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A menu for all seasons

http://www.chinese.cn 16:45, March 29, 2011 China.org.cn

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Braised yellow fungus. Photo: Courtesy of Jade Mansion
Braised yellow fungus. Photo: Courtesy of Jade Mansion

Boiled minced meatball. Photos: Courtesy of Gui Hua Lou
Boiled minced meatball. Photos: Courtesy of Gui Hua Lou

Over the years, Huaiyang cuisine has had a huge influence on Shanghainese food and dining, and is known as one of the four major Chinese culinary schools, along with Cantonese, Shandong and Sichuan cuisine. The term Huaiyang refers to the region between the Yangtze River and the Huaihe River in northern Jiangsu Province.

Characterized by its use of fresh, seasonal ingredients, Huaiyang cuisine is known for achieving balance in both the taste, and the yin and yang (heat and cold) of its dishes.

The most famous recipes include: lion's head meatball - a lightly braised meatball made with crabmeat and pork; stewed fish head cooked with tofu, greens and radish; Yangzhou fried rice; and kou san si, made with thinly sliced tofu, salted ham and bamboo shoot. The Global Times interviewed a Huaiyang-born chef to learn the secrets of this little-known culinary tradition.

Lion's head meatball

Lion's head meatball has a history of over a thousand years. Usually the lion's head is prepared with ingredients that are seasonally available.

In winter, diced ginger and crab roe are used with the pork meat. Ginger is known as a "hot" food in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and is therefore good to consume when the weather is cold. In early spring, bamboo is popular, while in the summer chefs prefer grayling fish (a member of the salmon family) which has a tender texture and is light enough to consume in hot weather.

"In previous decades, the lion's head consisted of three-quarters fat and one-quarter lean meat," Sam Gao, executive chef of the Gui Hua Lou restaurant on Fucheng Road, told the Global Times.

"And then during the 1980s it changed to about half lean meat and half fat. But today people are a lot more health-conscious so the proportion now is only about one-quarter fat. And to improve the taste we make sure the fat is diced very finely so that the lean meat and fat are mixed well together," he said.

Gao also mentioned that to make excellent lion's head meatball, the meat used should all be chopped by hand as opposed to using a machine to mince it.

Even for an experienced chef, this process will takes around five to eight minutes in order to prepare well.

"In our kitchen, there are chefs from Sichuan Province, Shanghai and Yangzhou. But to ensure the authenticity of the lion's head dish in our restaurant, only chefs from Yangzhou prepare it," he added.

Kou san si

The kou san si dish is made with abalone, salted ham, torfu (soya bean curd), bamboo and mushroom, all sliced into evenly shaped pieces.

The dish takes around one-and-a-half hours to prepare. Each of the ingredients should be well marinated. The mushroom, for example, needs to be simmered in the abalone stock for at least 20 minutes to allow it to release its flavors while also adding texture to the meal.

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