<![CDATA[Oriental Skye - Exploring Chinese Food]]>Thu, 28 Jan 2016 21:23:01 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Rabbit with peanuts in hot bean sauce]]>Mon, 10 Nov 2014 14:07:38 GMThttp://www.orientalskye.net/exploring-chinese-food/rabbit-with-peanuts-in-hot-bean-sauce
Hua Ren Ban Tu Ding [花仁拌兔丁] or Rabbit with peanuts in hot bean sauce is a delightful Sichuan dish. It is perhaps not very well known outside Sichuan province itself, but it is much enjoyed within Sichuan itself.

It is relatively easy to prepare, the most difficult ingredient to find being the rabbit itself which is not so common in butchers and supermarkets as it once was.
Dice about 500 grams of rabbit into cubes, blanch and then drain. Next prepare a few slices of ginger and a few lengths of spring onion.

In another bowl put about 2 tablespoons of chili bean sauce, 2 teaspoons of light soy, 1 teaspoon of sesame oil and a small pinch of sugar.

You will also need a tablespoon of fermented black beans, crushed and pounded in a mortar and pestle.

For a truly authentic and spicy flavour also prepare some chili oil.
To prepare chili oil grind some chilies to a fine powder. Then heat some oil and fry a star anise, a couple of cloves, a black or green cardamom, a piece of cinnamon bark along with a slice or two of ginger, a garlic clove and a pinch of salt. After a few minutes remove the spices, ginger and garlic. Remove the oil from the heat and add the chili and stir well before pouring into a heatproof receptacle.
Having assembled the ingredients bring some water to the boil and add the ginger, spring onion and diced rabbit.

After cooking, remove the rabbit and discard the ginger and spring onion.

Next heat some oil and fry the crushed black beans. Add the Sichuan chili bean paste mixture and cook well before adding the roasted peanuts and rabbit. Finally add 2 to 4 tablespoons of chili oil and stir well. Turn into a dish and sprinkle with a little finely chopped spring onion to garnish.

<![CDATA[Pu’erh Tea, Yunnan’s Dark Secret]]>Sat, 30 Aug 2014 18:05:23 GMThttp://www.orientalskye.net/exploring-chinese-food/puerh-tea-yunnans-dark-secret
Pu’erh tea is enjoyed not just in Yunnan, but all across China and around the world.

However, many westerners in particular are not familiar with how this famous tea is prepared and enjoyed.

Fans of Pu’erh tea will collect a wide variety of paraphernalia although many of these items are not absolutely necessary.

Many Chinese may possess a ‘tea table’. This may be a simple slotted wooden board which sits over a tray or a large wooden table with a drain which syphons off into a small bucket. The reason for such a table will be explained later.

In addition, there may be a selection of tools, such as bamboo tongs to pick up cups and hand them to guests before pouring the tea. Other items might include a metal pick to break up blocks or cakes of Pu’erh tea, a bamboo scoop for loose tea, and a brush for sweeping away water and tea on the table.

Then of course, there are cups, jugs, teapots and strainers. Cups may take on all different shapes and sizes. There are large, often highly decorated cups, complete with a saucer and lid. However, Pu’erh tea is often drunk from small ceramic, clay or even glass cups.

A teapot is used by some households, but a simple jug is more commonly seen.

To start, the tea is broken up and placed in either a cup with lid or a teapot. Allow around 3 to 5 grams is used, though some people prefer to add a little more for a more robust brew. Water is boiled and then poured over the tea. After allowing to infuse for around half a minute, the tea is strained into a jug or teapot. The first brew is then poured away. If using a tea table, the brew is simply poured over the table to drain away. This hot brew may even be poured over the cups to both clean and warm them. This procedure is usually performed twice before topping up once again with water.

The third brew is then poured into a jug and it is this and subsequent infusions which are drunk. Indeed several brews or infusions might be made from each portion of tea before being discarded.

Shu Pu’erh is often drunk in the morning whilst Sheng Pu’erh is used in the afternoon if two kinds are drunk the same day. Both types are considered to be good for health by many Chinese people, though for others it is merely consumed for pleasure. Indeed all across China groups of people can be seen sitting in tea shops sipping tea whilst smoking, chatting and passing the time of day.

You can read more about Yunnan tea and even make a purchase by visiting our special Yunnan Tea page

<![CDATA[Song Shu Yu - Squirrel Fish]]>Thu, 28 Aug 2014 08:51:32 GMThttp://www.orientalskye.net/exploring-chinese-food/song-shu-yu-squirrel-fish
Sōngshǔ yú [松鼠鱼] or Squirrel Fish is an extremely popular dish all across China, and especially loved by foreigners given the lack of bones.

The dish, which is also called Sōngshǔ guì yú [松鼠桂鱼] or Squirrel Mandarin Fish, belongs to Huaiyang cuisine and can be traced back to the times of Emperor Qianlong in the mid 1700s.

Huaiyang cuisine, also referred to as Jiangsu or Su cuisine for short, originates from the native cooking styles of East China’s Jiangsu Province. Huaiyang cuisine, is popular throughout history as one of the four traditional Chinese cuisines, together with Lu [Shandong], Yue [Guangdong] and Chuan [Sichuan] cuisines.

Huaiyang cuisine was once the second largest cuisine among ancient China’s royal cuisines, and it remains a major part of the state banquet in China. Indeed, Sōngshǔ yú is one of the most famous dishes from Jiangsu Province.

The dish is named Squirrel Fish because of the way the dish is presented and resembles the fluffy tail of a squirrel.
To prepare, the fish is cut along either side of the spine, which is then removed. Cuts are then made at an angle into the flesh. Then a few cuts are made along the length of the fish in order to create ‘fingers’. The head is cleaved and slightly flattened.

Meanwhile a bunch of rice noodles are deep fried and the resulting crispy noodles are placed on a dish. 

The fish is then coated in cornflour and the body is folded so that the skin is placed together and the tail pokes through. This is then carefully placed into the hot oil and deep fried along with the head.

The fried fish is then placed on the bed of fried noodles.

Next the sauce is prepared. A finely chopped clove of garlic is fried and tomato ketchup is added. Then some stock or water mixed with cornflour is added and the sauce is stirred.

Red rice vinegar, traditionally coloured with red yeast rice, is added along with a dash of dark soy. Next a diced tomato is added. Finally some clear rice vinegar, sugar and a pinch of salt is added. The sauce is then brought to the boil to thicken before being poured over the fish.

And that’s Squirrel Fish, a Jiangsu dish which can be traced back hundreds of years.

Many thanks to Ms Jiang for allowing us to film at her restaurant, the Zhuliguan [竹里馆] in Kunming, Yunnan, China.

<![CDATA[Gan bei yangyu si - Yunnan potato cakes]]>Wed, 27 Aug 2014 14:31:00 GMThttp://www.orientalskye.net/exploring-chinese-food/gan-bei-yangyu-si-yunnan-potato-cakes
Many people don’t associate potatoes with Chinese cuisine. However there are many dishes that use this vegetable.

In Sichuan province it may be cut into very thin threads and fried with chili, Sichuan pepper and white rice vinegar for a dish often served cold and known as suān là tǔdòu sī [酸辣土豆丝] or hot & sour potato threads.

In North-East China and Inner Mongolia potatoes are fried with green peppers, aubergines and onion and a little dark soy for a dish called dì sān xiān [地三鮮], literally 'three earth fresh'.

However in this post we’re going to look at a simple Yunnan dish called gàn bèi yángyù sī [干焙洋芋丝] or dry baked potato threads.

In most of China a potato is known as Tǔdòu [土豆] or earth bean. However in Yunnan province it is often called a foreign tuber, Yángyù [洋芋].

Gàn bèi yángyù sī is usually served as a simple side dish, and is relatively easy to cook.

The basic ingredients are of course potatoes, plus a little salt. Sometimes a little dried chili is added but this is not always the case.

Preparation & cooking

After peeling the potatoes grate or cut into extremely thin threads. Then heat some oil in a wok or non-stick pan. Add a little salt, and a little chopped dried chili if using, and stir the threads together.

When the oil is hot put in the potato and spread evenly so as to create a thin round cake. It is important not to have the heat too high since the potato will brown too quickly and not cook through.

Once nicely browned on one side, flip the cake over and cook until evenly browned and crispy on the other side. A large plate may be use to help invert the potato cake before sliding it back into the pan or wok.

Once cooked the potato cake is turned out onto a plate and garnished with a little thinly sliced spring onion.

The potato cake may be cut into wedges if desired and served with a small dish of soy sauce or powdered chili to dip

<![CDATA[Dai grilled fish with lemon grass]]>Thu, 21 Aug 2014 16:34:18 GMThttp://www.orientalskye.net/exploring-chinese-food/dai-grilled-fish-with-lemon-grass
Yunnan is home to some twenty five ethnic groups. Amongst them is the Dai ethnic people which mainly live in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture and the Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefectures in southern Yunnan.

The Dai people have had a strong influence on Yunnan cuisine with their use of lemon grass, lime juice, chilli and other spices. Indeed when the Dai ethnic minority is mentioned, many people immediately think of the sour or acid dishes that highlight Dai cuisine. In fact the Dai ethnic minority is sometimes referred to as "Suān dǎizú" [酸傣族] or Acid Dai.

One dish that is particularly popular is Xiāngmáocǎo kǎo yú [香茅草烤鱼] or fish grilled with lemon grass. It evokes tastes less of China but of Vietnam and the Laos, both countries with which Yunnan borders.

The gutted fish is stuffed with a variety of herbs and spices and grilled over a charcoal fire. This method of cooking isn’t practical in Western kitchens. However one can get satisfactory results from grilling in a conventional oven.


To start you will need to assemble a number of ingredients. In Yunnan river fish such as carp is often used. However, once again one can improvise and use a large sea bream, tilapia or even sea bass.

Other ingredients include spring onions, ginger, garlic, green chilli, fresh coriander, limes and salt. 

Finely chop one or two spring onions and a good handful of fresh coriander. Mix this with one or more finely chopped green chillies, a little grated ginger and a finely chopped clove of garlic. Add a squeeze of lime juice and a small pinch of salt and then stuff the mixture into the cleaned fish. Sometimes the fish is cleaved along the spine - such that the fish is almost cut in two - to make the cavity that much larger.

The fish is then wrapped and tied with lemon grass before being placed in a dish, sprinkled with a little Chinese wine, soy and lime juice and allowed to marinate. The short rather dry stems of lemon grass available in the UK are not satisfactory to tie the fish thus oven proof string will be needed. The lemon grass can meanwhile be place under the fish.

The fish can be left overnight in a refrigerator if desired, but an hour is sufficient. 


When ready preheat the oven to around 200°C. Oil the fish, sesame is best, and a dash of soy and place it into a dish before putting it in the oven. After 15-20 minutes, turn on the grill and cook both sides of the fish to crisp the skin.

Finally turn the fish out onto a decorative serving dish and garnish with a little fresh coriander.

<![CDATA[Old grandma’s potato]]>Wed, 06 Aug 2014 12:03:57 GMThttp://www.orientalskye.net/exploring-chinese-food/old-grandmas-potato
Old grandma’s potato [Lǎo nǎi yángyù - 老奶洋芋] is one of Yunnan’s simplest dishes to prepare. It could be likened to the English dish bubble and squeak. However Lǎo nǎi yángyù is arguably much tastier.

The name stems from the fact that the soft nature of the dish means that even a toothless grandmother could consume it without too much trouble.

For this dish you will need potatoes, spring onions, Chinese pickled vegetable and dried chillies. There are many types of pickled vegetable available, however the type usually used in this recipe is pickled mustard greens.

The pickle is prepared by taking fresh mustard greens and marinating them in a mixture of water, chillies, salt, and other spices. While some household will prepare their own pickles others will simply buy a packet from a local store. In the West many Chinese and Asian stores will stock these pickles, or they may be found sold at online stores. We've used Ting Top brand which is available at Sous Chef.

To start, peel the potatoes and put on the boil. Meanwhile thinly slice the spring onions and chop the pickled vegetable.

Once the potatoes are cooked mash them and put them to one side. Heat some oil in a wok and fry the spring onion, pickled vegetable and dried chillies. Then add the mashed potato and incorporate into the mixture.

Turn out onto a plate and serve.

<![CDATA[Exploring Yunnan Cuisine]]>Mon, 04 Aug 2014 17:18:44 GMThttp://www.orientalskye.net/exploring-chinese-food/exploring-yunnan-cuisine
Yunnan cuisine [Yúnnán cài 云南菜 or Diān cài 滇菜] is perhaps one of the least talked about Chinese cuisines, except for people who have visited this culturally diverse province. Yet Yunnan is home to some of the most interesting and tasty Chinese dishes.

There are few recipe books focused on Yunnan cuisine, partly due to the fact that some of the ingredients would be difficult to obtain outside China, and even Yunnan itself.
Unusual ingredients

One popular dish is made from banana flowers [芭蕉花 bājiāo huā] which are often barbecued in banana leaves or simply stir fried. However banana flowers, and even their leaves are impossible to obtain in the West.

Rǔbǐng [乳饼] is another speciality served up in many Yunnan restaurants. Rǔbǐng is a firm goat’s milk cheese which is often sliced, fried and served with granulated sugar in which to dip the cheese before consuming. The nearest one will find in the West is haloumi, or halumi, a Cypriot cheese made from goat's, ewe's, or cow's milk. While haloumi can also be fried in the same way it is very salty compared to rǔbǐng.

Insects and grubs are also eaten, and are commonly seen on restaurant menus. Fried bees, grasshoppers and bamboo worms are particularly popular, though not to everyone’s taste.
Oodles of noodles

Not all ingredients are so exotic. However some of the sauces are difficult to replicate. One sauce used in Yunnan cuisine is zhāotōng jiàng or zhāotōng sauce [昭通酱]. It consists of finely ground fried soy beans, salt, dried chili and spices including star anise, galangal, black cardamom, fennel and orange peel. One dish using this is Yúnnán zhá jiàng miàn [云南炸酱面] and consists of some noodles over which minced beef fried with zhāotōng sauce, ginger, soy sauce, sugar, salt & MSG is added.

Less difficult to make is Yúnnán lěng bǎn tiáo [云南冷板条] , a cold noodle dish consisting of flat rice noodles mixed with shredded cucumber, ground peanuts, chopped coriander and a simple soup consisting of water, ground pepper, chili powder, dark Chinese vinegar, peanut oil, soy sauce, and sugar.

However, one of the most famous of Yunnan noodle dishes is Mǐ Xiàn [米线] or rice noodles. The dish consists of fresh rice noodles served in a rich broth, often made with chicken, and topped with various condiments including chopped chilli, spring onion and soy sauce.

A famous variation is guòqiáo mǐxiàn [过桥米线] or “Crossing the Bridge Noodles”. Again the dish comprises of a rich soup to which fresh rice noodles are added. In addition a plate of other ingredients is served which may include raw vegetables, thin slices of ham, pickles, quails egg and tofu skin chives.

The name of the dish is said to have originated from many years ago when a housewife allegedly took a bowl of noodles to her husband on a long journey which is said to have involved the crossing of a bridge. However she found the long trek resulted in the noodles becoming too soft and the soup getting cold. Thus she devised the idea of creating a fatty soup whereby the fat on the top insulated the soup and prevented heat loss. Meanwhile she would carry the other ingredients including the noodles in another receptacle.

Pickles feature much in Yunnan cuisine and may be eaten by themselves or added to dishes. Old Grandmother’s Potato or lǎonǎi yángyù [老奶洋芋] is a simple and easy to prepare dish using just such an ingredient. The name is said to have been born out of the fact that the dish could even be eaten by toothless grandmothers!

It is in some ways the Chinese equivalent to bubble and squeak. Finely chopped pickled mustard greens are fried along with finely chopped spring onion and a few dried chilies before mashed potato is added.
Fish & meat

Being a landlocked province Yunnan is not known for its fish dishes, though there are a few that stand out. Whilst prawns, crayfish and eels may be spotted at markets, it is river fish that is in abundance.

A very popular dish is served up by the Dai ethnic minority. Xiāngmáocǎo kǎo yú [香茅草烤鱼] or fish grilled with lemon grass evokes tastes less of China but of Vietnam and the Laos, both countries with which Yunnan borders.

The gutted fish may stuffed with a mixture of chopped spring onion, ginger, garlic, green chilli, fresh coriander and salt.The fish is then wrapped and tied with lemongrass before being grilled over a charcoal fire.

While pork is popular in Yunnan, as in the rest of China, chicken is one of the most widely consumed meats. Perhaps the best known dish is "steam pot chicken" or qìguōjī [气锅鸡]. It consists of chicken steamed in a special earthenware pot with or without other herbs and spices.


Of course one cannot hope to cover every dish that Yunnan has to offer in a single article but we hope this has wetted your appetite. We’ll be back soon with a few recipes.

<![CDATA[Hong Shao Rou or red cooked pork]]>Thu, 17 Jul 2014 15:30:19 GMThttp://www.orientalskye.net/exploring-chinese-food/hong-shao-rou-or-red-cooked-pork
Hóng shāo ròu [红烧肉] or red cooked pork is probably one of the signature dishes in China after Peking Duck.

The simple and easy to prepare dish was said to be one of Mao Zedong’s favourites. Indeed it is sometimes referred to as "The Mao Family's red-braised pork." Mao loved it, and apparently insisted his Hunanese chefs cook it for him in Beijing.

It's a robust concoction, best eaten with plain steamed rice and simple stir-fried vegetables, but the sweet, aromatic chunks of meat are irresistible.

There are variations in terms of the spices used but the method is essentially the same. What you’ll need is a nice 500 gram piece of pork belly, some fresh ginger, spring onions, dark soy sauce, Shaoxing Chinese cooking wine and crystal sugar. As for the spices star anise is a must, though some cooks also add a piece of cinnamon stick and a couple of dried chillies.

To start, blanch the pork in hot water for a few minutes and then cut into cubes, leaving the fat and skin intact on each piece.

Heat some oil in a heavy pan or wok and fry the meat, stirring occasionally. Then add around half a litre of stock, a couple of spring onions cut into 3 cm lengths, a piece of crushed ginger, a star anise - and other spices if using, 2 tablespoons of Shaoxing wine or sherry, a tablespoon of dark soy, a little salt and about 3 tablespoons of sugar.

Bring to the boil and then reduce heat and simmer until nearly all the liquid has reduced.

The same method can of course be applied to many meats including rabbit, chicken and beef. Pork spare ribs may also be prepared this way, though they are often deep fried first.

<![CDATA[Stir Fried Pig's Liver - 白油肝片]]>Mon, 12 May 2014 12:23:27 GMThttp://www.orientalskye.net/exploring-chinese-food/stir-fried-pigs-liver
Offal is very popular in Chinese cuisine. Indeed many items that are discarded by westerners are highly prized in China. Brains, pig’s ears, intestines, hearts, kidneys, chicken or duck feet, pig’s trotters and duck heads may be marinated, stir fried and eaten as snacks or main dishes. In fact while such items are cheap in the West, in China these offcuts can be quite expensive.

As such, we in the West can take advantage by creating some cheap but delicious Chinese dishes. In a previous post we looked at the preparation of Fire Exploding Kidney Flowers [Huǒbào yāohuā, 火爆腰花], a classic Sichuan dish. Another similar dish may be prepared with pig’s liver.

Ingredients & preparation

Bái yóu gān piàn [白油肝片], literally white oil liver slices, is simple and easy to prepare. Thinly slice some liver and marinate in a little Chinese wine or sherry, a small pinch of salt and little cornflour.

Meanwhile soak some cloud ear mushrooms in hot water. Also known as black fungus, black Chinese fungus or mushroom, wood ear fungus, wood fungus, ear fungus, or tree ear fungus, an allusion to its rubbery ear-shaped growth, in Europe it is frequently confused as "Jew's ear fungi"  albeit they are very closely related. Indeed we get the name from the fact that Judas Iscariot hung himself from an elder tree on which the fungus is often found growing.

Both types of fungi will do but rather than foraging in forests you may find it easier to hunt out the dried fungi which are readily sold in Chinese or Asian stores.

After soaking the mushrooms, drain and cut into strips. Then slice some celery into julienne strips, chop a few pickled chilies and spring onions diagonally. Then slice some ginger and garlic.

For the sauce mix together a little salt and white pepper, about half a teaspoon each of sugar and cornflour, a teaspoon of Chinese wine or sherry, the same amount of light soy and sesame oil and about 2 tablespoons of stock.

Having prepared the ingredients, heat a wok with a few tablespoons of oil. Once hot add the slices of liver and stir fry until cooked through. Drain off most of the oil and add the dry ingredients. Stir well and finally add the sauce, cooking until it has thickened.

Finally turn out the dish onto a plate and serve with a bowl of steamed rice.

<![CDATA[Fire Exploding Kidneys - 火爆腰花]]>Fri, 02 May 2014 22:47:08 GMThttp://www.orientalskye.net/exploring-chinese-food/fire-exploding-kidneys
A very cheap, easily prepared but very tasty Sichuan dish is Hua Bao Yao Hua [火爆腰花] literally Fire Exploding Kidney Flowers. This Chinese dish is very popular and can be made very quickly.

As well as a couple of large pig kidneys you’ll need some spring onions, red peppers if desired, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, Chinese wine, white pepper and some pickled chilies.

Firstly slice the kidneys in half lengthways and carefully cut out and remove the hard white core. Lay the outside of the kidney halves face down and, with a very sharp knife, make cuts all the way across the meat both ways to produce a series of cuts somewhat like a chess board. Be careful not to cut all the way through. Then cut the prepared meat into squares. Place them in a bowl and marinate with a dash of Chinese wine or sherry, a pinch of salt and a little cornflour.

Next cut a few lengths of spring onion, some slices of red pepper if using, garlic, ginger and pickled chili.

Heat some oil until very hot and throw in the kidney squares. The meat should curl up due to the cut made in the meat. After the meat has turned pale and cooked through remove from the wok and place to one side.

Discard the oil and heat a little fresh oil plus a dash of sesame oil in a wok and add the spring onion, red pepper if using, garlic, ginger and pickled chilies. Stir fry and then add the kidney pieces. Add a dash of Chinese wine or sherry, a dash of light soy sauce and white pepper and stir. Finally add a little stock mixed with a little cornflour and reduce a little before turning out into a dish to serve.

Easy and best enjoyed with a bowl of steamed rice and a bottle of Tsingtao beer! 

If you enjoyed this you may also like Stir Fried Pig's Liver. Or why not check out the main page, Exploring Chinese Food, for even more recipes.