Chapter 63 – Royal Court Eggplant Jerky

 

Since the recipe for this Eggplant Jerky is written within <<A Dream of Red Chambers>>, he knew plenty of people have tried to recreate this dish in his past life. Thanks to Sister Feng’s instructions,it was certainly possible to recreate an acceptable dish. However, true gourmet and professional tasters would know that this kind of flavour would not have been admitted to the ranks of the Manchu Han Banquet’s list. Something was just missing.

But what was it?

Ye Chui had spent a lot of time pondering over this question before finally unravelling the mystery.

The thing that’s missing from this dish, the dragon’s pupils so to speak, was actually the something that required 7 days of preparation.

That very afternoon, Ye Chui brought Han Yuyan with him to scour the nearest vegetable markets, hunting down the necessary ingredients. Aside from eggplants and chicken meat, there were two other crucial ingredients required. Mushrooms and dried fruits and nuts, these two ingredients were vital to maintain utmost deliciousness for this dish.

As to which type of mushroom or dried fruits or nuts to select, Sister Feng had not been as forthcoming. This could be considered a closely guarded secret, or it could be that any type of mushrooms and dried fruit or nuts could be use. However, chefs ran the risk of lowering the flavour of the end product if they simply use whatever was available. Ye Chui had hit upon the perfect match through his tireless experimentation: Mushrooms had to be King Oyster Mushrooms, Oyster Mushrooms, and dried Shiitake, as for dried nuts, it has to be cashew nuts, Northern Almonds[1] and hazel nuts. No dried fruit.

Each of these ingredients had to be carefully selected, selection of ingredients was also a skill and one that takes a long time to acquire. Ye Chui could be considered quite experience when it came to selecting the best ingredients, even then, he spent about three to four hours just picking out a few ingredients — once everything had been selected, an impatient Han Yuyan was ready to go on strike.

It had often been said that shopping with a woman is tiring business, however, Sister Han Yuyan had just discovered that prowling through the market in search of ingredients with a chef like Ye Chui was the worst. She just could not understand, a pile of dried shiitake mushrooms were more or less alike in size and shape, was it really necessary to sift through the whole pile, to inspect each and every piece? That wasn’t even the worst part, once he even held up two King Oyster mushrooms that basically looked like wooden pegs to her face and asked her which was more beautiful…

Aside from these ingredients, things like smoked bean curd, bamboo shoot also had to be carefully selected. Naturally the most important ingredients were the all important eggplants and chicken meat. The eggplants had to be the rounded type, with shiny skin, and soft to the touch. As for the chicken meat, there’s no need to actually use freshly slaughtered chicken from the chicken farm, he still needed to make his selections carefully. Ye Chui bought five basic broiler chicken, he only needed the meat and no other parts.

Once all the ingredients were collected, Ye Chui brought Han Yuyan to a nearby ceramic market and picked out a foot-tall ceramic jar. This was the most important tool in order to complete the ‘dragon pupil’.

Finally, with Ye Chui carrying the chickens and Han Yuyan hugging the pot piled with ingredients and plastic bags of ingredients hanging off her arms trailing. Her mouth never stopped muttering, she was dead tired and furious with Ye Chui, “Master, is it really necessary to be so tedious when it comes to picking out ingredients? Surely the flavour would be more or less all right.”

“More or less still carries the risk of flavour being less, to have the best dish, you must start with the best ingredients. The difference in ingredients could be infinitely magnified, the same dish made from similar ingredients could be worlds apart when it came down to tasting stage.” Ye Chui turned to Han Yuyan, “I do wonder, are you really Elder Han’s grand daughter? Elder Yan would definitely understand this basic point.”

Han Yuyan’s mouth flattened as they continued to carry the ingredients straight into the kitchen. She kneaded her sore shoulder as she sat down, “Why do I feel like Master have just made use of me as a coolie?”

Hearing this from Han Yuyan, Ye Chui smiled, “How can I carry so many things? That’s right, you’re here as my coolie…do you have any objections?”

Han Yuyan, “… …”

Seeing that this sister was half a step away from exploding, Ye Chui quickly went on the defence, “What, are you planning to defy your elder? By the way, you’re all sweaty from tramping about outside, why don’t you go take a shower?”

Girls always liked to be clean, the moment Ye Chui mentioned it, Han Yuyan felt every grit and sticky sweat on her skin and could no longer bear it. She gave Ye Chui a glare before turning to run upstairs.

Ye Chui smiled, and started to prepare the ingredients. He had bought quite a few things from the market. The steps for Royal Court Eggplant Jerky was quite complicated, in order to make sure every ingredient complement each other as well to ensure a balance of flavour, Ye Chui might have to make a few test dishes in order to guarantee best flavour profile.

 

Once Han Yuyan was done with her shower, she made her way downstairs only to find the entire diner enveloped in a particularly strong fragrance. The most obvious smell clearly came from chicken, combined with the delicious flavour of mushrooms and nuts. At this point, the Eggplant Jerky was good enough to stand on its own as a proper dish. The eggplants were soft and slightly spongy, a perfect vehicle for carrying the flavours of several different kinds of ingredients.

Han Yuyan breathed in deeply and could not help swallowing several mouthfuls of saliva. The little drums in her stomach started beating. This elder sister started feel a little worried, she had never been the type to concern herself with food. Though she had followed her world famous grandfather all over the place and had sampled all kinds of gourmet foods, none had ever tempt her to take a second helping. It was only after meeting Ye Chui that she began to lose control over her appetite…if she follow this stingy master too long, would she eventually turn into a fatty?

Once An Jing and Wang Shiyu came back from school, Ye Chui’s Tasty Eggplant Jerky was also completed.–the important point here was that this dish was the Tasty Eggplant version, and not the Imperial Court version meant for Wu Haimei.

While Han Yuyan helped served the meal, her eyes suddenly fell upon the ceramic pot sitting quietly next to the stove. When Ye Chui bought this thing curiosity filled her heart, just what Ye Chui intend to do with thing? She picked up the pot and shook it a little, it felt like something was inside. Placing a hand on the lid, she turned her head and asked Ye Chui, “Master, what’s inside this thing?”

“Don’t open it!” Ye Chui rushed over and grabbed the pot from Han Yuyan’s hand. “This has to stay sealed for 7 days without opening. If you open it before then it will be contaminated and its content will be ruined.”

Han Yuyan frowned, but Ye Chui seemed seriously protective about his pot as he placed it in the darkest corner of the cabinet. More importantly, the delicious looking Tasty Eggplant Jerky was now on the table, Han Yuyan was busy chanting, ‘I don’t want to be a fatty, I don’t want to be a fatty,’ in her heart. However, in the end she could not help but gorged herself on the food in front of her.

This Eggplant Jerky matched really well with rice, in one mouthful, one could taste minced chicken, nuts, mushrooms, dried bean curd and bamboo shoot. The flavour packed a punch and spread out wonderfully in one’s mouth. The person eating this dish could not help but sigh as each tiny piece of eggplant release such a multitude of delicious flavours — if Han Yuyan had not followed Ye Chui and watched with her own eyes as he bought the eggplants, she would have suspected that this dish actually contained no eggplants at all. She felt that this dish embodied the peak of everything delicious in this world.

Looking at his table companions: Han Yuyan, Wang Shiyu, and even that quiet and demure An Jing, rushing at the main dish striving to out do each other as they stuff their bowls full, Ye Chui had to laugh. In his previous life, this Tasty Eggplant Jerky was the result of his investigation into the Manchu Han recipes. It was one of the best selling dishes at his restaurant, the price reaching up to $8,000 or $9,000 per plate, it was clear that the taste of this dish stood out among other dishes.

However, to Ye Chui, delicious as this dish was, there were still some flaws in it. It would not be able to to help an anorexic patient overcome the disease’s mental clutches on their appetite.

He turned to look at the cabinet where the ceramic jar with its mysterious content lay. After seven days of fermentation, something that will complement and heighten this wonderful dish will develop, with the help of that thing, this dish will be elevated from Tasty Eggplant Jerky to Imperial Court Eggplant Jerky!

As the meal was being eaten, Ye Chui’s cell phone suddenly started to ring. Now, there were only a few people who actually have his number, a glance at the caller ID told him that it was actually Tian Xiaodu calling. Ye Chui left the table and moved to the side to pick up the call, “Hello, Xiaodu, is there something the matter? The diner is more or less ready, if you really want to work here, you should come over more often and have a look, ah.”

Ever since the renovations for this place started, that Tian Xiaodu had declined every invitation to give some input on the work progress. It was as though that fatty chef was afraid of something, which made Ye Chui curious…just what was so scary about this place?

“The diner is fine however it is, I can see it on the opening day.” Tian Xiaodu said as he evaded the matter again, instead he continued, “Oh yes brother, I just want to know how are your preparations for the exam?”

Ye Chui was stunned for a moment, “…what exam?”

“Tian Xiaodu, “…the Chef’s Certification exam.”

“Ye Chui, “Eh…”

He had been focussing so much on the Eggplant Jerky that he had completely forgotten about tomorrow’s exams, ah.

 

 

[1] Northern Almonds – Also known as bitter almonds, could be toxic, so please be careful when ingesting it. Believed to relieve cough and asthma in Chinese medicine, can be bought at supermarkets or Chinese Medicine Stores.

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Here’s a pic of the Tasty Eggplant Jerky, if you can’t see it, you’re probably at an illegal site.

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