Foodstuff: Sichuan Preserved Vegetable
This particular foodstuff is something I have bought and used in a variety of different forms. The name on the can label, ‘Preserved Vegetable’ is further amplified in the Chinese script as being a Sichuan specialty, and one might be excused for thinking that the contents are any sort of vegetable that has been preserved in the style of Sichuan. In fact, any time you encounter the name ‘Sichuan Preserved Vegetable’, you are almost invariably dealing with a specific plant, sometimes known as a ‘Mustard Tuber’, which is fermented with salt and then quite heavily spiced, chiefly with chili paste or powder…
The English Ingredient list on my can describes the content as being ‘Chinese Radish’ but the actual greenish, knobby things inside are clearly not radishes of any stripe, and I have never come across this particular foodstuff being named as such elsewhere. The Chinese script uses the characters 榨菜 for the vegetable in question and this is pronounced zhà cài in Mandarin (although you can come across all sorts of renderings with ‘Jar Choy’ occurring quite frequently).
Directly translated, the individual characters mean ‘Pressed Vegetable’ but the dictionary I most commonly use renders the compound as ‘Hot Pickled Mustard Tuber’. Many sources will incorrectly identify the ‘mustard’ in question as being the same plant as used in the more common Chinese Pickled Mustard, but a quick look at the inside of the inside of the can shows this not to be the case. Above, you can see a picture of the untreated article that I filched from a website that identified it as ‘Jar Choy’.
Here is a closer look at one of the tubers that has been sliced to show the interior. These are quite small ones, most of which were sliced in half before canning and it I possible to buy whole ones of a larger size in clear plastic bags with 6 or 8 per package. I actually prefer these as the ones in cans have the same slightly metallic, canned taste as do canned bamboo shoots, green beans, and some other vegetables. Luckily, this can be rinsed or soaked away quite easily.
When you open the can, there is the same sulfurous smell you get with sauerkraut and the taste is also somewhat similar except this product is not quite as tangy and is much saltier. The chili, as is the case with this brand, can be a bit acrid, but the paste, or powder, is usually washed off before use, especially as you will need to rinse or soak the vegetable to remove some of the salinity depending upon the intended use. The can suggests that the tube can be eaten as is (like a pickle) or added to hot dishes and soups, with suggested accompaniment being pork, chicken, and dried shrimps, amongst other possibilities).
By the way, you can also buy the tuber already cut or chopped and, indeed, this brand sells a can that is exactly the same as the one in the first picture of this post, except that it has the word ‘Shredded’ on the label, just below the ‘Preserved Vegetable’ title. Look for this to make sure you are getting the type you want. The shredded are convenient, if that’s what you want, but the whole ones allow you to slice as you please.
Here is product by a different manufacturer that is already pre-shredded. This one is actually quite a bit less salty than other varieties and is also quite sweet. The package really doesn’t contain enough to be used in a stir-fried dish, for example, but the flavor does make it great for a lovely snack all by itself.
Anyway, I will be featuring some of the canned type in a dish or two fairly soon…