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Chinese Pickles and Preserves


liuzhou
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For centuries, the Chinese have been pickling and preserving foods. There is almost nothing that they haven't pickled, salted, dried or whatever. Even Germany recognises that sauerkraut originated in China, while most Koreans patriotically deny that kimchi came from China, but it almost certainly did. So, in this thread, I want to mention some of the most common, but also some of the more unusual. It could be a long ride!

 

1. 酸菜 (suān cài), literally 'sour vegetable'

 

Suan cai is common across China. However, there are two main types. In Northern China, the preference is for for the vegetable in question to be napa cabbage (大白菜 - dà bái cài), whereas here in the south, we go for stem mustard (芥菜 - jiè cài).

 

120975629_.thumb.jpg.cd304e66e35472f900540841ac4262b5.jpg

Northern style preserved napa cabbage

 

1339793728_3.thumb.jpg.364f64c8797530f7f3f0f6b75b7971b0.jpg

Southern style preserved stem mustard (made in Liuzhou)


Whichever vegetable is used, the production process remains basically the same. The whole vegetable is placed in a large jar of water and salt - a simple brine - then compressed by placing a heavy weight on top. Spices may or may not be added. In Hunan, chilli and ginger are often added to the mustard.

 

Suancai is sold in most markets and supermarkets, but many people make their own.

 

1065188981__20210630123553.thumb.jpg.69a7314ddeaf7c9c48e5283fbcf94793.jpg

Commercially produced suancai as found in supermarkets etc.


The preserved vegetable is often served by being finely chopped and served alongside meaty dishes to cut through any fattiness, or can be stir-fried along with the meat. Unchopped suancai is also used in my favourite Chinese fish dish, 酸菜鱼 (suān cài yú), a Sichuan soupy mix of suan cai and fish. Fuschia Dunlop has a very good recipe in her "The Food of Sichuan (eG-friendly Amazon.com link)". Most recipes that I can see on the internet are not very inspiring.

 

15.jpg

Chopped suan cai as served alongside meat.

 

Note: Excessive consumption of pickles and salted preserves may be linked to certain cancers, according to many sources including the World Health Organisation and the Chinese Journal of Cancer

Edited by liuzhou
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Posted (edited)

2. 雪里红腌菜 (xuě lǐ hóng yān cài) - Salt Cured Potherb Mustard (Brassica juncea var. crispifolia)

 

774671356_1.thumb.jpg.080f933d38473c99ae364858f7cfb7df.jpg

 

This is another local treatment for mustard. It is exactly as described in the name. "雪里红" means "potherb mustard"; "" means "salt" and "" means "vegetable". Unlike the suancai above, this is dry cured, so the final product retains some crispiness, unlike suancai which has a more "cooked" texture. Whether or not it is available elsewhere, I don't know. Suancai is everywhere - I've bought it in London. Most Asian stores or markets should have suancai. If you can also find this one outside China, please let me know.

Edited by liuzhou
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I can find Thai preserved mustard greens in my local Asian store - they're always a neon yellow/green color - although I've never seen that color anywhere in Asia.  I'm curious if your locally packaged preserved mustard looks similarly or if it is an export thing that they add extra preservatives or something.

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1 minute ago, KennethT said:

I can find Thai preserved mustard greens in my local Asian store - they're always a neon yellow/green color - although I've never seen that color anywhere in Asia.  I'm curious if your locally packaged preserved mustard looks similarly or if it is an export thing that they add extra preservatives or something.

 

The only one I've seen in Thailand is phak kat dong, their version of suancai. I don't remember neon though. Is that the one you mean? Vietnam also has their version - dưa cải chua.

I've never seen the salted version in Thailand or Vietnam, but it may be there.

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12 minutes ago, KennethT said:

I can find Thai preserved mustard greens in my local Asian store - they're always a neon yellow/green color - although I've never seen that color anywhere in Asia.  I'm curious if your locally packaged preserved mustard looks similarly or if it is an export thing that they add extra preservatives or something.

 

This stuff isn't neon?

 

image.thumb.png.5118d66008f4e14590c662a6a749e575.png

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Posted (edited)

That is neither Chinese or mustard. It is Japanese.  It is pickled daikon radish, also popular in Korea. The Japanese probably did get the technique from China, though.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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4 minutes ago, weinoo said:

Funny I thought Thailand and Vietnam were also being discussed above. 

 

Thailand and Vietnam's use of a Chinese pickle was being discussed.  Not Thai or Vietnamese pickles.

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1 hour ago, liuzhou said:

 

The only one I've seen in Thailand is phak kat dong, their version of suancai. I don't remember neon though. Is that the one you mean? Vietnam also has their version - dưa cải chua.

I've never seen the salted version in Thailand or Vietnam, but it may be there.

Yes, that's what I'm talking about - phak kat dong.  It was never neon when I saw it in Thailand (or in Vietnam for that matter) but the only stuff I can find in the stores here is extremely neon.

sour-mustard-green-large_14179a5f5039274

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Posted (edited)
14 minutes ago, KennethT said:

Yes, that's what I'm talking about - phak kat dong.  It was never neon when I saw it in Thailand (or in Vietnam for that matter) but the only stuff I can find in the stores here is extremely neon.

sour-mustard-green-large_14179a5f5039274

 

I can't make out all the ingredients there but all those I can see (apart from mustard) seem to be artificial preservatives and flavouring. The second picture in my first post - the southern style version of suan cai - is a commercial product made in a friend's pickling company. It only has salt and spices in addition to the mustard. Must be kept chilled.

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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This is what I think of mustard.. didnt know the stuff shown.. 

But untill i started googling pickled mustard this weekend

 

51281801600_b475ab034d_m.jpg

 

 

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2 minutes ago, Paul Bacino said:

This is what I think of mustard.. didnt know the stuff shown.. 

But untill i started googling pickled mustard this weekend

 

51281801600_b475ab034d_m.jpg

 

 

 

There are many types of mustard.

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Posted (edited)

Here is an unusual pickled item that doesn't really need any explanation other than its name.

 

3. Peanuts pickled in apple vinegar with yellow chilis.

 

284771613_applevinegarpickledpeanutswithpickledchilli.thumb.jpg.21583ff23bd615e91d8bde7a2979f667.jpg
 

I recently found these in a supermarket. I didn't make note of the Chinese name and don't want to guess. If I see them again, I'll take down their details and edit this.

Anyway, they were surprisingly good, but so is anything with chilis, in my book.

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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On 6/30/2021 at 5:27 PM, liuzhou said:

here is an unusual pickled item that doesn't really need any explanation oither than its name.

 

3. Peanuts pickled in apple vinegar with yellow chilis.

 

284771613_applevinegarpickledpeanutswithpickledchilli.thumb.jpg.21583ff23bd615e91d8bde7a2979f667.jpg
 

I recently found these in a supermarket. I didn't make note of the Chinese name and don't want to guess. If I see them again, I'll take down their details and edit this.

Anyway, they were surprisingly good, but so is anything with chilis, in my book.

 

that's fascinating.  Are the peanuts pickled raw or are they boiled or roasted first?

Edited by KennethT
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4 minutes ago, KennethT said:

that's fascinating.  Are the peanuts pickled raw or are they boiled or roasted first?

 

It was kind of hard to tell. Certainly not roasted but perhaps boiled. I'll ask next time, but the supermarket people rarely have any clue about what they are selling.

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2 hours ago, liuzhou said:

 

I'll ask next time, but the supermarket people rarely have any clue about what they are selling.

LOL I guess some things are universal...

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Posted (edited)

4. 泡菜

 

泡菜 (pào cài) has a confusing etymology. ((pào) means 'bubble' or 'steeped; soaked'. Together with  (cài) meaning 'vegetable' it means 'pickled vegetable'. I can imagine the name comes from the pickling liquid bubbling as things ferment; or maybe it just means the vegetable is steeped or soaked in that same liquid. Or both. Take your pick.

 

Whatever, the name covers all wet-pickled vegetables (including the suancai above). That said the most common use of the name is for this:

 

Pickles.thumb.jpg.38aec53c27b957529e32dafc0eeb3a7f.jpg

 

It normally consists of cabbage or mustard leaf with daikon radish, carrots, chilis and ginger , but there are many variations.

 

It is usually served as a pre-meal appetiser or palate-cleanser, but sometimes with the main meal. Available all over China, but often associated with Sichuan where it is particularly popular. The example pictured above is a commercial product and is pickled in rice vinegar with some spices, the most common method. Some are done in a brine.

Here is my own home-made version. Same vegetables as I listed above (cabbage rather than mustard, here), done in rice vinegar with green Sichuan peppercorns.

361745874_paocai1024.thumb.jpg.9dca718645845a16b0084a87c25520d6.jpg

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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5. Pickled Garlic


Vinegar pickled garlic is common enough. In fact, it is frequently sitting on the table in smaller restaurants in many parts of China as a sort of free* appetizer, alongside raw garlic in Xi'an.

705972321_.thumb.jpg.b77ea127fd62e93cf4e2ce523c51e601.jpg

 

These are a Sichuan version called 酸辣蒜头 (suān là suàn tóu) - Pickled Spicy Garlic Heads. I always have them in the pantry. Great with cheese! Maybe grate with cheese, too. Never tried. They are made from the immature garlic bulbs and rice vinegar with spices.

A more unusual version, which I've only seen once, is this

 

1946108311_Soypickledgarlic.thumb.jpg.4c1369d4f9d3bc303d7a08954623db7e.jpg

 

I forget the precise name, but they are soy sauce cured garlic cloves. They were extremely good.

* Nothing is free! The cost is no doubt factored into whatever you order.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, liuzhou said:

I forget the precise name, but they are soy sauce cured garlic cloves. They were extremely good.

Those really look good and with like garlic phobic housemates, sometimes I am starved for garlic. Have you ever thought of trying to make them? The only thing that I could find on Google that seems to be close is this but it's not as dark. Do you have any ideas how I might make them?

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1 minute ago, Tropicalsenior said:

Those really look good and with like garlic phobic housemates oh, sometimes I am starved for garlic. Have you ever thought of trying to make them? The only thing that I could find on Google that seems to be close is this but it's not as dark. Do you have any ideas how I might make them?

 

I don't know but I suspect they are using a similar technique as your recipe does but using black rice vinegar, probably Zhenjiang vinegar (often known in the USA as Chinkiang vinegar), and perhaps dark soy sauce.

There isn't much I've not thought of making, but a lot I've never gotten round to!

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Posted (edited)
5 minutes ago, liuzhou said:

black rice vinegar, probably Zhenjiang vinegar (often known in the USA as Chinkiang vinegar), and perhaps dark soy sauce.

Thank you, I just happen to have both of these but the only thing that I don't have is garlic. As soon as I can get to the store I am going to try this and I will let you know how it turns out.

One interesting note, most of the garlic sold in Costa Rica now comes from China.

Edited by Tropicalsenior (log)
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2 minutes ago, Tropicalsenior said:

At least I hope this is black rice vinegar.

20210701_210245.thumb.jpg.99ec32a0358b1cb7cb557f750ce0ba21.jpg

 

It isn't Zhenjiang vinegar, but is black vinegar and similar. It is Shanxi* Aged Vinegar, although I can't see how long this one has been aged. It'll do exactly the same job.

*Shanxi (山西) is a province in northern China. Zhenjiang is in Jiangsu province in eastern China, near Shanghai. Zhenjiang vinegar is generally considered China's finest. If you see it, buy the oldest you can afford!

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