Chapter 48: Visit the Kitchens Again
Translated by Gumihou
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Buoyed by such happy and cheerful feelings, she arrived at the at the kitchen area. The moment she stepped into the courtyard, she saw two women busy washing vegetables and rinsing rice. When they saw her, both froze. Su Nuan Nuan, who never had the master-subordinate feeling in the first place, gave them a cheerful wave, “Oh, busy?”
“Oh no, it’s first madam!”
The two women turned and ran for the building. This attitude, it was as though they had just seen a carnivorous dinosaur coming to eat them, which depressed Su Nuan Nuan a little. Must you exaggerated so? Have someone been smearing my name throughout the palace?
It must be that Duan Tingxuan’s fault. No, it’s definitely that rascal’s fault, calling me a tigress and what not, to the point that people just run away at the sight of me.
This grand first madam has completely forgotten that first day where she had enacted a powerful performance of ‘Tigress Hunts for Food’ and conveniently pushed all the blame on the little marquis’ head.
Seeing the maids running away from her managed to pop a little of her enthusiasm, and she calmly cleared her throat. To the left and right of her, both Hong Lian and Xiang Yun were hanging their heads, not daring to look up. She muttered in a low voice. “What’s with this attitude? Perk up a bit.”
The moment she said this, a screeched was heard from the depths of the kitchen, “You stupid things, that’s first madam! How dare you just run in here without even a greeting, when did you turn into such irresponsible idiots?”
As soon as the voice fell, that surname Xue woman appeared with a face blooming with smiles, behind her were a bunch of cowering old ladies and little kitchen maids, each of them staring past Su Nuan Nuan, afraid to look away, even more afraid to make eye contact. Clearly, these people played supporting characters during that time she enacted the ‘Tigress Hunts for Food’ play.
As expected of someone who made it as the kitchen manager, one could easily tell that Ms. Xue was made of much sterner stuff than the others.
Su Nuan Nuan sighed within her heart, she reached out to pat Ms. Xue’s shoulders, saying sincerely, “As expected of a talented person, ah. With you in charge, I can be at ease.”
“Many thanks for first madam’s compliment, in the future, do please inform Xiang Yun or Hong Lian to let us know your wishes — there’s no need for you to personally come over.”
The moment this Ms. Xue received such great compliment from her superior, even the weight in her bones lightened. She’s a person with quick and flexible mind, who in this place could not read the situation at hand?
It’s clear that the little marquis favours the first madam of Mei Yue Lou. Majority of the woman within the palace were the same, without a man’s protection, their lives would be quite hard. However, with a man’s favour, she would even gain the possibility of calling rain. Up till now, she had been obeying the instructions of Madam Yun and have not been sending proper provisions over to Mei Yue Lou.
However, now the situation has reversed. first madam was in power again. If she did not rescue her position now and curry favour, it’s possible that she would be hated by this favoured woman. By then, would she even have a place to stay within the mansion?
Seeing that this Ms. Xue was willing to play along and curry favour with her, Su Nuan Nuan was satisfied. It was the first time she experience the sweet taste of being fawned upon as a figure of power, it was very satisfying. Then, her eyes went to several large barrels containing giant prawns, each about 6 or 7 inches long. One of the barrels contained large sea crabs, another one containing ribbon fish as wide as a man’s palm, another barrel filled with foot long yellow croaker fish. As for the next barrel…
“This is… swamp eel?”
Su Nuan Nuan looked up in surprised, Hong Lian and Xiang Yun both cried out in shock and horror, they turned their faces away, unable to bring themselves to look at the barrel full of writhing snake like things lumped together in a wriggly pile. Though madam called those things ‘eel’, clearly these were snake-like things. How would anyone dare to eat this things?
“Aiya, Wang momo, what happened to you? How could you leave such things around? Could you take responsibilities if you give madam a scare?” Surname Xue shouted loudly. However, even as her loud voice rang out, she could still hear Su Nuan Nuan’s muttered, “What the heck, so this is what you call private benefit.”
P… private benefit?
Surname Xue was stunned, she really wanted to cry to the heavens. Instead, she repeatedly assured. “Madam, how could this slave dare to collect any private benefit? Moreover, this kind of thing could not be served on the table, such horrible ugly things. This is sent by one of the head village’s wife Liu Erzhu. I heard that her daughter-in-law just gave birth and was quite weak afterwards. She sent me these so that I could make them into nourishing soups for her daughter-in-law. Madam is a noble person, dirty things like these should never touch you.”
That really gave me a shock, so these were sent by a head villager, then that’s fine. I thought that swamp eels in this world live in the sea. Su Nuan Nuan patted her chest comfortingly. Speaking of which, that Ms. Xue woman was still nattering on and on, curses, could it be possible that people in this world don’t eat swamp eels? Do such stupid people exist? What a waste of delicious ingredients.
“Fine, no need to be so panicky, I trust that you’ve not been privately benefiting yourselves.” Su Nuan Nuan finally interrupted Ms. Xue’s river of words. She followed that up with. “However, I really like these swamp eels, how about you consult her about the price and sell them to me?”
“Aiya, if first madam wants them it’s considered Liu Erzhu’s fortune, what’s all this talk about money? Madam may just take them. This slave guarantee that they would not protest against it.”
As Ms. Xue tapped her chest, Su Nuan Nuan laughed. “Well, however it still doesn’t sit too well with me, so, Hong Lian, bring 5 silver liangs over to Ms. Xue.” She smiled at Ms. Xue, saying, “These silvers are for the women of Liu Erzhu, tell them to buy some tonic for the body so that she may breastfeed her baby properly.”
This barrel could probably carry about 30 to 40 pounds of swamp eels, they would consider it a blessing if it could be sold for 2 silver liangs in the city. Thanks to their horrible appearance, they were not at all popular with the people in this world. Ms. Xue made some effort to decline, but Su Nuan would not hear of it, when she said that just 1 or 2 liangs would be enough, Su Nuan Nuan countered that the rest of the money was for that pitiful daughter-in-law’s health.
Finally, surname Xue accepted on behalf of the Liu family. The rest of the kitchen staff all expressed their gratitude heartily. If any of them still felt that this first madam had not undergone great changes, that person was probably made of wood.
“Madam, what do you to do? This one will definitely give you a hand.” Ms. Xue’s mood was high to the point of being excited, especially when she saw Su Nuan Nuan plucked at her own skirts, realizing immediately that the madam wished to personally enter the kitchen, she quickly fetched a new apron from the cupboard. With care, she said. “This is a new apron that I’ve prepared, nobody has ever worn it before. Would madam please wear this? It would be such a pity if madam’s dress is splashed with oil.”
Su Nuan Nuan smiled, “Many thanks.” Then, she quickly ordered the kitchen to prepare a few pounds of shrimp and swamp eels. When Ms. Xue heard this, she hurriedly asked. “Madam, what are these for?”
“Flash Cook Shrimp & Eel Noodle,” said Su Nuan Nuan. “Today, I wish to let old madam have a taste of fresh seafood. In this hot summer day, the gut is especially weak so it’s best to eat a little noodle.”
When Ms. Xue protested, saying that swamp eels weren’t something the masters would want to eat, she laughed. With great confidence she said, “Relax, if they refused to eat it has nothing to do with you. I’m here, aren’t I? Just prepare everything according to my instructions.”
When everyone heard this, they immediately calmed down. Very quickly several pounds of shrimp were peeled and de-veined. The swamp eels were cleaned, de-boned, and cut into pieces according to Su Nuan Nuan’s instruction. The cleaned shrimps were placed in a large bowl, and mixed with salt, and the whites of several chicken eggs. With a pair of chopsticks, she stirred the shrimp mixture until it became sticky. A bit of sweet potato starch was stirred in as well to increase the tenderness of the shrimp. This step is called ‘starching the shrimp’. Next, the shrimp were then blanched in boiling water until the colour turned jade white, and were scooped out, drained and set aside.
On another stove, a roaring fire heated up some vegetable oil until it was quite hot, but not smoking. Next, slices of eel were slid in and flipped over a few times with chopsticks. When bubbles started to appear on the surface of the skin, they were quickly scooped out and placed on a basket to drain.
Su Nuan Nuan has no clear soups at hand and had to make some. By now Ms. Sue and the rest of the kitchen managed to collect their wits together to realise that this was a rare opportunity for them and were watching her every move with unblinking eyes. When Su Nuan Nuan instructed them to boil water to cook noodles, Ms. Xue immediately volunteered.
As she cooked the noodles, her eyes continued to track Su Nuan Nuan’s every movement. This mistress was was currently spooning two large ladles of lard into a wok, scallions and ginger were thrown in and stirred with a ladle, followed by the fried swamp eel, a splash of soy sauce, wine, sugar, and finally the bone broth once the soy sauce had caramalized a little. The soup was reduced over a roaring fire until half its previous volume. Then, it was taken off the fire and ladled into a silver bowl.
By now, the noodles had floated to the surface of the boiling water, Su Nuan Nuan’s movement were swift as she scooped the noodles up and threw them into cold running water for a few seconds before draining it. The wok was then returned to the fire where broth was added, along with some soy sauce, she also strained some swamp eel liquid she had reduced into the mix. Finally, noodles was added to the soup, as the noodles and liquid get to know each other, she skimmed off any foam that appeared. Just before the soup started boiling, she melted 3 large pieces of lard, when the soup started to bubble she splash a generous ladle of hot pork oil.
Finally, the large wok of noodles were split into several large bowls, square pieces of swamp eel were placed on top of the noodles, followed by shrimp, and a final drizzle of good sesame oil. Like this, the fragrant and alluring Flash Cook Shrimp & Eel Noodle was done.
The wonderful aroma of noodles permeated the entire kitchen, all the nearby kitchen hand inhaled deeply and laughed. “Old madam really has foresight, no wonder she wants first madam to personally handle these seafood. We have been working in the kitchen for so many years, this is the first time I’ve smelled such fragrance, ah. If these weren’t for the masters, I’d pour the entire wok into my mouth.”
Ms. Xue snapped cheerfully. “Pei! Look at your boneless tongue, you want to swallow the whole wok? Looks like you’re not afraid of burning your mouth.” Then, she turned to Su Nuan Nuan. “Would madam please not mind these old biddies, your Flash Cook Shrimp & Eel Noodle is just too fragrant.”
“What’s the use of just sniffing it? Eating is much better. Be at ease, I’ve made more. Old madam and the rest won’t be able to eat it all. So why don’t you ladies split it among yourselves?” Su Nuan Nuan said carelessly, not at all bothered by it. On the other hand, the kitchen staffs were overwhelmed by happiness as they clasped their hands in front of them in thanks.
At this point, Hong Lian said. “Missy, just noodles seem a bit plain, why don’t you add some side dishes?”
Su Nuan Nuan said. “That’s right, there should be some simple dishes that goes well with these noodles. I saw some boiled pigs ears as I came in, serve that thinly sliced with some sliced cucumbers, make a dish of stir fried celery with peanuts. Oh, and you go to Mei Yue Lou and grab a plate of our pickled mustard. I’ll make some tea eggs as well, hmm, that should do it.”
“What’s tea eggs?”
Someone whispered loudly, shocking Su Nuan Nuan a little. Then, she sighed deeply, just what kind of terrible world was this place to have no tea eggs? How do people even survive like this? Could the food here even be considered edible? Too pitiful, much too pitiful, ah.
Thus, she quickly rallied the kitchen staff to collect star anise, tea leaves, tangerine peels, table salt, rock sugar, rice wine, soy sauce, as well as a few other items together with enough water to completely cover the eggs. Boil, adjust flavour, and leave it to cool.
In another pot, fill with enough water to cook several dozen eggs over low fire until the water started bubble vigorously. The eggs were then taken out, and the shells cracked with a hard spoon for the spiced liquid to penetrate. Finally, the cracked eggs were placed in the spiced liquid to soak in the flavour.
 Ability to call rain – Ability to ask for the sky  Ribbon fish
 Yellow croaker fish  Swamp Eel
 Flash Cook Shrimp & Eel Noodle
 Tea Eggs – Here’s a recipe from The Woks of Life, it’s a modified version that uses Japanese egg boiling technique that resulted in softer yolks