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Hello all, I need help figuring out which part of the sichuan peppercorns I bought to use. From what I've read, I think I'm supposed to use the hulls rather than the black seeds. Toast the hulls and grind them up, correct? This is for use in my fave dish, mapo tofu. Thanks for your help!
(Well, that didn't work. I guess I don't know how to upload a photo. Nuts. Maybe I don't need a photo? Maybe just tell me whether to use the hulls or the black seeds, or both?)
Looking to learn and ask questions about home curing meats. I have an 11 lb batch of genoa salami going and it is my first batch. Worried about the PH level not dropping as needed. Need some advice. I followed the Marianski recipe exactly. I have a pH meter and the starting point was 6.15pH which I thought was unusually high. 2.5 months in, I am about 73% of starting weight yet my pH is only 5.88pH. My curing chamber is consistently at 57deg. F. /80% humidity. My pH tester seems calibrated properly using the calibration solutions. I am using the meat probe adapter and just sticking it in the salami until the tip is submerged etc...Thanks in advance for any suggestions or reassurances.
While there have been other Chinese vegetable topics in the past, few of them were illustrated And some which were have lost those images in various "upgrades".
What I plan to do is photograph every vegetable I see and say what it is, if I know. However, this is a formidable task so it'll take time. The problem is that so many vegetables go under many different Chinese names and English names adopted from one or other Chinese language, too. For example, I know four different words for 'potato' and know there are more. And there are multiple regional preference in nomenclature. Most of what you will see will be vegetables from supermarkets, where I can see the Chinese labelling. In "farmer's" or wet markets, there is no labelling and although, If I ask, different traders will have different names for the same vegetable. Many a time I've been supplied a name, but been unable to find any reference to it from Mr Google or his Chinese counterparts. Or if I find the Chinese, can't find an accepted translation so have to translate literally.
Also, there is the problem that most of the names which are used in the English speaking countries have, for historical reasons, been adopted from Cantonese, whereas 90% of Chinese speak Mandarin (普通话 pǔ tōng huà). But I will do my best to supply as many alternative names as I can find. I shall also attempt to give Chinese names in simplified Chinese characters as used throughout mainland China and then in traditional Chinese characters, now mainly only used in Hong Kong, Taiwan and among much of the Chinese diaspora. If I only give one version, that means they are the same in Simp and Trad.
I'll try to do at least one a day. Until I collapse under the weight of vegetation.
Please, if you know any other names for any of these, chip in. Also, please point out any errors of mine.
I'll start with bok choy/choy. This is and alternatives such as pak choi or pok choi are Anglicised attempts at the Cantonese pronunciation of the Mandarin! However in Cantonese it is more often 紹菜; Jyutping: siu6 coi3. In Chinese it is 白菜. Mandarin Pinyin 'bái cài'. This literally means 'white vegetable' but really just means 'cabbage' and of course there are many forms of cabbage. Merely asking for bái cài in many a Chinese store or restaurant will be met with blank stares and requests to clarify. From here on I'm just going to translate 白菜 as 'cabbage'.
So, here we go.
Brassica rapa subsp. pekinensis
This is what you may be served if you just ask for baicai. Or maybe not. In much of China it is 大白菜 dà bái cài meaning 'big cabbage'. In English, usually known as Napa cabbage, Chinese cabbage, celery cabbage, Chinese leaf, etc. In Chinese, alternative names include 结球白菜 / 結球白菜 ( jié qiú bái cài ), literally knotted ball cabbage, but there are many more.
This cabbage is also frequently pickled and becomes known as 酸菜 (Mand: suān cài; Cant: syun1 coi3) meaning 'sour vegetable', although this term is also used to refer to pickled mustard greens.
Perhaps the food-related question I get asked most through my blog is “What's it like for vegetarians and vegans in China. The same question came up recently on another thread, so I put this together. Hope it's useful. It would also, be great to hear other people's experience and solutions.
For the sake of typing convenience I’m going to conflate 'vegetarians and vegan' into just 'vegetarian' except where strictly relevant.
First a declaration of non-interest. I am very carnivorous, but I have known vegetarians who have passed through China, some staying only a few weeks, others staying for years.
Being vegetarian in China is a complicated issue. In some ways, China is probably one of the best countries in which to be vegetarian. In other ways, it is one of the worst.
I spent a couple of years in Gorbachev-era Russia and saw the empty supermarkets and markets. I saw people line up for hours to buy a bit of bread.. So, when I first came to China, I kind of expected the same. Instead, the first market I visited astounded me. The place was piled high with food, including around 30 different types of tofu, countless varieties of steamed buns and flat breads and scores of different vegetables, both fresh and preserved, most of which I didn't recognise. And so cheap I could hardly convert into any western currency.
If you are able to self-cater then China is heaven for vegetarians. For short term visitors dependent on restaurants or street food, the story is very different.
Despite the perception of a Buddhist tradition (not that strong, actually), very few Chinese are vegetarian and many just do not understand the concept. Explaining in a restaurant that you don't eat meat is no guarantee that you won't be served meat.
Meat is seen in China as a status symbol. If you are rich, you eat more meat.And everyone knows all foreigners are rich, so of course they eat meat! Meat eating is very much on the rise as China gets more rich - even to the extent of worrying many economists, food scientists etc. who fear the demand is pushing up prices and is environmentally dangerous. But that's another issue. Obesity is also more and more of a problem.
Banquet meals as served in large hotels and banquet dedicated restaurants will typically have a lot more meat dishes than a smaller family restaurant. Also the amount of meat in any dish will be greater in the banquet style places.
Traditional Chinese cooking is/was very vegetable orientated. I still see my neighbours come home from the market with their catch of greenery every morning. However, whereas meat wasn't the central component of dinner, it was used almost as a condiment or seasoning. Your stir fried tofu dish may come with a scattering of ground pork on top, for example. This will not usually be mentioned on the menu.
Simple stir fried vegetables are often cooked in lard (pig fat) to 'improve' the flavour.
Another problem is that the Chinese word for meat (肉), when used on its own refers to pork. Other meats are specified, eg (beef) is 牛肉, literally cattle meat. What this means is that when you say you don't eat meat, they often think you mean you don't eat pork (something they do understand from the Chinese Muslim community), so they rush off to the kitchen and cook you up some stir fried chicken! I've actually heard a waitress saying to someone that chicken isn't meat. Also, few Chinese wait staff or cooks seem to know that ham is pig meat. I have also had a waitress argue ferociously with me that the unasked for ham in a dish of egg fried rice wasn't meat.
Also, Chinese restaurant dishes are often given have really flowery, poetic names which tell you nothing of the contents. Chinese speakers have to ask. One dish on my local restaurant menu reads “Maternal Grandmother's Fluttering Fragrance.” It is, of course, spicy pork ribs!
Away from the tourist places, where you probably don't want to be eating anyway, very few restaurants will have translations of any sort. Even the best places' translations will be indecipherable. I have been in restaurants where they have supplied an “English menu”, but if I didn't know Chinese would have been unable to order anything. It was gibberish.
To go back to Buddhism and Taoism, it is a mistake to assume that genuine followers of either (or more usually a mix of the two) are necessarily vegetarian. Many Chinese Buddhists are not. In fact, the Dalai Lama states in his autobiography that he is not vegetarian. It would be very difficult to survive in Tibet on a vegetarian diet.
There are vegetarian restaurants in many places (although the ones around where I am never seem to last more than six months). In the larger cities such as Beijing and Shanghai they are more easily findable.
Curiously, many of these restaurants make a point of emulating meat dishes. The menu reads like any meat using restaurant, but the “meat” is made from vegetable substitutes (often wheat gluten or konjac based).
To be continued
By Daily Gullet Staff
by Chris Amirault
Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like 'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?
- Nora Ephron
I attended a training last fall at which we were asked to share an object representing something important about mentoring, our focus for the week. I suspect that few in the workshop had difficulty coming up with their tape measures, baby photos, and flower pots, but I usually find this sort of assignment challenging, preferring simple denotations to forced connotations.
On the drive home, I rolled down the windows, sensing that the air was turning slightly crisp and cool. I savored that harbinger of autumn in New England, when my thoughts turn to braises, stews and charcuterie. After a summer of keeping the oven off in my non-air-conditioned kitchen, I dreamed of daubes, considered new curries, and generally jonesed for the promise of meat to come.
And then I realized that I had a perfect metaphor for mentoring: my 5 lb. vertical sausage stuffer from Grizzly Industrial, Inc. The next day, I lugged the apparatus to the training, hiding it behind a door for fear of ridicule. When my turn arrived, I hauled it out and clunked it down dramatically on the center table. "Good mentoring is like a sausage stuffer," I said, "for at least ten reasons:
+ + +
That's the article as I started writing it. But over time, Nora's words came to haunt me. The whole shtick began to smell a bit fishy, and I began to fear that, like many tropes, this metaphor turned attention away from a trickier, worrisome truth hiding in plain view.
But unlike many tropes, the worrisome truth I was hiding is in the object, and not the subject, of the metaphor. That is, the metaphor wasn't really about my relationship to mentoring. It was really about my relationship to sausage.
Imagine the scene: I whip out my sausage maker and give ten reasons why my metaphor is bigger and better than everyone else's. (I did mention that I was the only man among three dozen women in that training, didn't I?) Laugh if you want, but one's sausage is important to many a man. A quick perusal of this topic reveals that I'm not alone. (You did notice the gender breakdown in that topic, didn't you?)
Last weekend, while in the unfinished basement of a chef buddy, talk turned to our sausages, and before long we four charcuterie nuts were looking at our feet and commiserating about our failures. We shared a bond: our sausages had the better of us, and we knew it. Pathetic though it is, are you surprised that I felt a deep sense of relief, even of control, when I walked through my ten reasons? My metaphor afforded me a rare opportunity to feel superior to the process of sausage-making, and believe me, that doesn't happen often.
My name is Chris A., and I have sausage anxiety.
Read that list up there about my sausage maker, the instrument that I describe with distanced assurance. It's a ruse, I tell you. No matter how often I try to buck up, no matter how definitive a recipe, no matter how wonderful a pork butt or a lamb shoulder, when it comes to making sausages, I go limp with worry.
Can you blame me? Look at all the places you can screw up, where your sausage can fail you utterly and leave you in tears.
You grab some wonderful meat, hold it in your hands, appreciate its glory. Chill. You grind it, add some fat, and sprinkle some seasoning, whatever the flesh requires. Chill again. Slow down, contemplate the moon or something. You paddle that meat to bind it, melding flavor and texture seamlessly. Chill some more. What's your hurry? Toss a bit into a skillet, ask: are we ready? and adjust as needed. Stuff away. Then relax. If you can.
I can't. You need to keep things cool to take care of your sausage, and it's challenging to stay cool when I'm all a-flutter about the prospect of a culminating, perfect, harmonious bind. If you read the books and you watch the shows, everyone acts just about as cool as a cucumber. But that's not real life with my sausage.
It's a frenzy, I tell you. I know I should chill and relax, but I get all hot and bothered, start hurrying things along, unable to let the meat chill sufficiently, to take things slowly. Hell, I'm sweating now just thinking about it.
I have to admit that I don't have this sausage problem when I'm alone in the house, have a couple of hours to kill, and know I won't be disturbed. I just settle in, take it nice and slow, not a care in the world, and everything comes out fine. But with someone else around, forget about it.
Despite this mishegas, my wife is as supportive as she can be. She humors me patiently about these things, gently chiding, "Slow down! The house isn't on fire. It's just your sausage." Though I know she loves me despite my foibles, that sort of talk just adds fuel to that fire -- I mean, she can speak so glibly because it's not her sausage we're worrying about.
Even if I am I able to relax, the prospect of sudden, precipitous sausage humiliation comes crashing down upon me. Think of it. All seems to be going so well -- a little too well. I'm keeping things cool, making sure that I'm taking it easy, following the plan step-by-step, trusting my instincts. I smile. I get cocky.
And then, the frying pan hits the fire, and within moments I'm hanging my head: instead of forming a perfect bind, my sausage breaks and I break down. I want a firm, solid mass, and I'm watching a crumbly, limp link ooze liquid with embarrassing rapidity.
Given my gender, in the past I've tried to subdue sausage anxiety with predictable contrivances: machines, science, and technique. If there's a tool or a book useful for perfecting my sausage, I've bought or coveted it. I calculate ratios of meat, salt, cure, sugar, and seasonings past the decimal; I measure out ingredients to the gram on digital scales; I poke instant-read thermometers into piles of seasoned meat; I take the grinder blade to my local knife sharpener to get the perfect edge. (We've already covered the stuffer above, of course.) I've got a full supply of dextrose, Bactoferm, and DQ curing salts numbers 1 and 2. The broken binding of my copy of Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie has xeroxes and print-outs from eight other sources, and the pages are filled with crossed-out and recalculated recipes.
It's the sort of thing that I used to do when I was younger: arm myself with all things known to mankind and blast ahead. It hasn't helped. I've learned the hard way that my hysterical masculine attempt to master all knowledge and technology has led, simply, to more panic and collapse.
There is, I think, hope. I'm older, and my approach to my sausage has matured. I'm in less of a hurry, I roll with the challenges, and when the house is on fire, I just find a hydrant for my hose.
If things collapse, well, I try to take the long view, recall the successes of my youth, and keep my head up. I mean, it's just my sausage.
* * *
Chris Amirault (aka, well, chrisamirault) is Director of Operations, eG Forums. He also runs a preschool and teaches in Providence, RI.
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