In Yangzhou, elaborate and excessive culinary feats like this procession of dishes are known as kung fu dishes (gong fu cai), because they require the same dedication and technical mastery as the martial arts. Yangzhou chefs are famed across China for their dainty knife work, which might involve cutting a single block of silken tofu into five thousand hair-like filaments, or transforming a fish into a chrysanthemum. In the past, the city’s wealthy salt merchants kept private chefs and entertained their friends, and occasionally even the emperor, with lavish banquets of labor-intensive dishes like bear’s paws surrounded by the tongues of crucian carp. Today, you can sample the glories of Yangzhou kung fu cooking in the form of “lion’s head” meatballs made with laboriously hand-chopped meat or an “eight-treasure” stuffed duck in the shape of a calabash gourd.
To make the full set of recipes, you will need a live chicken, around four and a half pounds in weight, and a whole day ahead of you (we killed the chicken at around ten a.m., and I finished cooking at about four p.m.). I’m still not quite sure of the best order to attack the recipes: it will be fantastically complicated whichever way you tackle them! The most important thing is to set the stock to simmer as soon as possible, and then to do all your prep before you attempt to actually cook the dishes. The chicken feast serves about four people generously, perhaps six in a pinch, with plain steamed rice.
KILLING, CLEANING, AND JOINTING YOUR BIRD
You can find detailed instructions and photographs explaining how to kill, pluck, clean, and joint your bird on various websites (for example: the blog BackYard Chickens ). Do check out local laws and regulations on humane slaughter.
To kill a chicken for the following recipes, you will need to collect the fresh blood, which means slitting the bird’s throat—preferably after first stunning it or wringing its neck. To process the blood in the Chinese way, first place a scant 1/2 cup cold water, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil in a heatproof vessel large enough to catch the blood; drain the fresh blood directly into this vessel and immediately mix everything together very well. Leave the blood mixture for a few minutes—it will congeal. Then boil the blood for several minutes in a bain–marie, until it has set to a dark, purplish jelly. Leave to cool before slicing.
When you gut the chicken, retain the liver, heart, gizzard, and intestines. Cut the gizzard in half; remove and discard the partially digested grain in the center, along with the lining that encloses it. Slice open the intestines: I found the easiest way to do this was to insert a sharp scissor blade in one end and then run it along the length of the tube, slitting it open. Rinse the intestines very thoroughly under the cold tap, and then place in a bowl. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and rub it in; then rinse again. Do the same with another 1/2 teaspoon salt and a splash of Shaoxing wine. When the intestines are completely clean and the rinse water is clear, they are ready for cooking.
After jointing the chicken, debone the thighs. Then debone the drumsticks and the upper parts of the wings. Save all the bones for the stock, and retain the head, feet, and the rest of the wings. You should end up with the following parts:
2 boneless breasts
2 boneless thighs
2 boneless drumsticks
2 boneless upper wing joints
2 lower wing joints
+ congealed blood jelly
Just the right bite of acid complements sweet apples and juicy chicken.
A spicy sweet recipe for chicken thighs.
What's inside chickens can be just as tasty as the meat on the outside.
For the bold and daring.
(zha ji kuai, 炸鸡块)
(ji za tang, 鸡杂汤)
A yin-yang of protein and greens to rebalance you when it's cold.
(xue hua ji pian, 雪花鸡片)
(zha cai ji si, 榨菜鸡丝)