I have just finished cooking lunch: braised pork, potatoes and brown tofu; French beans stir fried with dried prawn sambal; both dishes served with steamed rice.
Home-cooked Chinese food is my favourite kind of food. I try to reproduce the dishes my mother used to cook for us, but my efforts pale in comparison.
Here is a short paragraph from Shanghai Redemption, one of Qiu Xiaolong’s Inspector Chen mysteries. The books are full of descriptions of the the Inspector’s meals. He is a foodie and enjoys gourmet cuisine as well as simple hawker fare. The following excerpts describe a meal prepared by Peiqin, the wife of his partner Detective Yu:
Pouring a small cup of sesame oil into the wok, she started on the three-cup chicken by frying the chopped chicken. As it fried, she set up a cup of yellow rice wine, a cup of soy sauce, and a pinch of fresh basil on the kitchen counter.
‘A penny for your thoughts,’ Peiqin said, slicing the thousand-year egg with a thread for a cold dish. Another cold dish – tofu mixed with sesame oil and green onion – would be prepared once the guest arrived.
When Old Hunter finally appeared, the table was set with dainty cold dishes and tiny porcelain cups. Yu poured a cup of tea for him. Peiqin hurried to the stove, lifting the wok lid, adding a handful of chopped green onion and then drops of sesame oil to the slightly browned chicken.
‘The three-cup chicken smells irresistible,’ Old Hunter said as Peiqin opened a bottle of yellow rice wine.
‘But he knows that Yu is a friend of Chen?’ Peiqin cut in, pouring more wine for Old Hunter.
There was no answer to that. Old Hunter stared at a slice of the thousand-year egg, which was shining darkly, like a mystery covered in minced golden ginger.
I don’t eat preserved egg, but the descriptions above make it sound delicious, just as Elizabeth David’s descriptions of mayonnaise make me salivate although I dislike the taste of that dressing.
I have made my own version of three-cup chicken, inspired by the descriptions in Qiu’s novel, but I don’t know if my dish tastes as it should. Then again I think every family’s recipe is slightly different.
This link is to one of the many recipes you can find online. Like most recipes, you should try it out and then tweak it to suit your tastes. I like more ginger and rice wine in my three-cup chicken than the amounts listed in most of the online recipes. Still, I love my mother’s three-cup chicken best.