Good Eats

Another dinner at Yu Mansion

Tonight, we have more people per table so the number of courses increased from 10 to 14. Imagine a dinner with 14 different dishes at one seating.

“Mould” “wine” “sauce” “umami”

Tastes of Shaoxing can be characterised into four main types – 霉 Mouldy taste from beneficial moulds breaking down the sugar and proteins in food; 酒 Wine taste from alcoholic fermentation of grains; 酱 Sauce taste from fermentation of sauces; and 鲜 Umami taste from the freshness of the ingredients. Tonight’s dinner featured all four of these Shaoxing tastes.

1/14 精美陆味碟 Six exquisite appetisers

精美陆味碟 Six exquisite appetisers

As usual, the dinner started with an assortment of appetisers that highlight some of the special tastes of Shaoxing.

盐水小京生 Peanuts braised in brine

盐水小京生 Peanuts braised in brine

酱萝卜 Pickled radish

酱萝卜 Pickled radish

Pickling is one of the specialty of Shaoxing. But instead of vinegar, Shaoxing pickles are usually accomplished with salt and soy sauce.

酱鸭舌 Braised duck tongue

酱鸭舌 Braised duck tongue

A specialty of Shaoxing, the “mother and child” soy sauce 母子酱油 is featured prominently in Shaoxing cuisine and is used to braise many things, usually offals and animal organs that would be thrown away by a Western chef. Not to a Chinese chef, these are transformed into delicate appetisers to whet the palate before a meal.

Duck tongue is often referred to as Chinese chewing gum. There’s only that little bit of muscle on the tip of the tongue, but the braise transformed it into a tiny morsel of delicacy.

三黄醉鸡  Drunken free range chicken

三黄醉鸡  Drunken free range chicken

Poached chicken is marinated in yellow wine, another of Shaoxing’s specialty taste. Shaoxing wine is the most famous of all Chinese yellow wine. To the uninitiated, you may not know that there are vintages and different Shaoxing wine – from the dry and spicy 元红 “original red” to the semi-dry sweet wine 加饭酒 “wine with added rice” to the highly regarded sweet dessert wine 善酿 “well-fermented” and 香雪 “fragrant snow”, they all exude different level of fragrance and taste.

加饭酒 “wine with added rice” is often used as a cooking wine as well. Also known as the huadiao 花雕酒 “engraved with flower”, it is given an artisan twist by bottling it in an engraved clay jug and is given when a family give birth to a daughter, called 女儿红 “daughter’s red”, and a whole urn may be buried in the ground until she gets married. 元红 “original red” is also known as 状元红 “scholar’s red”, which was traditionally buried into the ground when a family has a son, in hope to open it when he made it in the imperial exams. You can imagine the amount of vintage “daughter’s red” and “scholar’s red” that are lying around!

青瓜蘸酱 Cucumber with hoisin sauce

青瓜蘸酱 Cucumber with hoisin sauce

鸡胗芹菜 Chicken gizzards and Chinese celery

鸡胗芹菜 Chicken gizzards and Chinese celery

2/14 蒜茸波士顿龙虾 Boston lobster steamed with garlic

蒜茸波士顿龙虾 Boston lobster steamed with garlic

More a Cantonese dish, so not really done very well here. You can taste the MSG in the sauce.

3/14 清炖羊肉 Lamb clear stew

清炖羊肉 Lamb clear stew

4/14 油炸臭干 脆皮黄鱼卷 Deep fried stinky tofu and yellow croaker spring roll

油炸臭干 脆皮黄鱼卷 Deep fried stinky tofu and yellow croaker spring roll

There is a special taste in Shaoxing that involves the seemingly yucky moulds. That fungus growing on decomposing vegetable and proteins, and bacteria breaks down fibre and protein into something more mellow and more intense. The smell, well I will be honest, is like the sewer because ammonia is produced during the fermentation process. One would not imagine putting that in your mouth. But when you transform the mouldy ingredient by deep frying (or for the adventurous, steaming), that yucky smell goes away and the food gone bad becomes a totally different taste.

Deep fried stinky tofu has been a Shaoxing special since a thousand years ago. It was said that emperors loved it so much and gave it special names. Think of it as the Chinese blue cheese, except that it is made from tofu instead of diary. And the bacteria, lactic acid bacteria (LAB), is actually beneficial for you and has been produced as a health supplement by the Japanese.

5/14 酱拼盘 Three cured meats

酱拼盘 Three cured meats

This is a platter of Chinese cured meat 酱拼盘, not cured with salt but with a heavy soy sauce called the mother-daughter soy sauce 母子酱油cured pork belly 酱肉, cured sausage 酱肠, and cured duck 酱鸭.

The sausage was like a strong chorizo made with soy sauce without the spice. The duck was too sweet for my taste. The pork belly was the best in my opinion.

6/14 雪菜蒸白条 Steamed white fish with salted potherb mustard

雪菜蒸白条 Steamed white fish with salted potherb mustard

A rather bland river fish uplifted by the salted potherb mustard 雪菜, also known as mizuna lettuce (水菜) in Japan. The crunchy, salty condiment is used very often to impart the salinity and herby taste of the mustard for many meat and seafood dishes.

7/14 雪菜炒豆角 Salted potherb mustard with string beans

雪菜炒豆角 Salted potherb mustard with string beans

Here, the same salty, herby potherb mustard is stir-fried with string beans to create a very rustic home cooked special.

8/14 笋干菜河虾 River shrimps with dried bamboo shoots

笋干菜河虾 Dried bamboo shoot with river shrimps

Another vegetable that is often salted and dried is the bamboo shoot because of the short shelf-life and even shorter harvesting period. If it is not harvested quickly, it becomes bamboo. It has a very strong smell from the concentration of the bamboo taste. It gives a herbal taste to the ingredients that are used to cook with it.

9/14 绍式干菜肉 Shaoxing-style braised pork belly with dried vegetable

绍式干菜肉 Shaoxing-style braised pork belly with dried vegetable

Another representative of the “mouldy” taste, mouldy dried vegetables 霉干菜, also known as Ugan 乌干菜, are a kind of preserved vegetable made from potherb mustard (mizuna) or other broadleaf mustards and is used in many traditional dishes in Shaoxing, Both Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces produce this cheap and flavourful preserved vegetable and my family uses this with braising pork. Unlike the salted version, the dried version leaves it become mouldy and stinky.

While the Teochew-style would wash all the excess salt away from the dried vegetable, the Shaoxing-style leaves much of the strong taste and salt intact which using it to braise the pork. You have to eat it with the steamed buns that come with the dish to neutralise the saltiness.

10/14 绍兴烩三鲜 Shaoxing three savoury stew

绍兴烩三鲜 Shaoxing three savoury stew

The Chinese character for umami – 鲜 – is made up of two parts, “fish” 鱼 and “lamb” 羊. So our ancestors already know that combining seafood and meat will produce another taste that one would seek. This was defined by the Japanese as umami and can be represented by that satisfying taste that you get from MSG and seaweed.

For umami, different types of umami-laden ingredients are cooked together in this stew. There’s minced pork meat balls, fish ball made from carp fish, river shrimps, pig’s offal and bean curd, all stewed in a chicken stock. Yummy.

11/14 黄鱼春卷 Yellow croaker spring roll

黄鱼春卷 Yellow croaker spring roll

I loved this spring roll – the filling is made from yellow croaker,  a lovely fish that is very versatile. You can eat it as a whole fish if they are smaller in size as the flesh is very tender. But if they grow bigger, they are often filleted and cooked as part of another dish. The very big ones are made into fish ball.

12/14 雪菜面疙瘩 Salted potherb mustard with gnocchi

雪菜面疙瘩 Salted potherb mustard with gnocchi

Gnocchi is cooked in a flavourful chicken and pork bone stock with the salty chopped potherb mustard – a very filling dish for a really sumptuous dinner.

13/14 花雕珍宝蟹 Dungeness crab steamed with Huadiao wine

花雕珍宝蟹 Dungeness crab steamed with Huadiao wine

Use yellow wine during cooking is another common technique Jiangzhe chefs employ to bring out the sweet umami in seafood while taking away the “fishiness”. The name of the dish is a play of the sound – 珍宝蟹 dungeness crab also sound like steamed crab. The crab is steamed with yellow wine.

14/14 火腿炒甜豆 Ham with peas

火腿炒甜豆 Ham with peas

It turns out that green peas are quite often served in Jiangzhe cuisine, and I have almost seen this dish ordered every trip I was in Jiangsu or Shanghai. I have heard horror stories of green peas in China that has been soaked in green dye, so if it comes out too perfectly green, I skip it.

清炒青菜 Stir fry vegetables

清炒青菜 Stir fry vegetables

And finally a green vegetable, a local spinach – a rather unspectacular one for that – simply stir-fry in oil.

Yu Mansion 禹家大院
二环南路1988号 (大禹开元度假村内)Yuecheng District, Shaoxing, China
Tel  : +86 575 8829 8888

Date Visited : Oct 2017

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