Posted in Experiments, Recipes

Yu Xiang (Fish-fragrant) Eggplant and Zucchini

Yu xiang eggplant 01

Last year, I posted a dish I called Fish-fragrant Pork Belly with Pineapple, and I briefly mentioned the origin of the name. There is a group of dishes in Chinese cuisine (chiefly that of Sichuan and, to a lesser extent, Hunan), which are referred to using the Chinese characters ‘魚香’ (pronounced ‘yu xiang’). The first means ‘fish’ while the second can be translated as ‘fragrance’ or ‘aroma’. A ‘fish fragrant’ dish is characterized by a technique wherein garlic, ginger and scallion are first sautéed in oil and then the main ingredients are added along with a sauce composed of Chili-bean paste enlivened with sugar and vinegar.

The name, as we shall see below, actually has little to do with fish. Occasionally, once comes across a very unfortunate Chinese to English translation in which the characters are rendered as ‘fish-odor’ or ‘fish-smelling’ but very often, in the west, a dish will be described as being served in ‘garlic sauce’ or ‘spicy garlic sauce’. If you see these on a menu, look for the ‘Yu Xiang’ characters and you will know that you are dealing with a ‘fish fragrant’ dish. Two of the most common main ingredients are shredded pork and eggplant but it is also possible to come across a fish-fragrant fish dish as well. For today, I am doing an eggplant version but, since I only had a very small eggplant to work with, I am supplementing it with zucchini, which should do very nicely too…  Continue reading “Yu Xiang (Fish-fragrant) Eggplant and Zucchini”

Posted in Foodstuffs

Sichuan Chili Bean Paste (Sichuan Pixiandouban Co. Brand)

It is almost impossible to conceive of Sichuan cuisine without healthy lashings of broad bean paste as the condiment is even more characteristic of the regional flavor palate than are the famous Sichuan Peppercorns. The basic article consists of broad beans fermented in salt, often with flour added, and thus it provides the same sort of umami fillip as does the more widely known soy-based Miso in Japanese cookery. In Chinese, the condiment is represented by the characters 豆瓣酱, which are pronounced dòubànjiàng, but it is common to see it represented in cookery books, or on jar labels as ‘toban djan’, ‘toban jang’, or ‘toban dian’.

Even more ubiquitous than the plain old Toban djan is the spicier, chili laden version known, in Mandarin, as là dòubànjiàng (辣豆瓣酱), or hot (spicy) bean paste. There are many brands available, both from Sichuan and elsewhere, and there is even a Lee Kum Kee Chili Bean Paste widely available in the west. Amongst those from Sichuan, however, the best are widely considered to be manufactured in the county of Pixian, and the variety you see above, made by the Sichuan Pixiandouban Co. Ltd., is one of these… Continue reading “Sichuan Chili Bean Paste (Sichuan Pixiandouban Co. Brand)”

Posted in Experiments, Recipes

Experiment: Fish-fragrant Pork Belly with Pineapple

The dish you see pictured above is prepared in the well-known Sichuan ‘Yu Xiang’ (魚香) style, which incorporates the spicy heat of chili against an umami background of bean paste with sweet and sour notes. The name ‘Yu Xiang’ is most accurately translated as ‘Fish fragrant’, but it has, in some unfortunate instances, been translated as ‘fish-smelling’ (as in ‘Fish Smelling Eggplant’) or, in one memorable but unfortunate translation, ‘Pork Shreds with Fish Odor’. The actual origin of the name and its relationship to the traditional ingredients is a fascinating one, and something I intend to cover in a more detailed post sometime, but for now just suffice it to say that no fish will be harmed in the preparation of this experiment, nor will the resultant dish smell, taste, or resemble anything even vaguely fishy… Continue reading “Experiment: Fish-fragrant Pork Belly with Pineapple”