Jingjian­grousi , an Au­then­tic Bei­jing Dish

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Wang Lan Edited by Greg S. Vanisky

Jingjiang rousi chooses pork ten­der­loin as its main in­gre­di­ent and is quick-fried to­gether in sweet bean sauce. Eaten with sliced scal­lions or cu­cum­bers and tofu skin, it adopts a salty and sweet taste.

Food­ies joke that they can tell whether some­one is a na­tive Bei­jinger from the way he or she drinks soy milk. That's also true for Jingjiang rousi (sautéed shred­ded pork in Bei­jing-style sweet bean sauce). Many peo­ple eat the scal­lions and shred­ded pork to­gether, or they only eat the pork, with or with­out the tofu skin.

How­ever, na­tive Bei­jingers cer­e­mo­ni­ously spread out the tofu skin first, care­fully place sliced scal­lions and pork on top, con­sci­en­tiously roll the skin into a small roll, and then open their mouths and savour the taste—a very for­mal and solemn process. This ex­quis­ite man­ner of eat­ing Jingjiang rousi, com­pared with their usual slop­pi­ness and rough­ness, not only amuses peo­ple but also makes them feel warm in­side.

There's a touch­ing story be­hind the dish. Leg­end has it that an old man sur­named Chen from north­east China, who lived with his grand­son in a court­yard two kilo­me­tres north­east of the For­bid­den City, sold tofu for a liv­ing. Though highly skilled, Chen was only able to make a few blocks of tofu and tofu skin each day, and any leftovers were given to his fam­ily to sell. His tofu was so pop­u­lar that a buyer from a roast duck restau­rant in Wang­fu­jing or­dered tofu and tofu skin from him ev­ery day.

Once on their way home, Chen's grand­son sud­denly said, “Grandpa, I want to eat roast duck.” Smil­ing in

em­bar­rass­ment, Chen told him they'd buy some dur­ing the New Year af­ter saving the money. With the New Year drawing close, how­ever, Chen still couldn't af­ford roast duck. And so, see­ing how his grand­son was up­set by this, he came up with a re­source­ful idea. Chen ob­served the way peo­ple were eat­ing their roast duck ev­ery time he made a de­liv­ery to the restau­rant.

Then, he sliced some lean meat, fried it with soy sauce and cut tofu skin into square pieces, there­upon in­vent­ing a new way of en­joy­ing “roast duck.” Chen's grand­son was ex­tremely pleased to eat his “roast duck” rolled in tofu skin with scal­lions, and they spent a very happy New Year to­gether. Later, the grand­son be­gan work­ing at the Quan­jude Restau­rant, and af­ter years of ap­pren­tice­ship, be­came a com­pe­tent chef who rein­vented his grand­fa­ther's “roast duck,” which is to­day's Jingjiang rousi.

Any dish with the pre­fix ‘‘ Jingjiang” (Bei­jing-style sweet bean sauce) is typ­i­cally flash-fried with sauce, in­clud­ing fried veg­etable (or meat) with sweet bean sauce, fried ribs with sweet bean sauce, egg­plant with sweet bean sauce, eggs with sweet bean sauce and zuc­chini with sweet bean sauce. Not all of these dishes are con­sid­ered Bei­jing Cui­sine, but they do go per­fectly with rice.

Tast­ing like Jiang­bao jid­ing (diced chicken fried with bean sauce), a Shan­dong dish, Jingjiang rousi in the eyes of Bei­jingers is in fact no dif­fer­ent from Jiang­bao rousi (shred­ded pork fried with soy sauce). Due to the pop­u­lar­ity it en­joys among na­tive Bei­jingers, the Chi­nese char­ac­ter “jing” was added to the name.

Flash-fry­ing is a method in which the main in­gre­di­ents are quickly fried to­gether in sweet bean sauce. The dish is bright red in colour and tastes salty and sweet but not greasy. Eaten with sliced scal­lions or cu­cum­ber, tofu skin or pan­cake, the dish presents a mix­ture of fra­grant meat, bean sauce and rel­ish, that re­freshes the taste buds and brings the eater a tremen­dous amount of sat­is­fac­tion.

The dish is easy to learn: cut pork ten­der­loin into shreds, add soy sauce, cook­ing wine, salt, starch, egg white, sugar and pepper, and mix the in­gre­di­ents all to­gether evenly; in­fuse gin­ger and scal­lion with hot wa­ter, cut tofu skin into square pieces, place the skin around the edges of the plate, and slice some scal­lions and put them in the mid­dle; fry the pork ten­der­loin un­til it turns white, heat the pot on low heat to fry the sweet sauce, and then add sugar and gin­ger wa­ter. Lastly, stir-fry the sliced pork ten­der­loin un­til it's cooked evenly.

Zhen Jian­jun, a na­tional master chef and in­her­i­tor of the im­pe­rial cook­ing style, once learned skills from Wang Xifu, a well­known author­ity on Im­pe­rial Cui­sine. For the past few decades, Zhen has been com­mit­ted to in­her­it­ing and im­prov­ing Bei­jing Cui­sine.

Speak­ing of meth­ods used to cook Jingjiang rousi, Zhen said spe­cial at­ten­tion should be spent on the de­tails. In the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dy­nas­ties, Shan­dong Cui­sine was favoured by the im­pe­rial fam­i­lies, the wealthy, and even av­er­age civil­ians. Jingjiang rousi, a tra­di­tional Bei­jing dish, also re­quires very care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion and at­ten­tion.

First is the Bei­jing sauce, a yel­low soy­bean paste sauce com­monly used by na­tive Bei­jingers. Al­though ideal sauce for mak­ing the dish, it's now hard to come by in the mar­ket. Next are shred­ded scal­lions that should be as thin as eye­brow hairs. You cut the scal­lions from the mid­dle, take out the cores and select the thicker parts. Then use a knife to cut them into shreds at a max­i­mum an­gle, which chal­lenges the knife skills of the chef. Un­like or­di­nary cut­ting meth­ods, this tech­nique makes the shred­ded scal­lions much shorter.

Since they're cut at a slant, the shred­ded scal­lions bend some­what like eye­brows, hence the name “eye­brow scal­lions.” This cut­ting method also suits Bei­jing roast duck well, be­cause it elim­i­nates the pos­si­bil­ity that some­one will swal­low a whole piece of scal­lion. But when cook­ing Jingjiang rousi, what's of ut­most im­por­tance are the shred­ded pork ten­der­loins. Usu­ally the meat from the neck of the pig is cho­sen, as it's both fat and lean, and also tastes fresh and ten­der.

The sweet­ness in the dish leaves a non-greasy feel, and the meat's slanted-cut gives it a unique tex­ture that feels ten­der and soft in your mouth. Jingjiang rousi is nor­mally served ei­ther with lo­tus-leaf-like pan­cakes or tofu skin. The tofu skin was in­tro­duced from north­east China, and it is known as dried tofu among lo­cals. With re­gard to choos­ing an ap­pro­pri­ate way to eat the dish, that de­pends on the din­ers them­selves, be­cause nei­ther method is any more au­then­tic than the other.

In re­cent years, more stu­dents have be­gun study­ing abroad at a younger age. Many have dealt with hav­ing poor lan­guage skills or be­ing in­com­pe­tent at cook­ing. So, in or­der to guar­an­tee that their chil­dren eat well while liv­ing abroad, some par­ents are send­ing their chil­dren to culi­nary schools to learn how to cook over 10-day train­ing cour­ses.

Dur­ing each class, teach­ers demon­strate how to make a Chi­nese dish for the stu­dents, such as Jingjiang rousi, scram­bled eggs with toma­toes or dumplings, which are all easy to learn. This way these young stu­dents will have a healthy al­ter­na­tive to re­lieve their home­sick­ness when they are abroad.

Jingjiang rousi has wit­nessed the joys and sor­rows that the in­ven­tor and his grand­son ex­pe­ri­enced. Af­ter gen­er­a­tions of peo­ple pass­ing down and mak­ing im­prove­ments to the dish, it has not only be­come com­mon in many house­holds, it also lends a feel­ing of home to those trav­el­ling abroad. Its sweet taste nour­ishes the eater's heart and heals their lonely soul.

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