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Chinese Family Feast Dishes

by: Zhang Lianming, Li Siusong, Xiong Sizhi, and Qui Pangtong

Jinan China: Shandong Science and Technology Press 1993, $12.95, Paperback
ISBN: 7-5331-1150-8

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Fall Volume: 1998 Issue: 5(3) page(s): 18 and 19

Shandong dishes have an outstanding reputation in the north of China and aficionados everywhere know that theirs is a cuisine worth knowing. Some say that their foods only include clear, fresh and tasty dishes. They favor clear soups and a technique that can make them look milky in color. Guangdong dishes often have rich ingredients such as snake or turtle, the vegetables are always crisp, and the taste is considered fragrant. Many Sichuan dishes use fagara pepper, also known as prickly ash, and they use lots of ginger and broad-bean sauces. Jiangsu foods are a bit sweet yet maintain the original flavor of their ingredients.

With these words and more, this book looks at recipes from these four cuisines categorizing them as cold dishes, hot dishes, sweet dishes, and finally soups; and it then provides ordinary and family feasts for each of them.

The authors are editors-in-chief or deputy editors of the Chinese Encyclopedia on Cooking, the Chinese Cooking Dictionary, and members of the editorial board of Chinese Cooking Magazine, among other things. All are scholars, Associate Professors, and theorists who better than most should know about the family feast dishes of what they refer to as the 'four famous systems in China.'

There are recipes for about one hundred dishes in each culinary system that use varied culinary techniques and the recipes are appropriate just for family meals or for family feasts. Each section begins with some historical information. It is brief but interesting, some three to five pages each, no references cited.

In the Shandong chapter, for example, one reads that feasts originated from folk customs, that in the Ming and Qing dynasties when people entertained guests at feasts, the number of guests sitting at one table was eight and the number of dishes served, eight, as well. Dishes of Shandong flavor are called Lu dishes, must be fresh, crisp, tender, and fragrant, and should include a lot of seafood and special soups. When the feast is over, tea is served a second time or fruit. In one's home, guests are taken to the sitting room for this course. An ordinary Shandong feast or meal might include Pig Kidney with Sauce, Spiced Fish, Bean Curd with Chinese Toon, Jelly Fish in Sauce Mixture, Sweet and Sour Common Carp, Stir-Fried Shrimp Meat, Saute Meat Slices in Sauce, Soft-Fried Chicken Cubes, Hot-Candied Yam, and Egg Soup with Assorted Shreds.

For a special flavor feast one recommendation is Deep-fried Shrimp, Stuffed Tripe, Meat Dish, Broad Bean with Preserved Cabbage, Deep-Fried Preserved Eggs, Cold Peach with Peppermint, Saute Fish with Sugar, Fried Shrimp meat with Jasmine, Sauteed Fish Balls Southern Style, Quick-Fried Pig Kidney, Soft Fried Fillet, Stewed Shrimp Meat, Braised Pork Meat, Crystal Chinese Yam and Peach.

There are twenty-five Shandong family or feast menu suggestions including two Islamic ones. There are eight Guangdong menus with four of them specific to a season. In the section about Sichuan cookery, there are thirty suggested menus, some seasonal, others holiday, wedding, birthday, for bean curd meals, meals with chafing dishes, beef dishes, and a meal one vegetarians. In the Jiangsu section, there are twenty family or feast menus including meals that are seasonal, one that is Islamic, others for weddings, a birthday, vegetarians, holidays, and one an eel party with eight different eel dishes. Preceding the menus, for every dish there is a recipe detailing how to prepare it.

The book is in English with recipe titles also in Chinese characters, and there are color pictures for twenty-four of the approximately four hundred recipes. I read them and salivated, all are tempting, some easier such as the Fresh Peas in Mixed Sauce or the Spicy Walnut Kernels, others less so including Sea Cucumbers with Bell Shaped Dumplings (it includes eighteen ingredients and needs probably the same number of hours) or the Stewed Catfish with Garlic Cloves (it has fifteen ingredients including scallion stalk pellets and instructions to cast off the dregs). Though many are long, no recipe is difficult; rare is the ingredient that one can not purchase in a large Chinese supermarket or by mail-order.

There is no recipe index, but the recipes are listed in the front of the book in the order presented. Therefore, they are difficult to locate, should you forget which section to peruse. Not listing them alphabetically or by main ingredient is the main shortfall of this book, but one I consider minor in return for the small but valuable historical information, the wonderful recipe sets, also the detailed cooking information.

When I was in Jinan many years ago, I was told that this book was 'coming soon.' It was just located at Eastwind Books in San Francisco CA. Though not a recent publication, it is new to me and will be a valuable cookery source. Can not wait to try the Soft-Shelled Turtle Soup, the Coral-Like Cabbage, Dried Oysters and Barbecued Pig's Belly with Hair Seaweed, the Fish-taste Rabbit Meat, Steamed Pork in Lotus Leaf, Loquat Jelly, the Budda-Hand Jellyfish, and the Fish Maws with Three Delicacies. My husband awaits the Home-Style Sea Cucumbers, the Lion's Head with Crab Meat, and a dozen other recipes from Prawns and Stewed Cat-Tails (the plants, not the animal) to Sauced Gizzard and Liver. All are tempting and winter awaits!
Lion's Head With Crabmeat
1 pound belly pork or very fatty fresh pork
1 teaspoon salt
5 Tablespoons Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon minced ginger root
1 teaspoon minced scallion, only the green part
2 egg whites
dash ground white pepper
1/4 pound crab meat, coarsely minced
10 very small Shanghai cabbage hearts
2 Tablespoons lard or solid shortening
2 Tablespoons water chestnut powder
2 Tablespoon soy sauce
2 Tablespoon cornstarch mixed with three tablespoons cold water
1. Mince the meat very finely, but do not grind. Then mix well with the salt and one tablespoon wine; then add ginger root, scallion, egg whites, water chestnut powder, and ground pepper. Then add crab meat and mix again. Next shape the mixture into six large balls and set aside.
2. Heat one tablespoon of the lard and stir-fry the cabbage hearts for one minute, drain and set aside.
3. Heat the other tablespoon of lard and put it in a casserole. Put cabbage hearts in, and as you pick up meat/crab meat balls, roll them in the water chestnut powder and put themon top of the cabbage. Add the rest of the wine and the soy sauce and simmer half an hour.
4. Thicken with cornstarch and water and serve.

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