Three Delicacies of the Yangtze River
Brief introduction / Brief introduction
In terms of China’s delicacies, there are Manchu Han Imperial Feast in North China, Fujian and Guangdong cuisines in South China, spicy Sichuan food in West China and Huaiyang style dishes in East China. Styles of delicacies are countless. In recent years, Jingjiang has been awarded several first places in the field of catering with the population of only 660 thousand and an area of no more than 600 square kilometers, which is really impressive. In 1993, the Cooking Contest of Jiangsu Province was hosted in Jingjiang, which was the first time in China for a county-level city to hold a province-level cooking contest. In 2000, Jingjiang Recipe was published, which was also the first time in China for a county-level city to independently publish a recipe. In April, 2001, a group of 5 people from CCTV’s program Serve For You came to Jingjiang for a 3-day shooting and interview with the purpose of introducing the catering culture in Jingjiang in an overall way, which was unprecedented in CCTV to introduce the catering culture of a county-level city as a special subject. Thus it can be seen that the catering culture in Jingjiang does have its unique features.
Jingjiang is a Yangtze River alluvial plain and the ancestor of Jingjiang people were immigrants from all corners of the country. People from different regions have brought different eating habits and flavors and a catering culture with unique features has been formed through hundreds of years of integration and innovation. Jingjiang is located at the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, and this section of River is neither close to or far away from the sea. Also, the River bottom is flat, which makes it the most ideal movement area for fishes. Many migratory fishes swim from the sea to the River, and when arriving at this section, they are full of physical strength with plump bodies, fresh and tender flesh texture as well as tasty flavor. Therefore, Jingjiang has formed the special delicacies represented by fresh fishes in four seasons of the Yangtze River since ancient times. Delicacies of Jingjiang at all seasons have their own advantages. When the river becomes warm in spring, it is the best time to eat saury and puffer fish. The taste is fairly pure especially when such dishes are accompanied by the local brassica narinosa and guncus. In the burning hot summer, Jingjiang people mainly eat fresh fishes from the inland river, and porridge of black cowpea and naked barley, together with amaranth and seed shrimp sesame seed cake, is the top choice to relieve summer heat. When the wind blows in autumn, crab legs become active. Hairy crab, sheet jelly with crab roe and Steamed Soup Dumpling with Crab Spawn make people enjoyable. In severe winter, mutton is one of the best supplements. Main dishes on the table of Jingjiang people include braised mutton with siniperca chuatsi in spicy sauce, braised mutton and green vegetables as well as mutton and vermicelli soup. This shows that the arrangement of diet at all seasons in Jingjiang not only complies with seasonal characteristics, but also has certain scientific basis.
Representatives of fresh fishes of the Yangtze River are “Three Delicacies of the Yangtze River”, namely saury, reeves shad and puffer fish. It is the best season to eat reeves shad before or after the Tomb-sweeping Day. Literary giant Su Dongpo in Song Dynasty once composed a poem: “What are the scenery and special items in regions south of the Yangtze River? They are peach blossom, the running water and fatty fishes.” Saury was called fish in ancient times. It is called saury for its color is as bright as silver and its shape is like a drawn dagger. Jingjiang people like eating saury and are more skillful in cooking saury. One of the most well-known feasts is the Saury Feast. It is unbelievable that over 20 dishes on the Saury Feast are all made of saury. Such dish names as Wenwu saury, steamed Tofu stuffed with vegetables, saury soup noodles and saury cube with sour sauce are enough to lick our chaps.
Wenwu saury means there are two pieces of saury in one bowl, one braised in soy sauce and the other steamed. Two pieces of saury with different flavors bring out the best in each other. Saury soup noodles are made of flesh of saury, eggs and flour. Such noodles can be stir fried as well as stewed, which are white, transparent, chewy and smooth. Steamed Tofu stuffed with vegetables is made into the shape of Tofu with flesh of saury and two words “Yi Pin” pieced together by ham shred embedded on top. The color of white and red sharply contours and “Yi Pin” is a praise for its tasty flavor.
Diners who have a taste of the saury feast only feel that all the dishes are fresh and tender, but do not know how to take the bones of saury out. It is said that a piece of saury has a total of about one thousand bones all over, and chefs have unique skills to take these bones out. Previously, people used to nail the saury on the reverse side of the wooden pot cover with fine nails, pour some water into the pot, put bamboo board covered by gauze above the water, and then cover with the lid to heat up. Vapors would make all the pieces of flesh of saury scatter on the gauze, and then the bones were taken out. Now, the chef first uncovers the saury skin because more than half of the fine bones will be taken out with the uncovered skin. Bottomed by the pork skin, the body of saury is beaten gently with the back of a knife blade. Those bones will be embedded into the pork skin, and finally, all the saury meat will be left on the knife after lightly wiping with the knife edge. With the flesh of saury without bones as well as the cooking skills of an experienced chef, a table of hearty saury feast is made ready. It is as much creating a perfect and wonderful works of art as cooking dishes.
Jingjiang people refer to reeves shad as “the king of fish” for the reason that on the one hand, it has high nutritive value as well as fresh and tasty flavor, on the other hand, the output of reeves shad is on the decrease as the change of environment.
As early as the Ming dynasty, reeves shad was chosen as tribute. When it came to the spring season, the feudal official would send reeves shad to the capital by post horse all day and night. Nowadays, people can also have a taste of the famous dish Steamed Shad in high-range hotels in Jingjiang.
Reeves shad is different from other kinds of fish because its scale does not need to be scraped off when it is washed or braised. Juncture of the skin and scale of reeves shad is the most tasty with the highest nutritive value. Apart from its fresh and tender flavor, reeves shad is as tasty and refreshing as roasted suckling pig and lamb. If you are unwilling to chew the scale, Jingjiang people have their own solutions. They will scrape the scale off the shad and penetrate the scale with thread to hang it under the pot cover. After heated, oil in the scale will drop onto the shad, and the shad is done when all the oil drops. This cooking method is unique because it not only retains the fresh flavor of reeves shad, but also relieves the suffering of chewing its scale. There is a famous saying in Jingjiang that “people risk their lives to eat puffer fish”. Puffer fish has poison that is enough to cause death, so we really cannot treat it lightly. However, it is hard for people to give up the tasty puffer fish, and they usually quote the verse “it’s time for puffer fish to migrate into the river from the sea when river rapids are covered with artemisia selengensis and asparagus begins to put forth buds” composed by Su Shi to remind others of the season to eat puffer fish, it is thus clear that puffer fish is attractive. But now people can rest assured for the reason that Jingjiang people have introduced the high-tech biotechnology to breed puffer fish with river beach fence, which not only retains the flavor of wild puffer fish, but also greatly reduces its poison. The saying “people risk their lives to eat puffer fish” in Jingjiang should actually be “people try their best to wash it before eating the puffer fish”, which means such poisonous parts as liver, intestines and eyes of the puffer fish should be removed when it is dissected, and then the flesh of puffer should be washed repeatedly in the clean water until there is no blood streak at all. Certainly, the puffer fish should be cooked thoroughly. In fact, the puffer fish becomes non-poisonous when it is thoroughly cooked.
Puffer fish is attractive for its special fragrance. Each and every family will immediately be filled with the unique, strong and attractive fragrance when puffer fish is cooked, and the fragrance can pervade half of the village, a lane and a large extent of area. There is no wonder that the puffer fish is served as the last dish for other dishes will be tasteless compared with the puffer fish and it has the overwhelming charm to win other delicacies.