Little Cooking Saint – 0055 – Squirrel Fish (b)

Little Cooking Saint – 0055 – Squirrel Fish (b)

Chapter 55 Squirrel Fish (b)

Translated by Gumihou

Edited by Gumihou

 

Shiyu bought one portion and ate it on the go. Night markets were always fun, and she was middle-class enough to enjoy it properly. Who wants to hang out at a glittery trash pit with all those nobles anyway?

While she was eating sub-par Sashimi, San Pang suddenly appeared on her shoulder and demanded a nibble.

She obliged, watching the Radish Demon gulping down the single piece of Sashimi before pretending gag before fainting dead away. Humph, this little fellow was clearly spoilt from her food and became picky. Shiyu ignored his dramatics, intending to enjoy the atmosphere. Although the Sashimi was not particularly tasty, the smoky air, the crowded streets and the glow of lamplights were more than sufficient to make her food taste good.

After stuffing the last of the Sashimi to her mouth, she found herself stopping before a noodle stall. There was a space next to the noodle vendor. A sudden impulse overcame her and she walked over to the empty space. After bidding the noodle stall owner a good evening, she took out a stove from her space ring and began to set up shop under the eyes of the surprised man.

Once everything had been set up to her liking, San Pang hopped excitedly on the table. “Are you making a new thing? It’s a new thing isn’t it?”

The Fat Cat had also appeared and was currently lolling lazily on the edge of the table.

Shiyu flicked San Pang on the head, “You just wait and eat what I give you, ba!”

As the people on the streets continued to pass her by, a certain kind of anonymity could be felt. The bright lantern lights cast a halo around Shiyu’s choice of stage. The old man, having no customers at the moment, settled down to see just what this little girl was going to do.

The first ingredients Shiyu set out were her condiments and seasoning. She has a wok heating up on the stove. She was going to make the sauce first, and a lot of it. The first thing that went into the well-oiled wok was sliced green scallions [1]. The fire was kept low as she stirred the onions patiently, waiting for them to wilt and crisp up into brown bits before scooping them out. Next, she dumped in bowls of minced ginger and garlic. When garlic and ginger became fragrant, she poured in pseudo-tomato paste into the wok. These pseudo-tomatoes were fruits she had found at Spiritual Beast Mountain Range. Since there were no real tomatoes around, these were the best substitute tomatoes she has in hand. The sizzle that went up was very pleasing to the ear. The sauce bubble fiercely in the wok, Shiyu let it caramelised a little against the side of the wok before adding water, stirring until the consistency of the sauce stabilized. As a final touch, she stirred in some old sweet wine.

Leaving the brilliant red sauce to bubble at the lowest setting, Shiyu got ready to prepare the fish.

From her space, she took out a Mandarin Perch. The fish was about two feet long and its flesh much firmer than most fish and very delicious. It was once mentioned in an ancient poem to describe a beautiful scenery where ‘Cherry Blossoms Flows Over Water where Fat Perch swims’. Presumably, the poet was probably thinking about fishing some of the fat perch to eat…

Back in the modern era, wild-caught Mandarin Perch were very expensive due to the destruction of their natural habitat by human actions. With a lack of proper breeding ground, it was rare for people to get their hands on wild-caught perch.

After scaling and gutting the fish, Shiyu chopped off the head [2] just below the collar bone. Then, she split the mouth and collar bone apart and took out the teeth. She dropped the fish bits into some fresh water and turned her attention on the body of the fish. First, she filleted the fish on both sides, leaving the flesh still attached to the tail. Then, she folded back the flesh and chopped out the bone. This way, when she picked up the fish by the tail, she has two flaps of fillet meat dangling off it.

Shiyu spread out the fish [2] skin side down and began scoring the fish longwise all the way to the skin but not through the skin. The cuts were about one centimetre apart. When that was done, she flipped the fish and began making more cuts across the fish at a 45 degree angle. This technique was called the ‘Crosshatch Technique’ and the purpose was to turn the flesh into floppy French fry sticks that were still attached to the skin. Once the first fillet was done, she did the same cutting technique for the other.

This cutting technique was quite tricky, not only was it important to keep the cuts even, one has to take into consideration the size of the fish make sure not to cut through the skin. If the fish ‘sticks’ fall off, it would destroy the overall presentation.

Now that the cuts were done, Shiyu [2] coated the fish generously in corn starch, making sure to get the starch into all the crevices between the cuts. She then left the starch to settle into the fish as she up the frying oil.

In the meantime, the sauce was done. She took the wok of sauce off the fire and set it aside, placing a cleaner, bigger wok on the fire. Normally, she would have set up the oil first to slowly let the temperature rise to optimal frying temperature, but since she has Spiritual Fire, what should have taken a long time could now be done in seconds.

Once the oil reached the proper temperature, Shiyu picked up the fish fillet by the tail and shook off the excess corn starch. The fish must be fried flesh side out to show off the quill-like texture of the meat sticks.

Since the fish was quite large, she decided to fry it [2] belly first. Splattering oil was nothing to a Cultivator, so Shiyu tried a technique she might have hesitated in her past life. With one hand grasping the tail, and the other at the collar meat, she carefully lowered the fish into the oil, belly side first. The fish was not only long, but wide, so she had to fold back the flesh into itself a little and made sure nothing was sticking together as she moved the fish this way and that in the hot bubbling oil. Finally, when the flesh was close to half done, she lowered the collar meat side into boiling oil, keeping the thin tail out of the heat until the meat was more halfway done.

As a pro chef, Shiyu has a good sense of temperature and a well-developed instinct of knowing when food was properly done. [3] When she judged the time was right, she let go of the tail and let the fish swim within the oil. She also dropped in the fish head and collar bone, both coated with starch, of course, and cranked up the heat a little. To help the ‘quills’ bloom better, she used a large ladle to pour hot oil over the fish over and over again.

Once the fish was fried to a perfect golden crispness, she removed it from the oil. The people watched in anticipation on what she would do next, but Shiyu merely stirred the oil with her spatula, waited until the splattering and spluttering stopped before putting the fish back in.

[4]”Hey! Isn’t it done?” San Pang howled, hopping from one foot to another.

“Patience, I’m doing the double fry method, it would be much more delicious like this.”

The fish was only in the oil for about 30 seconds this time. After that, she laid the body of the fish on an oval plate, quill side up. Shiyu placed the fish collar like a little pyramid where the head should be before slotting the actual fish head on the little triangle. Suddenly, the purpose of taking the trouble of cleaning and frying the head and collar apart made sense. The tail of the fish stuck up jauntily from its body where it had been folded up for the frying, while the head pointed towards the sky making it looked like the fish was caught mid-leap out of water.

Shiyu quickly scooped up a ladle of sauce, passed her blue fire through it until it bubbled before pouring it over the freshly fried fish. The tch tch tch sound made by crispy skin popping against heated sauce was similar to the sound squirrels made, and one of the possible reasons why this dish was called [5] the Squirrel Fish.

“It’s completed!”

Fat Cat looked up, he got to his feet and bounded onto the table to sniff at the fish. As expected, Fat Cat turned his head away with a sneer before padding back to his original nap area. San Pang was less restrained. He bounced forward so energetically that Shiyu could see his buttocks jolting up and down as he seized one of the quills and stuffed it into his mouth.

“Haaht! Haahtch! Umph, yum, haahtt!” San Pang hissed and bounced at the pain in his mouth, but he kept on eating.

Shiyu realised that there was no way this thing was going to be very good as it was her first time making it. However, San Pang’s clear enjoyment still made her happy. That was the whole point of being a chef, after all, seeing the happy faces of the people who ate your food.

She too picked off a fish quill with a pair of chopsticks and chewed thoughtfully. Hmm, the crispness was good, the flavour of the sauce on point. She could taste the freshness of the fish, but it was somehow lacking… oh no, she had forgotten to season the fish before coating it with starch [2]!

The old man from the next stall stared at them: So… they had been making… food?

[6] Well, since this was a Cultivator’s town with so many important families living there, it was not surprising to occasionally encounter people fighting on rooftops, making weird medicines or bringing in weird looking animals into the City. For someone to take things out of a space ring and ended up making ordinary food was less… mainstream.

“Little Miss, is this some kind of cuisine?” he leaned over to inspect the spiky looking food, curiosity overcoming caution.

[7] “Oh, here,” Shiyu handed him a pair of clean chopsticks, prodded San Pang away and gestured to the fish. “Try some, it’s something I’ve been experimenting on.”

The look of surprised pleasure on his face was all the reward she needed to soothe any hurt from she had gotten from that glittery trash pit earlier.

Their little antics had not been overlooked. Bystanders, in the form of regular night market-goers and nearby vendors, were craning their necks. Intrigued by a new kind of food as well as the weird little man chomping away at it. Some of the braver ones called out, “Little Miss, what is that you’ve made?”

“It’s called Squirrel Fish,”

“Are you selling?”

“3 silver teals per serving.” This was basically the cost price of her Mandarin Perch.

“Do you serve set meals or rice?”

“No rice, but you can eat it with noodles from this uncle’s stall.” Shiyu said, smiling at the uncle who was mostly ignoring their banter in favour of the fish. The lack of salt did not seem to bother him, but she had to remember to season her next fish…

While some elected to observe, quite a few people ordered a portion of this Squirrel Fish. Shiyu sharpened her knife, took out more fish from her space ring as wells as an extra pot to collect the excess fish bones to make soup. That way, they could reduce food waste.

There was no curfew at the Imperial Capital and people were free to come and go as they please. The novelty of Shiyu’s stall drew more and more people over and soon, there was a long queue snaking out from her stall.

Aside from adventurous foodies, well-known cooks also came over to poke their noses on this so-called new dish, eager to see what techniques they could steal from it. Shiyu was not at all stingy about answering questions, nor did she hide her movements as she scaled, fillet and cut the fish into the crosshatched pattern to make the quills. She was a great believer of ‘Polishing One’s Skills Behind Closed Doors’. Just because someone knew the theory to make something delicious, doesn’t mean they would necessarily succeed.

Observe how His Highness, the Fat Cat turned his nose up against Shiyu’s first attempt. Though that might have more to do with the lack of salt than anything. Never mind, he showed no interest in the subsequent, properly seasoned, Squirrel Fish either.

She kept herself busy until the night watchmen rang the gong for midnight. There were not many people on the streets anymore and even the number of lights have reduced as other stall owners packed up and extinguished their lights. Shiyu too began to pack up, helped by her nice neighbour who managed to sell out his noodles earlier than usual thanks to Shiyu’s fish dish. Once he had packed up his own stall, instead of leaving, he had assisted Shiyu instead, collecting money and sending out orders of food much more efficiently than a certain radish demon who shall remain unnamed.

When everything was properly packed, [7] the boss merely asked, “Will you be here tomorrow?”

Shiyu thought for a moment, and said truthfully [7], “It depends. I came on a whim after all.”

The boss laughed and said [7], “I see, I see. Well, it can’t be helped. You’re welcome anytime. The guy next to me isn’t here tonight, but if you need a cook space you’re welcome to share mine.”

Shiyu smiled, if the world has more of this kind of people, how nice would it be?

“I will definitely be back again, one day.”

 

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She returned to the villa in a good mood. The mood did not lessen when she noticed that the lights were still on. When she entered the gate, she saw that Lin Fan had been waiting for her on the bamboo seat at the porch.

At the sight of her, he asked, “Where have you been?”

“To play, ah!” Shiyu answered carelessly. “That banquet thing was too boring, so I left first.”

“I understand,” Lin Fan’s voice was a little subdued. Then, he added, “Second Miss Xue sent some gifts over. She wants to make amends with you.”

Shiyu finally noticed the pile of things on the table next to Lin Fan.

Well, well, well, Shiyu grabbed one of the items, cast a brief glance over it before tossing it back to the pile like so much rubbish. “Young Miss Xue certainly knows how to conduct herself, to send gifts after slapping someone’s face is very classy.”

“Elder Martial Sister Xue did not mean it,” Lin Fan explained. “She’s really a good person. I was able to safely breakthrough last time because of the medicinal items she gave me. I hope that there will be no misunderstanding between the two of you.”

Shiyu looked up at the boy’s still youthful and slightly immature face. Should I tell him? The only thing more complicated than Cultivation in this world is human relationships ah. Just how many things influence the interactions between people? The Noble Daughter Xue Qingge might be humble and polite to the people of the same status, but how could she be the same to people she saw as beneath her? People so below her level that they are seen as little more than sub-humans?

Not only Xue Qingge, but this social disease was something rampant in this world where strength, clan and connections were everything. Xue Qingge was not a bad person, just a product of her environment. She saw Shiyu as someone below her, so how could they get along?

It’s only human nature to despise those beneath them.

 

[Gumihou: Ooooh, Shiyu’s strong and unshakable mental capacity and empathy is powerful here. Author-san is incredible.]

 

 

[1] Frying green scallions: there are 2 schools of thoughts for frying green scallions in oil.

First to not do it – scallions are often sprinkled over dishes as garnish, or just lightly stir-fried to best enjoy their crisp sweetness.

Second – to make scallion oil. The oil will be super fragrant, you can choose to leave the browned scallions in the oil or sieve it out. Low and slow fire is the key here to prevent burnt bitterness.

Shiyu is possibly going for the second type here.

Additionally, there are two types of sauce for the Squirrel Fish. The one used by Chef Wang and Shiyu are ‘clear’ with no cubed bits of vegetable and onions to get into the fish quills so that diners could feast their eyes on the spikes.

As for the sauce with cubed bits, see note [5]

 

[2] Details adjustment: From here onwards, I used more information from Chef Wang Gang’s video, because I don’t trust author-san’s information. Sorry, author-san. Also, seasoning. Shiyu merely coat the fish in corn starch, so the flavour all came from the sauce. I wouldn’t eat something like that so I added salt and pepper, I decided to make use of this situation and make a joke, and fully utilize the ‘!’ Hue hue hue.

 

[3] Added More Details: Reference Shiyu’s experience as a professional chef to just… know.

 

[4] Added More Details: The Double Fry method can’t be something regularly used in ancient China. Deep frying itself should be very luxurious already, so I do believe that people would be more curious about it.

 

[5] Why is it called the Squirrel Fish?

There are a few stories on the origin of this name. The one given by Shiyu seems like a more recent one.

The <<Diao Ding Ji>> or <<Collection of Perfect Pots>> (lol, best I could do), is a collection recipe books believed to date back to 1765 was a collection of 10 volumes containing 300 different recipes. I know it sounds lame now when Google could spit out, like, a million recipes for brownies but back then, this was pretty big deal.

Apparently, even before the Diao Ding Ji there exist a dish in Suzhou called the Squirrel Carp, which was later known as Squirrel Perch (wut?).

According to the Diao Ding Ji, the Squirrel Fish was covered in egg yolk and flour batter before it was deep-fried and served as is without sauce. Moreover, a lot of dishes in the book featured the dry frying-no sauce method so this information appeared legit

The problem is, this removed the ‘tch tch tch’ sound of sauce coming into contact with a fried surface. So, thus ends the connections there.

There is also another legend somewhere about the origin of the name. Sometime in the ancient past, a group of scholars gathered around to admire the scenery and play clever practical jokes with each other. They had been admiring the scenery and looked into a pond filled with fat perch, and presumably wrote the poem about Cherry Blossoms and Perch. Some of them became hungry (lol).

Since these bunch of people are creatives, someone decided to make a practical joke. They caught a fish, cut and deep-fried until bristling with quills, and then covered the whole thing with thick red sauce filled with cubed vegetables and onions. [As per note 1]

When the fish was served, it looked like a red bumpy blob with a fish tail and head sticking out. It was presented as [Squirrel Fish] and the guests have to figure out what exactly they were eating…

Ah, ancient people’s past time…

 

 

[6] Added More Details: The old noodle boss was surprised to see her make food. I decided to elaborate on the possible reason why he’s surprised

 

[7] Structural Adjustment: Change passive sentences to dialogue.

 

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