The mountains, forests, rivers, and lakes in the region provide abundant supply of wild games, fresh-water fish, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and a wide range of exotic herbs and plants, which are frequently featured in Hui Cuisine.
Unlike some other regional cuisines which tend to emphasize elaborate cooking techniques, complex flavoring, or delicate knife works, Hui Cuisine excels at using simple cooking methods such as stewing or steaming to create light and subtle dishes that highlight the natural flavors of the ingredients.
Of course, being simple doesn’t mean being simplistic. The amount of heat applied is meticulously controlled in Hui Cuisine.
Take Yellow Mountain stewed squab (黄山炖鸽), one of its iconic dishes, for example.
The cooking method used for the dish is “indirect stewing”, known as 隔水炖 in Chinese cooking. Indirect stewing is a great technique for cooking delicate ingredients or making tonic soups.
The main ingredients of this dish, wild squab and Chinese yam, are submerged in chicken stock in a tightly covered vessel. The vessel is then placed in a wok or pot, with water filled about halfway up the sides of the vessel.
When the water in the lidded wok is heated up and maintained at a gentle boil for several hours, the ingredients inside the vessel are heated through gradually and evenly, producing a very juicy and tender bird, and a clear and pure-flavored soup.
Chinese yam renders the soup a very subtle sweetness and herbal aroma. Known as Shan Yao (山药) in Mandarin, which literally means “mountain medicine”, Chinese yam has superb medicinal properties according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). For example, it strengthens the qi and increases vitality.
The recipe I’m sharing below is adapted from Yellow Mountain stewed squab. Quail, a smaller bird, is used instead of squab, to significantly reduce stewing time, so I can have my restorative soup ready in just 30 minutes. And you too!
Stewed quail with Chinese yam, Yellow Mountain style
Makes 2 servings
2 whole quails, dressed
4 oz (115 g) Chinese yam, peeled and cut crosswise into ¼-inch (6 mm) slices
2 cups chicken stock or water
1 scallion, white part only
½-inch (12 mm) ginger, thinly sliced
6 Goji berries
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
- Blanch the Chinese yam slices in boiling water for 20 seconds. Drain and pat dry.
- Blanch the quails in boiling water for 30 seconds. Rinse under cold water, drain, and pat dry.
- Place the quails and Chinese yam in a deep bowl or pot. Add the scallion, ginger, Goji berries, and Shaoxing wine. Pour the chicken stock or water to fully submerge the ingredients; use more if needed. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Cover the bowl with a lid or aluminum foil.
- Place the bowl in the center of a large pot, and fill cold water about halfway up the side of the bowl. Cover the pot.
- Bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle boil. Make sure the water does not get into the bowl during cooking. Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the quails are cooked through and tender.
- Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Divide the quails, Chinese yam, and soup in two serving bowls. Serve immediately.