor, the Keying, and soon thereafer, Chinese men working in New York City preserving some foods for themselves.

What I remeber is eating many Chinese pickles made in Chinese homes or purchased in restaurants circa the 1940's and 1950's. My mother sent me with a favorite aunt and uncle to visit a Chinese family whe and they knew. The wife, Lily Lee Chu was married to Kang Chu and they had two boys I loved to oplay with. Then and later when Kang Chu became the honorary mayor of Chinatown for a short temporary spell, I was a freguent guest in their home, savoring the foods, pickled and not, that Lily prepared.

Chinese people love children and the Chu's felt comfortable with me in their home. They also adored taking me to restaurant functions. I recall celebrating a newborn or a birthday, a wedding, even a funeral, and always having pickled foods there to savor. As a frequent guest and a lover of salty foods, I enjoyed these pickled items, most made with vegetables, a few made with animal foods. They were served before a meal and their role was as a very effective appetite stimulant.

The recipes that follow are typical of Chinese pickled foods. They are reminiscent of those I ate most often as a child. They remind me of some of the fine foods eaten a friend's homes since. Most can be made quickly and with a plethora of ingredients. One uses eggplant, another duck tongues. The taste of that particular one I recall also made with cooked boneless duck and made with chicken feet, the bones removed or left in. Wonderful pickles remain in my memory made with cabbage, carrot, celery, and a white radish known by its Japanese name of daikon. All of them can be made with one or more vegetables, personal choice and availability determining your selection.

Make and enjoy these lightly fermented foods that should be eaten soon after they are made, certainly within a day or two or three. Do not leave them in your refrigerator for days. Pickles for long-term storage have much less liquid and much more salt; they are foods fermented for longer periods of time and will be discussed in a future issue. Some, such as the fermenting of soy beans will need several issues, other vegetables, meats, eggs, fruits, etc. will have less extensive coverage.

Enjoy the recipes that follow.
Tasty Eggplant Pickle
4 thin Asian eggplants
1 Teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
3 Tablespoons coarsely minced coriander leaves
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon sugar
6 Tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon minced ginger root
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 Tablespoon minced red pepper
1. Line a bamboo stamer with piece of parchment paper. Then take a fork and punch dozens of holes in the paper.
2. Peel eggplants and cut the eggplants in half the long way. Then put pieces on parchment paper and steam over boiling water for twenty minutes. Remove steamer to the sink and remove the paper and let drain for ten minutes bleeding off water from the eggplant.
3. Using the fork, run through the eggplant halves to shred them. Put them into a bowl and refrigerate covered for one hour.
4. Mix salt, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, and garlic. Toss this with the chilled eggplant and return it to the refrigerate for another hour or two, then serve.
Hot and Sour Pickled Cabbage
2 pounds Chinese cabbage, cut into one-inch wide pieces
1/4 cup corn oil
4 dried hot red peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips
1 Tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
3 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
2 Tablespoon Chinkiang black vinegar
2 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
1. Heat oil and fry cabbage and hot red peppers for one minute. The add soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and salt and cook for another two minutes then remove from the heat and refrigerate for an hour.
2. Remove from the refrigerator, then add sesame oil and stir. Serve.
Pickled Carrot, Cucumber, and Radish Sticks
2 Tablespoons Sichuan peppers (also known as fagara)
4 Tablespoons coarse salt
6 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
2 hot red peppers, seeded and minced
1 daikon, peeled and cut into one-quarter-inch by two-inch strips
1 carrot, cut into one-quarter-inch by two-inch strips
1 English (long) cucumber, cut into one-quarter-inch by two-inch strips
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1. Make brine of the Sichuan peppers, salt, and eight cups of boiling water, simmer for five minutes, then cool.
2. Add wine, peppers, daikon, carrot, and cucumber strips and refrigerate for three days.
3. Drain, reserving the liquid, add sesame oil to the vegetable mix and serve.
Note: This brine can be used for a second batch of vegetables before discarding it.
Pickled Duck Tongues
1 pound duck tongues
2 whole star anise
1/2 black cardamon, husk removed and discarded. Smash the half with side of a cleaver
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns (also known as fagara)
1-inch piece of Chinese cinnamon
1 piece tangerine peel, soaked for ten minutes, then minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
3 Tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
1. Boil duck tongues for five minutes, then drain and discard the water, and rinse them with cold water. Remove the long thin cartilage from each tongue and discard it and the bone directly behind it.
2. Bring two cups of water to the boil, add star anise, cardamon, fagara, cassia, tangerine peel, sugar, and alt and simmer for three minutes. Add soy sauce and vinegarand stir. Add duck tongues and refrigerate overnight.
3. Drain liquid, then add sesame oil to the tongue mixture and serve.
Note: Reserve the other half of the cardamon for another use.

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