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Unusual Ingredients: Updated

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Unusual Ingredients

Summer Volume: 2014 Issue: 21(2) page(s): 34 - 37

During this magazine's first ten years, the most requested article was about unusual meats. It originally appeared in Volume 2(3) on pages 11-13. That was during Flavor and Fortune's second year in 1995. That issue, now on this magazine's website, has always been available since its hard copy was exhausted. Titled just that, Unusual Ingredients included several recipes including a Snake and Shark's Fin Casserole, another for Monkey Head Mushroom in White Sauce, still another for Bear's Paw in Brown Sauce, one for Beef Tendon in Brown Sauce, and another for Turtle and Pork Casserole.

Readers often remind us about it and they beg for another one like it. In response to this clamor and the long list of requests, this follow-up should quiet them as it stimulates yet more interest in foods that are not on most cookbook authors 'must include' lists.

We have kept a list, and the largest number of requests have been for dog, donkey, even deer penis. One at a time, each was mentioned in one issue or another, but never together in one article. Fuschia Dunlop recently wrote an article in a different magazine she called 'Dick Soup.' It was in Number 8, the Summer issue of Lucky Peach, on pages 28-33. Dunlop is a well-known author whose first two books were about the Sichuan cuisine. Her soup article did include a Chinese recipe called 'Stag Pizzle Soup.' It came with pictures of the dish and her preparing it.

While some regions and a few Chinese minority populations do eat dog, donkey, and deer penis, many Chinese feel eating man's best friend, even these other meats, are not to their liking. While on the subject of dogs, in China and in other countries, there are towns that outlaw eating one or all of them, others, too. Years ago, in China, dogs did compete for the limited food supply then, and they were even banned as pets. As a food source, many Chinese and other populations do reject dog meat. In a few trips to China's Northwest, we did eat some and found its flavor strong.

The I-Ching, years ago said "dogs have fierce exteriors that can stop intruders, but gentle hearts." Perhaps even then they knew they accompany men at home and when hunting. Many Koreans do enjoy eating dog but not everyone does. Some Chinese tell us that dog meat should only be eaten in winter as it warms men and adds to their virility.

In Greece and Rome, dog meat was common in ancient times, as it was in ancient China. In the Rites of Zhou written generations ago, it says "there are three kinds of dogs, field dogs, watch dogs, and eaten dogs." During the Han Dynasty, dog liver was one of eight culinary treasures. It was considered hot and fortifying. The Chinese do use dog organs medicinally; and in town called Chaiyi in Taiwan, worshipers use dog meat as temple offerings.

Dog is still popular south in a Chinese town called Peixian. There they like and consume dog for breakfast, and have done for more than two thousand years. It started with Liu Bang, the first Han Dynasty emperor. Before his reign, he was an official in Peixian which was in today's Jiangsu Province. It is written, that before his reign he was a frequenter of a local dog restaurant run by Fan Kuai who made dog stew from canine head, tail, paws, and all. He ate it then, and after he became the ruler he said he liked it cooked with many different herbs as chef Fan Kuai was known to do.

There are many reasons why someone eats one animal or another. In the southwest of China where the largest number of minority groups live, many are Muslims there eat beef, lamb, and goat, but not pork. That is because it is not halal or 'pure' in their religious beliefs. One reader told us that in a Kunming hotel he did not name, he had a many-goat banquet with forty different goat dishes. Another topped him and told us he went to a "banquet with more than fifty dishes made with goat" and that "goat is a strong-tasting meat, its aroma can be tamed with strong seasonings."

Our mail about unusual meats suggests an alphabet of creatures including alligator, buffalo, caribou or deer, elk, and camel, hare, monkey, moose, ostrich, pigeon, rattlesnake, and more. One chap told us about "eighteen unusual animals." He said "I can send you a Chinese recipe for each one of them." We did not take him up on his offer of bear paw, beaver tail, elephant paw, elk thigh, moose nose, or musk ox rump. Instead, we decided to include only those we did eat in China. We do admit being unsure if each one of these is legal in every part of China today.

That said, we limit this article to meats which can be made with substituted items some Chinese tell us they have used instead. They say that monkey brains may not be legal but they have made a dish intended for them with calves brains. They have also made dishes for camel hooves with lamb as camel paws are also not often available, and instead of bear paw, they use the thick part of the upper leg of pig.

Thus, we begin with a substitute recipe for monkey brains, no longer legal in China. Legal or lovely, many readers think eating brains, as was done in the past, directly from the head of many a live monkey strapped under a cut-out table; that they thought was a horrific idea, hardly human or humane. This dish can be made with calves brains. We have eaten brains in our younger days, thanks to my Aunt Kate who did not eat them, but prepared them for her husband, my Uncle Rob. He adored them cold with slices of sweet onion, not Chinese style. She had no notion of how to cook Chinese food, but did love going out for Chinese food often.

We did once have camel toe near Xian, and bear paw south of Beijing. All of the recipes that follow are variations of older ones with modern food substitutions. Camel hoof was eaten during the Han Dynasty in the Imperial Palace in a Camel Palm Soup. We bet it was rare even then; less so during the Ming Dynasty when it was boiled with ginger and shallots and cut wafer thin before steaming it with chicken and duck meat, shallots and ginger, star anise, soy sauce, salt, wine, and starch. Called 'Vessels in the Dessert,' it was well known during the Tang Dynasty, but more often with camel hump than the foot; and it was spoken of in Du Fu's famous poem, "The Song of the Beauties."
Calf Brain, Lotus Blossom, and Crab Roe
2 whole calves brains
6 slices fresh ginger
3 scallions, each tied in a knot
1/2 cup Shaoxing wine
2 lotus blossoms, steamed in a bowl in the reserved liquid
1/2 cup crab meat, all cartilage removed
2 egg whites
1/4 cup crab roe
1 large lettuce leaf, turn into one-inch pieces
1. Remove the membrane from the brains and put them in a bowl with the ginger, scallions, and the Shaoxing wine into a steamer basket over boiling water, and steam for fifteen minutes, then remove them and allow to cool, pouring out and reserving the liquid. Then cut the brains into two-inch pieces.
2. In another bowl, add the cooled and steamed brains that were cut up. Mix in the crab meat, crab roe, and egg whites, and steam over rapidly boiling water for ten to fifteen minutes, the remove from the heat, stir, and put on a preheated platter lined with the pieces of lettuce leaf, and serve hot or at room temperature.
Braised Animal Hooves
4 cow hooves, chopped into two-inch pieces
1 whole soup chicken, chopped into ten or more pieces
1 duck breast on the bone, chopped into four pieces
1 pound spare ribs, cut into six pieces
8 shallots, peeled, their ends removed
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup Shao Xing rice wine
1/4 teaspoon coarsely crushed Sichuan pepper
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 star anise
10 bok cai hearts
1. Clean all fur off the hooves. And drop them into boiling water for two minutes, then drain and discard the water.
2. Bring six quarts of water to the boil, add the hooves, chicken pieces, duck pieces, and spare ribs and boil for five minutes, then discard the water and scum, and bring back to the boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for one hour. Then add the shallots, sugar, rice wine, and the Sichuan pepper pieces and reduce the heat and simmer for four to five hours. Cool for one hour, then remove the meat from all the bones and discard them.
3. Pour the liquid through a kitchen towel removing all the scum, small particles, and spices and cut the meat into small pieces if they are too large. Put them and the liquid back into the pot and reheat.
4. In a fry pan, heat the an, add the oil, and the star anise and stir-fry for one minute, then add the hearts and stir-fry them for three minutes and transfer them to a small bowl or the bottom of everyone’s individual soup bowl.
5. Serve the soup and meat in a tureen or put some on top of a bok cai heart in each individual soup bowl, and serve.

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