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"The Shaoxing/Sherry line": AKA, Determining the Extent to Which a Recipe has been Adapted


Shalmanese
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Often, when dealing with a recipe for a foreign cuisine, you want to know to what degree the recipe has been adapted to local ingredients and tastes. It's usually pretty easy to tell quickly skimming the recipe as there are certain tell tale ingredients or techniques that give it away. This is what I dub the Shaoxing/Sherry line.

For Chinese recipes, the choice of wine in the recipe reveals a lot. Some recipes will simply call for Shaoxing wine and rightly recognize that dry sherry tastes nothing similar, some prefer Shaoxing wine but admit dry sherry can be used as a substitute and some only use dry sherry and don't even acknowledge that Shaoxing wine exists.

If I see a recipe calling for dry sherry, I'm going to look at the rest of the recipe more closely to figure out what else is tweaked. Whereas if I see one for Shaoxing wine, I'm more inclined to trust that I can make the recipe unaltered and come close to what would be served in China.

Similar distinctions exist for other cuisines. For example, for Thai cooking, there's the galangal/ginger line as well as the mortar & pestle/food processor line. For Mexican, there's the lard/vegetable oil line. For Italian, there's the pancetta/guanciale/bacon line. For Indian, there's the whole spices/curry powder line.

What are some other examples of this?

Edited by Shalmanese (log)
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PS: I am a guy.

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Er, red wine popping up in some really odd places. Like half the online recipes for doro wat. To point it's basically coq au vin sans bacon but plus a bunch of spices.

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Similar distinctions exist for other cuisines. For example, for Thai cooking, there's the galangal/ginger line as well as the mortar & pestle/food processor line.

This is true in some cases, but ginger is used in Thai food - so just because a recipe contains ginger, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's a substitution for galangal, or lesser ginger even.
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Oh, for examples:

Regional american food that calls for spice mixes (cajon seasoning, chili seasoning).  But not Old Bay, 'cause Old Bay is awesome (probably being hypocritical here)

 

I think in indian recipes garam masala (a type of ground curry powder) should be given a pass, as it's not really an ingredient, more of a pointer to your-favorite-garam-masala-recipe.

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Oh, for examples:

Regional american food that calls for spice mixes (cajon seasoning, chili seasoning).  But not Old Bay, 'cause Old Bay is awesome (probably being hypocritical here)

 

I think in indian recipes garam masala (a type of ground curr))y powder) should be given a pass, as it's not really an ingredient, more of a pointer to your-favorite-garam-masala-recipe.

IMHO- 1) I never use a Shaoxing  if the bottle says "cooking wine".

            2) My current favorite is a Shaoxing  called "zhuang yuan hong" and also contains the words, "shao hsing hua tiao rice wine".

            3) I will use any Shaoxing that does not violate my rule #1.

            4) I will use Vermouth if, and only if, Shaoxing is unavailable.

            5) I never use sake or sherry.

            6) I always make my own garam-masala.

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm in the middle on this one. I'll deliberately make substitutions to improve the dish, whether I have the original ingredients on hand or not, but I want the recipe to describe the original ingredients.
 
I too have tried and failed to find an acceptable Shaoxing wine. The sherries and sakes available to me are different and of a much higher quality. This substitution is not born out of an inability to find the original ingredient.
 
In Thai cooking, one can open a 99 cent jar of sludge, or one can make a curry paste by pounding together twenty mostly fresh ingredients. No surprise, the difference is dramatic. I love Chinese cooking, but I wish I knew how to make a greater range of pastes from scratch.

 

There is an absurdity to the pursuit of authenticity in a western kitchen: One hasn't replicated the experience back in the country in question. In Thailand, one ducks down to the local open market to buy a homemade paste prepared by a vendor. Twisting open a 99 cent jar doesn't bring anyone closer to that kind of experience.

 

To make this more concrete, I wish I knew a dozen recipes as good as this one: Roasted Chilli Paste

Edited by Syzygies (log)
Per la strada incontro un passero che disse "Fratello cane, perche sei cosi triste?"

Ripose il cane: "Ho fame e non ho nulla da mangiare."

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One thing I hate about Japanese recipes, even the ones in Japanese, is when they simply write "soy sauce ___ ml." Dark or light? Which brand? Whole bean? you can always avoid this problem by using recipes provided by the manufacturers of soy sauce. They always seem to specify exactly what to use even down to the brand. I wonder why...

I think chefs should write exactly what they use in their cookbooks. I don't care if it is free publicity for a certain brand if they want people to achieve the same results being as specific as possible is important.

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...recipes provided by the manufacturers of soy sauce. They always seem to specify exactly what to use even down to the brand. I wonder why.

 

 To promote their product, of course.

 

 

I think chefs should write exactly what they use in their cookbooks. I don't care if it is free publicity for a certain brand if they want people to achieve the same results being as specific as possible is important.

 

Then they run into the problem that their particular brand may not be universally available. I agree they should suggest the type, but to suggest the exact brand is just impracticable.

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

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