Stir-Fried Beef with Century Eggs

This interesting dish combines century eggs with sliced beef in a stir fry that is perfectly suitable as a main dish, or as one of many dishes in a multicourse Chinese meal. Most of the flavor in the dish comes from a brief marinade of the beef in mushroom-flavored soy sauce, sesame oil and Shaoxing – a type of rice wine. This is accented by the lightly cooked sliced ginger to produce a fantastic combination of savory, salty, and lightly spicy dish.

The pidan add a gentle, but piquant flavor to the recipe that works extremely well with the sliced beef. Once again, the strong flavor of the eggs is tamed by the other flavors of the recipe to produce a uniquely flavored dish suitable for many meals.

Stir-Fried Beef with Century Eggs

Stir-Fried Beef with Century Eggs

Stir-Fried Beef and Century Eggs

Ingredients
¾ – 1 pound sirloin beef, thinly sliced (¼ inch thick or less) *
3 teaspoons mushroom-flavored soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 teaspoons Shaoxing
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
4-5 thousand-year eggs, cut into eighths (coarsely chopped)
2 x 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
2-3 teaspoons sesame seeds, lightly roasted (for garnish)

Method
In a small bowl, mix mushroom soy, rice wine, and sesame oil. Add the beef strips and set aside for about 30 minutes to marinate.

Heat vegetable oil in a wok and when oil just starts to smoke add the meat mixture and marinade and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes. Then add 1000-year eggs and stir-fry another half minute before adding the ginger. Stir well for another minute, plate, add sesame seeds, and serve.

* To easily make thin, neat slices of beef, place meat in the freezer for about 1/2 hour before slicing.

Variations: This recipe works well with salted eggs, or a combination of pidan and salted eggs. For a Taiwanese twist, use a few iron eggs in place of some pidan, or mix all three egg types for a really interesting dish. A lighter soy can also be used instead of the thicker, mushroom soy. Other rice wines can also be substituted, but the flavor will not be the same as that brought by Shaoxing.
______

Once again, this is a recipe that is a must try for those a bit shy to the flavor of Century Eggs, because it is a dish that uses, but at the same time, mutes the strong flavor of the eggs. And with a total of 3-4 minutes of cooking and perhaps 15 minutes of prep, what’s not to love about this dish! (Words and photographs by Laura Kelley.)

1000-Year Eggs with Bitter Melon

This recipe takes two unusually flavored foods and combines them in a cold salad or appetizer in a way that makes them delicious. For those of you not familiar with bitter melon, it really is naturally quite bitter. So much as to make your mouth pucker and to wonder why humans began eating this food in the first place. That said, cooks generally make it less bitter by blanching it in boiling water at least once before stir frying or sautéing it with other ingredients. This recipe simply blanches it twice (in two changes of water) and then combines it with the pidan, and a thick, flavorful dressing of sesame paste, soy sauce, strong tea and hoisin sauce or broad-bean paste. The only optional seasoning is a bit of ground white pepper and salt. This combination is then chilled for about an hour and the dish is served chilled or cold, according to one’s tastes.

1000-Year Eggs with Bitter Melon

1000-Year Eggs with Bitter Melon

The sesame gives an earthy flavor to the bitter melon (which is only a little bit bitter after blanching) and the soy provides a bit of salt a lot of savoriness to bring together the bitter melon and the pungent pidan. Within the hoisin is a bit of garlic and vinegar as well as toasted soybeans to work with the sesame paste to make a rich, delicious dressing. As noted above, broad-bean paste can be used in place of hoisin, it all just depends upon what ingredients you have on hand or which flavors move you the most. With no further ado, the recipe:

1000-Year Eggs with Bitter Melon

Ingredients
2 medium bitter melons, pith and seeds removed
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
3 teaspoons light soy sauce
3 teaspoons sesame paste
1 tablespoon hot, strong tea
3, 1000-Year Eggs
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, lightly roasted
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper (or to taste) (optional)
¼ teaspoon of salt (or to taste) (optional)

Method
Heat water in two large saucepans for blanching the bitter melon. (Alternatively one can blanch in two changes of water and cool the melon in between by rinsing with cold water). Cut the bitter melon into thin strips (between one-quarter and one-half inch) crosswise. When water has boiled, place the bitter melon slices in the water, cover and return to a boil. Cook for about 3 -4 minutes.

If using the two pot method, after 3-4 minutes has elapsed, transfer the slices to the second pot of boiling water with a slotted spoon or small metal sieve. Cook for another 3 minutes in the second pot and then drain and rinse under cold water. If using the one-pot method, drain the slices into a colander after the first blanching, and rinse with cold water. Refill the pot and return to the stove. Cover and boil water. When water has boiled, blanch the bitter melon slices for a second time, for about 3-4 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water.

Peel 1000-Year eggs, roughly dice, and set aside.

In a small bowl or cup, mix hoisin sauce, soy sauce, sesame paste and hot tea until well combined. Pour over bitter melon slices and mix well. If using, add white pepper and salt. Then add duck eggs and stir well once again. Refrigerate covered for an hour. Plate and garnish with sesame seeds just before serving.

Variations: Works well with broad-bean paste in place of the hoisin sauce. Also, salted eggs can be used in place of 1000-Year Eggs. One can also, easily omit the pepper for an earthy, sesame-scented salad.
_____

This is a great dish for a hot summer’s day. I like to serve it chilled, but not cold to allow the flavors to really shine. It does need to be eaten fairly quickly after being chilled, especially if using white pepper, because this will come to dominate the dish as the eggs and vegetables sit in the dressing.

About Bitter Melon
Bitter melon comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are several small cultivars in South Asia that are small – usually no larger than about 6 or 7 inches long, and that have highly wrinkled skin. These come in varying shades of green, from white to a light lime color, to a deep, almost forest green. The cultivar from China tends to be a light green in color, is much larger than the South Asian cultivars (it can be more than 1 foot long) and has a gently undulating, warty surface. For this recipe, I used two medium Chinese cultivars.

South Asian (l.) and Chinese Bitter Melon Cultivars

South Asian (l.) and Chinese Bitter Melon Cultivars

For most Chinese or Taiwanese dishes, one slices the bitter melon lengthwise, removes the pith and the seeds and prepares the green rind with the firmly attached hard, white inner skin on the underside. In addition to coupling bitter melon with 1000-Year Eggs, many recipes cook it with pork, or douchi (fermented black beans). The melons are also used in herbal teas and as a bittering agent for some beers in China and Japan.

One of the many interesting things about bitter melon is that is rich in substances such as charantin, visine, and polypeptide-p that function as insulin-analogs, and it is used as treatment for type-2 diabetes in several forms of traditional medicine. Recent scientific studies, however, are divided as to whether there is a glucose-lowering effect with regular ingestion. Some studies, like the one in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in January 2011 and in the March 2008 issue of Chemistry and Biology found that it significantly lowered blood-glucose levels or increased cellular uptake of glucose (same thing, but two different measurements), while other, earlier studies, showed little positive effect of eating bitter melon.

This is potentially good news that another diet-based treatment option for diabetes may be on the way for some. However, it should serve as a note of caution to those with insulin-dependent diabetes, who should be mindful of eating too-much bitter melon on a regular basis, so that they don’t over-control their illness and induce hypoglycemia. That said, however, an intermittent serving or two will not hurt.

Bitter melon is also high in minerals such as calcium, potassium and magnesium. So, this dish is interesting, delicious, and good for you too! (Words and recipe by Laura Kelley, Photograph of 1000-Year Eggs with Bitter Melon by Laura Kelley; Photographs of South Asian and Chinese Bitter Melon Cultivars from Wikipedia.)

Eggs with Shrimp and Pidan

One of the agreeable and delicious ways to enjoy pidan is with eggs. Some recipes use pidan along with salted eggs or salted egg yolks with or without fresh chicken or duck eggs to make custards or other egg dishes. This recipe, however, couples pidan with regular chicken or duck eggs and a bit of shrimp and spring onions for a tasty and mild dish. The set scrambled eggs or omelet made here is finished by slicing it into thin strips and eating the eggs along with rice or noodles as part of a light or multi-course meal.

Eggs with Shrimp and Pidan

Eggs with Shrimp and Pidan (unsliced)

It can be served with a variety of condiments, from soy sauce to chili oil, pickled ginger, or roasted sesame seeds to allow diners to customize the flavor of the dish to their liking. It also makes a great breakfast or brunch dish that will satisfy a wide variety of family and friends.

Eggs with Shrimp and Pidan

Ingredients
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
5 -7 medium shrimp, shelled, deveined, and minced
5 chicken or duck eggs
¼ -½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper (white or black)
3 spring onions, minced
1 1000-Year Egg, peeled, rinsed, and coarsely diced

Method
Beat eggs until frothy and beginning to lighten in color. Add salt and pepper, and beat again until well mixed. Add about half of the spring onion pieces and mix in well.

Heat oil in a sauté pan; add shrimp and sauté for one minute. Then remove and set aside in a small bowl.

Reheat sauté pan over medium heat, add beaten egg mixture and when it begins to harden, add the shrimp and the 1000-year eggs. At this point one can scramble the eggs lightly and then let them set into a single solid mass, or one can cook the eggs more like an omelet. If using the omelet method, use a fork or small spatula to pull the eggs away from the side of the pan and then tilt the pan to let the raw egg flow into the gap made with the spatula. Continue until most of the eggs have set. If desired, place under a preheated broiler for a few minutes to firm up the eggs in the center of the pan.

When done remove from heat and loosen the eggs from the pan with a small spatula. When loose, turn out onto a serving plate and garnish with the remaining spring onions. Cut into thin strips and serve with rice and condiments such as soy sauce, chili oil, pickled ginger, and roasted sesame seeds.
_____

For those of you curious about 1000-Year Eggs, but still a bit wary, this dish is for you, because the shrimp and eggs complement the pidan nicely and make the flavor of the eggs very mild. (Words and photo by Laura Kelley).

Sliced Peppers with Century Eggs

This is another appetizer or salad presentation of 1000-year eggs. One of the interesting things about this dish is that it can be served hot with the peppers and other vegetables fresh from the wok. Alternatively, you can let it cool for 10-15 minutes for a dish that is only slightly warm. I don’t recommend letting it sit too long though, for risk of the dressing overpowering the rest of the ingredients.

Sliced Peppers with Century Eggs

Sliced Peppers with Century Eggs

The other interesting thing is that is uses cilantro for flavor instead of spring onions which gives it a lighter, brighter flavor that works very well with both the bell peppers and the pidan.

Although the ingredients for the dressing are similar to those used in the Cold Tofu with Pidan dish, the proportions are different. Here the black vinegar figures more prominently because there is more of it and it is not complemented by sugar, except that from the vegetables themselves. There is also less soy sauce so, once again the herbs and vegetables shine brightly, and without too much salt.

If you are one of those folks who don’t like cilantro, feel free to use spring onions instead. But, I caution you that you are missing out on a great set of flavors here, and one that is a bit unusual as Chinese dishes go.

The Century eggs themselves provide a savory base to the dish and also lend a pungent bite of flavor when you get a piece of a yolk in a mouthful.

Sliced Peppers with Century Eggs

Ingredients
Salad
2, 1000-year eggs
1 small-to-medium bunch of cilantro, minced
2 teaspoons peanut or sunflower-seed oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1 half red bell pepper, sliced
1 red chili pepper, minced (optional, but good)

Dressing
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons black vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 -3 teaspoons sesame seeds, lightly roasted

Method
Place a thin layer of minced cilantro at the bottom of the serving bowl or plate to provide a surface for the eggs to sit on so that they don’t slide around after the dressing is poured. Cut each egg into four or six or eight slices and put in serving plate or bowl. Place the rest of the minced cilantro on top of the eggs – reserving just enough to garnish the finished dish.

In a small cup or bowl mix the ingredients for the dressing together until well blended.

Heat the oil in a wok and stir fry the minced garlic for about 1 minute. Add the sliced peppers, cover and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently until the peppers begin to soften.

Place the cooked peppers on top of the cilantro and eggs. Pour in soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil, garnish with remaining cilantro and the roasted sesame seeds and serve.

_____

Again, stay tuned here for more ways to make Century eggs. I’m going to try to post a new recipe every day or two, before moving on to other Silk Road topics. (Words, recipe and photos by Laura Kelley).

Cold Tofu with Pidan

One of my favorite ways to enjoy 1000-year eggs is as part of a cold-tofu salad.  This presentation of pidan is enjoyed all over China this way as well as in Taiwan, Japan and Korea.  It is served as an appetizer or as part of a meal with many dishes eaten at the same time.  For western cooks, it is simple to make, exotic, nutritious (full of protein) and welcomes an endless array of variations to suit almost any taste.  It also works well as a snack or a light meal

The secret to this fabulous dish is in the dressing.  It is salty, savory, sour and a bit sweet all at the same time.

Cold Tofu with Pidan

Cold Tofu with Pidan

It can be served as a mixed melee as I have done in the photo above, or it can be served Japanese style, like a hiyayakko, where each ingredient is placed separately on a platter and diners can pick only those ingredients that they want.

Cold Tofu with Pidan

Ingredients
Salad
8-10 ounces of silken tofu
2 1000-year eggs
1-2 tablespoons shredded bonito
1 large spring onion, minced
1/3 cucumber, peeled and minced (or cut into a small dice)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1 red chili pepper (optional, but good)

Dressing
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon black vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar (I use demerara)
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Method
Place the tofu in a serving dish or bowl and slice into cubes; keep the cubes together in a single unit.  Quarter one of the 1000-year eggs and place around the base of the tofu.  Roughly chop the second pidan and set aside.  Place shredded bonito on top of the tofu, then place the roughly chopped pidan on top of the bonito.

In a small bowl mix together the spring onion, cucumber, garlic, ginger and chili pepper.  When well mixed, place on top of the tofu and other ingredients.  In a small cup or bowl combine the ingredients for the dressing and mix until blended. Pour dressing over tofu and serve immediately.

Variations:  This dish is really flexible and can be easily changed to suit your tastes.  You can substitute pork floss for bonito, or omit the meat flavors altogether for a dish more suitable for vegetarians.  If you enjoy the flavor wallop of Chinese pickled mustard, add a tablespoon to the vegetable mix. If you don’t like the sometimes overpowering flavor of sesame oil – use less, or omit completely.  If you prefer it more sour use only black vinegar.

_____

Over the next week or two, I hope to post a bunch of recipes for pidan from around Asia. Check back soon for more great food! (Words, recipe, and photos by Laura Kelley).

Cool as Cucumber Kimchi

With temperatures warming up again and summer on its way.  Cucumber kimchi is a wonderful, light recipe for picnics, snacks and light meals.  Easy to make, unlike many kimchi recipes, cucumbers can be enjoyed right after preparation, or it can be allowed to ferment for a short period before eating it.  Read To learn more about kimchi, and also find a great recipe for cucumber kimchi, click HERE for my recent article in Zester Daily.

Zester - Kimchi

 

Homemade 1000-Year Eggs Unveiled

We harvested the 1000-year eggs and are finally getting around to preparing and eating some of the crop.  The color is right, and a few of them have the pine-patterning that their CHinese name suggests on their dark, amber-colored flesh.  They taste good, but are MUCH milder than some of the Pidan I’ve had in China.  They are also missing the strong ammonia-like scent that accompanies some commercial century eggs I’ve had.

For those of you who are just tuning in to this culinary adventure of mine, check out this post to see how the eggs were transformed.  This is how they looked the morning I harvested them:

Freshly Harvest 1000-Year Eggs

Freshly Harvest 1000-Year Eggs

They didn’t look particularly appetizing at this stage.  But swim on, I told myself, the results will be worth it.  I cleaned them using a bit of water and some elbow grease, but I had to be very gentle so as to not crack the shells.  The shells are rather delicate by the end of the process, because they have been permeated by the chemical brew of tea, salt, ash and lime.

Closeup of Freshly Harvested Eggs

Closeup of Freshly Harvested Eggs

Some of the shells had a bluish tinge to them and some of them were a mottled off-white as shown above.  When the first crack revealed a solid amber flesh, I was overjoyed!  All of the eggs were transformed, but some were a bit runny in their forest-green centers.  After cleaning, I let them dry completely and then placed them in the refrigerator until I could prepare them.  I was very pleased with the results:

1000-Year Eggs with Pickled Ginger and Soy

1000-Year Eggs with Pickled Ginger and Soy

This is one of the most common ways to serve them – simply as a snack, or appetizer, or part of a large collection of dishes that might also include pickled diakon radish and pickled carrots, some sliced abalone or some and barbequed pork.  The presentation pictured here is most like the Cantonese way of eating the eggs – simply wrapped in slices of pickled ginger.  Elsewhere around China and Taiwan people enjoy them with tofu or as a flavoring to omelets made with fresh eggs.

My eggs were creamy but still a bit sharp, sort of like the sharpness of a very pungent cheese.  So don’t blindly believe all of the macho videos out there that show nervous boys choking them down.  The flavor is strong, but enjoyable.  In the preparation I made, the ginger works nicely to modulate the flavor of the eggs, and the soy dipping sauce is completely optional in my personal opinion.

Other ways to prepare them that I am set to explore soon include using them to flavor a congee (rice porridge) along with bits of pork (皮蛋瘦肉粥), and perhaps one of the recipes with chilled tofu – so stay tuned for more 1000-year eggs. (All words and photos by Laura Kelley.)

A 17th C. Frittata with Chili Peppers

Described by the Spanish in 1492 during the first Columbian voyage to the New World, chili peppers took the Old World by storm.  Brought by the Portuguese to their colonies in Africa and India by the end of the 15th Century, chilies were so eagerly adopted by the indigenous peoples of these regions that they became widespread naturalized crops within a couple of decades.

Habanero Chilies

Habanero Chilies

After that, chili peppers were embraced by the Indonesians by the late 1520s and 1530s and in China and Japan by the 1540s.

Interestingly, the adoption of chilies within Europe itself was somewhat slower, with the first real scientific description being made in the 1540s by Fuchs, and the earliest published recipes only appearing in the 17th Century.

While I was working with the early East Indian curry recipe in Domingos Rodrigues’ Arte de Cozhina (1680), I stumbled upon some of these early European chili recipes.  Although I am still translating and developing these recipes, I found a real gem of a dish that I’d like to share with you: a delicious 17th Century Portuguese “frittata” with lamb and spices that also packs a wallop of heat because of the chilies it contains.
_____
The original recipe reads:
Pasteis de perna de Carneiro

Metase em uma panela uno perna de Carneiro, meyo arratel de toucinho, duas onças de manteiga, duas cebolas, um golpe de vinagre, adubos inteiro, e uma capelle de todos os cheiro, e pan-se a cozer em agua pouca ; estando jà o Carneiro mais de meyo cozido, tirese fóra, e piquese a parte todo o Carneiro ; e logo em outra parte piquemse os cheiro, e em uma tigela baixa, untada de manteiga se vàpondo cama de Carneiro, cama de toucinho : deitemse logo por cima meya duzia de ovos batidos, e pan-se a córar em lume brando.

Feito isto, façable de fóra parte umas sopas da dita substancia, e depois que estiverem muy aboboradas, virese a tigella, em que se fizerem, sobre o prato, equebrese a tigela, para que a sopa fique inteira ; sobre ella se porà o pastel, e lançindolhe por cima çumo de limaõ, mandesa à mesa.

Tambem se faz de lombos, e vitela, ou da carne que quizerem.
_____

My liberal and functional translation of this is:

Frittata with Lamb

Place a leg of lamb in a pan with the lard from one pound of bacon, two ounces of butter, two onions, a stroke of vinegar, and whole spices.  Separately, place the chili peppers to cook in a little water.

When most of the fat has evaporated, take the lamb from the pan and remove the meat from the bone. Chop up the hot peppers and mix them with the meat.

In a shallow bowl, greased with butter, place the chopped lamb [and peppers]. Above this lay down a double layer of bacon.  Pour a dozen beaten eggs over this and place in the oven until golden brown but still soft.

This done, now it is time to turn the eggs out of the pan.  Place flatbread on top of the pan and cover this with a plate.  Turn the pan with the eggs over so that the eggs come out in one piece.  Pour lemon juice over the dish and send it to the table.

Also can be made with veal or beef tenderloin.

Lamb Frittata with Chili Peppers

Lamb Frittata with Chili Peppers

Written in modern form, the recipe looks like this:

Lamb Frittata with Chili Peppers

2 pounds of lamb cut from the leg, trimmed into bite-size pieces
fat from 1 pound of bacon
4 tablespoons sweet butter, plus a bit more to grease the pie dish
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1.5 tablespoons coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
1-2 tablespoons malt vinegar
3-4 dried Habanero peppers (more or less to taste)
6 eggs, whisked until frothy
juice of half a lemon
chopped cilantro for garnish

Dry roast or pan fry the whole spices until lightly colored and set aside to cool. Crack or coarsely grind the roasted spices. Melt the bacon fat and butter over high heat in a large sauté pan and add the lamb, stirring often as the meat colors and cooks. When the lamb starts to brown, remove it from the pan and set aside.

Lower the heat to medium and add the roasted spices. Add the cayenne (if using) and the turmeric, and stir well. Add the sliced onion, stir, lower heat again, and cover to cook for 5-8 minutes. Add the malt vinegar, stir well, and add the lamb back into the pan. Mix well and allow the lamb to cook over medium or medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes until it starts to become tender.

Heat some water to boil in a small sauté pan. Remove from heat and drop the chili peppers into the hot water. Let chilies soak for a minute or two and remove from the pan to drain. Mince chilies, but do not remove the seeds or placenta. Habaneros are powerful little gems and you may wish to wear gloves to handle them. When done, wash hands well with soap and water. Add the chilies to the lamb and onion mixture and mix well. When the lamb is tender, remove from the heat.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a deep-dish pie pan with butter (I used a ceramic pan) and add the lamb and onion mixture. Add the frothed eggs and make sure the eggs envelop the lamb. When oven is hot, place the egg pan into the oven and bake for about 8-10 minutes or until the eggs are firm and colored golden-brown. Remove pan from oven and rest for a few minutes.

Run a knife gently around the edge of the pan to loosen the eggs and place an 8-10 inch piece of flatbread (I used commercial, Indian naan) on top of the eggs. Place a serving plate on top of the flatbread and invert to remove the eggs from the pan. Sprinkle lemon juice over the eggs, garnish with cilantro and serve. Serve with slices of lemon on the table for diners to add if desired.
_____

The dish itself is more like an Apician patella or an Iranian kuku than like any other modern dish called a “pasteis” which range from codfish cakes to egg-custard desserts, so I feel that it is acceptable to call it a frittata.

About the chilies. The peppers in the recipe are called pimento de cheiro, or aromatic chilies, which Rodrigues abbreviates to chieros. The genus and species that this represents is Capiscum chinense. Generally speaking as a family, these chilies are known as the Chinese lantern chilies and they are the hottest chilies in the world. Varieties include, the Bhut Jolokia, the Hainan Yellow Lantern, the now infamous Trinidad Scorpion, and the easy to find Habenero chili. For this recipe I used the Habanero, for the ease in acquisition, the ability to control the heat in the recipe, and the assumption that chili peppers in the 17th Century were generally more like the Habanero and less like the Trinidad Scorpion with its 2.5 million Scovilles of heat.

As to how I dealt with the “whole spices” direction? This time I didn’t do original research as I did with the curry spices, I started by using a recipe from a modern edition of Arte de Cozhina that includes a few developed recipes that I found on the internet. It looked like an interesting spice mix, but it unfortunately had no context on how or why the spices were chosen. Nevertheless, I tried it, and it was delicious.

I adapted the recipe a bit by chopping the lamb off the bone before cooking, by reducing the number of eggs by half, and by omitting the bacon, because, although I like the flavor, I often find it overpowering. Even with the adaptations, this is still a rich and savory historical dish that may surprise your family and friends with its unusual combinations of flavors. These choices made may result in a spicier dish than the original, because the meat is taken off the bone before it is sautéed, but it really is quite good this way. I was a bit suspicious about the use of lemon juice on the eggs, but in the end, I found that it worked wonderfully.

There are several other recipes in Arte de Cozhina using different types of chili peppers, If those yield dishes as savory and delicious as this one, I will be sure to let you know. Till then, tuck into this great recipe and imagine what might have been like to be a Portuguese sailor or trader in the in the 17th Century . . . experiencing strange and wonderful foreign cultures along the remnants of the Maritime Silk Road. (Words, recipe translation and development by Laura Kelley, Photo of Habanero Chili Peppers from Wikimedia, and Photo of the Lamb Frittata with Chili Peppers by Laura Kelley).

Indian Curry Through Foreign Eyes #3: Domingos Rodrigues

Arte de Cozhina

Arte de Cozinha

Take a step back in time from the English (Hannah Glasse) and American (Mary Randolph) versions of Indian curry that we have examined and explore a 17th Century Portuguese version of a Goan fish curry. The recipe comes from Arte de Cozinha by Domingos Rodrigues and was first published in Lisbon in 1680.

Rodrigues was a cook for the royal household of Portugal who lived from 1637 to 1719, and Arte de Cozhina was the first important cookbook published in Portuguese and was reprinted many times since its initial publication. My copy is a facsimile of the 1732 edition, but I checked the curry recipe against versions on the internet from 1680 and there is no change between the editions.

The recipe was written a full hundred years before Glasse’s curry and it is indeed a very different dish. For starters, this curry is really just a robust sauce or relish to be spooned over poached fish or meat that sit atop salted rice. It is not fish or meat cooked in lots of sauce until tender that is then eaten with plain or flavored rice. It also calls for a large amount of rice. In short, the proportion of meat, sauce and rice in Rodrigues’ curry are different from many curries today. Certainly this is true for those eaten in the west or in those served in international restaurants. However, “curry” as a sauce for rice with only a bit of meat or vegetable is commonly eaten in modern home meals and also in food market stalls on the subcontinent and in the Indo Pacific.

The original recipe reads:

Caril para qualquer peixe

Afogadas duas cebolas bem picadas em uma quarta de manteiga de vaca, deitem-lhe uns poucos de camaroes, ou amêijoas, com o leite de uma quarta de amêndoas e, cozendo-se tudo até que fique um tanto grosso, tempere-se de adubos. Feito isto, coza-se meio arrátel de arroz em água e sal, ponha-se no prato e, sobre ele, algumas postas de peixe que quiserem, cozidas em água, e deite-se por cima o caril. Deste modo se faz também caril para carne, mas nao leva marisco.

A liberal and functional translation of this is:

Curry for any fish

Sauté two minced onions in one fourth of unsalted cow’s butter. Add a few shrimp or clams along with the milk from one fourth of almonds and cook until the sauce has reduced a bit. Season with spices. Cook a half pound of rice in salted water. When the rice is done put it on a plate. On top of the rice place some poached fish and spoon or pour the sauce over the fish and rice. Works well with meat, but not for seafood.

Written in a modern form, the recipe looks like this. (Please note that I made some changes to the original recipe, such as reducing the amount of butter and almond milk used. Other choices are discussed below.)

Domingos Rodrigues’ Fish Curry

Ingredients
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 large yellow onions, minced
10 shrimp, peeled, deveined and diced
1 -1½ cups unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons black peppercorns, lightly crushed
2 green or finger-hot chilies, chopped
1-3 teaspoons malt vinegar

Masala
6-7 dry red chilis (Kashmiri are best)
3 tablespoons coriander seed
3 teaspoons cumin seed
2-inch piece of ginger, chopped
8-10 cloves of garlic
2-4 tablespoons finely ground coconut
2 ½ teaspoons tamarind concentrate
Water as needed to make a paste

Fish Poach
2-3 mild fish: croaker, pomfret, or cod
Water in medium-to-large sauté pan to cover fish
½ teaspoon salt
½ onion, peeled, sliced and separated into crescents
1-2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon whole, black peppercorns

Method
Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. When butter is melted and warmed, add onion and sauté until they start to become translucent. Add the diced shrimp or clams and stir well. When the shrimp have colored and cooked, add the almond milk and stir well.

As the curry sauce warms, prepare the masala. You will need to stir the curry sauce from time to time as you prepare the masala. Individually dry roast the chili peppers, coriander seeds and cumin seeds and set aside. Put all of the ingredients of the masala into a blender (you can pound it if you really want to), and add about 1/4 cup of water to start. Grind until you have a smooth paste, adding water in small amounts as needed for consistency.

Prepare the rice (I used basmati) in salted water any way you wish. Pour enough water in a large sauté pan to cover the fish, but do not yet place the fish in the water. Season the water with salt, onions, white vinegar and peppercorns, cover, and bring water to a boil.

Add the masala paste to the curry sauce and stir well. Cook over medium-low heat for at least 15 minutes to integrate the spices into the sauce. When garlic and spices are cooked, finish the sauce with a bit of salt, peppercorns, diced green chili peppers and malt vinegar.

When the poaching water has boiled, uncover and reduce heat. Slide the fish steaks into the water, cover and reheat to a medium-to-high simmer. Do not boil. Cook fish for 5-8 minutes (less is better) and when done, remove from sauté pan to drain before setting atop the rice. When sauce is done, spoon over fish and rice in the amount desired. Tuck in for a delicious dish.

_________

A Curry for any Fish from Arte de Cozinha

A Curry for any Fish from Arte de Cozinha

__________

As you can see, there is a great deal of room for creativity on the part of the cook and variation in the dish with the direction from the original recipe which reads, “season with spices”. To determine which spices to use, I consulted some modern Goan recipes for fish curry and constructed a recipe based on these. Of course, by 1680, the Portuguese had extended their presence in India beyond the Malabar Coast to Sri Lanka and up to Bengal in the northeast, but I chose to construct the curry based on Goan recipes simply because that was the “capital” of the Portuguese trading empire on the subcontinent, and the cuisine still bears the mark of their colonization.

Another thing that figured into the choice of Goan spices was the description of Goan curried fish by 16th Century Dutch traveler Jan Huyghen van Linschoten. Huyghen, who was Secretary to the Archbishop of Goa from 1583 – 1589, wrote: “Most of their fish is eaten with rice, which they seeth in broth, which they put upon the rice, and is somewhat sour, as if it were sodden in gooseberries, or unripe grapes, but it tasteth well, and is called Carriel, which is their daily meat.”

With this description, I felt good about using a lot of tamarind for sourness, and also decided to prepare the water that the fish is poached in slightly, as Huyghen calls it a “broth”. Many historical recipes do not mention doing this, but most cooks do it. It is one of those unspoken directions that can subtly change the flavor of a dish. My additions were simple. I just added a bit of white vinegar in the water to help maintain the consistency of the fish, some cracked peppercorns and a few slices of onion.

I felt justified in using lots of chili peppers, as these had been eagerly adopted from the Portuguese by the Goans and Kanarese in the very early 16th Century. By the time Rodrigues was writing, chilies had long been naturalized on the subcontinent. I did omit the tomatoes found in many modern Goan curries, because this fruit was not embraced by the Indians until the mid 19th-to-early 20th Century.

Coconut can be found in most modern Goan curries as part of the masala, but it is also mentioned in the 1563 edition of, Conversations on the Simples, Drugs and Medicinal Substances of India, by the Portuguese physician living in Goa, Garcia de Orta. Orta wrote, “With this Coquo pounded they make a sort of milk, and cook rice with it, and it is like rice boiled in goat’s milk. They make dishes with it of birds and meat, which they call Caril.”

Map of the World, 1510

Map of the World, 1510

The choice of fish was a bit challenging. I initially cooked this dish with mackerel, but found the strong flavor of the fish to pull against the spicy, sour flavor of the curry sauce. The second time I tried the dish, I went with a milder fish called an Atlantic croaker (Micropogonias undulatus). The fish were caught locally and were very fresh when cooked, which was a positive factor in my decision-making process. The croaker worked well with the curry, and I recommend it or any other mild fish with this recipe.

A word about measurement. The original recipe uses the measurement, “one fourth” for butter and the amount of almonds used to make almond milk. I based the amount I used for each on the quartillo – the measurement used in many contemporaneous Spanish, Portuguese and Mexican recipes. The quartillo is equal to one pint. I couldn’t bring myself to use 1 pound of butter and so reduced this by half. Its possible that the “one fourth” refers to one quarter of a pound instead of the quartillo. It is difficult to tell.

Lastly, I found the use of almond milk interesting, and wonder if that was not Rodrigues substitution in lieu of coconut milk, which Garcia de Orta noted was of, “poor quality” in the Portuguese homeland.

Other interpretations of this dish are clearly possible given the great latitude for seasoning that Rodrigues’ recipe offers. I made my choices and was clear about why I made them, but recognize that other permutations are possible. The recipe as written is a mixture of hot, spicy and sour which works well with fish. There are titles of other curries in Arte de Cozhina – a Flounder Curry and a Lamb Curry. Alas these are just titles without ANY ingredients or method and like ideal forms will remain just out of reach.

I hope you enjoy these “Through Foreign Eyes” historical curry recipes. I enjoy researching, cooking, and writing about them because they allow one to travel in both space AND time. For example, given Rodrigues’ position as royal cook, this dish could have been served at a royal banquet. Close your eyes and you can hear the light clink of the silver and quiet conversations as the lords and ladies enjoy their special meal. (Words, translation and interpretation of historical recipe, and photographs by Laura Kelley. Special thanks to Adam B. for pointing out this recipe to me.  Thanks to Rachael L. for information about the quartillo.)

N.B. You can purchase almond milk in most supermarkets, but If you would like to make your own it is very simple to do. Place peeled almonds and water in a 1:2 ratio (i.e. 1 cup almonds, 2 cups water) in a bowl and soak at least overnight. The longer the almonds soak, the less gritty the resulting almond milk will be. When almonds are done soaking, strain them and discard the soaking water. Add new water in the same 1:2 nuts-to-water proportion and blend until smooth. For additional smoothness strain through a fine sieve or moist cheesecloth and refrigerate until needed.