Thursday, July 11, 2013

Recipes from Fujian, China

Martin, who as you know is British, used to complain bitterly about American Chinese food. "That sweet sticky sauce," he claimed, "isn't in the Chinese food we get in England. It's a totally American invention."

Being American, of course (and never having actually visited China), I know nothing but Chinese food with sweet sticky sauce. General Tso's chicken, broccoli beef, orange chicken, yeah I love it. It's the Chinese food I grew up with.

Meal from Fujian, China
Of course that's nothing like Chinese food is in, you know, China. Real Chinese food is probably a lot closer to the stuff Martin used to get in England. Less sweet, less sticky, and less bland. None of which sounds particularly unappealing to me, just different. But that's what makes Travel by Stove so much fun—I get to discover new things about food … not just food I don't know but food I used to think I knew.

Anyway China is a big place with a lot of different cuisines, so it's one of those countries I decided a while ago I would tackle by region instead of trying to do justice to the whole nation  in one meal. Which brings us to this week's menu, which is from the Fujian province of China.

Fujian is on the southeastern coast of China, just across the straight from Taiwan. It has the distinction of being the most forested province in China, with 62.96% forest coverage as of 2009. Like other coastal provinces in China, Fujian is pretty prosperous and has a lot of industry, which includes tea and, yes, textile factories. This is one of those places in China where the big multi-national firms like to set up shop: Boeing, GE, Dell and Panasonic all have operations there.

Wuyi Mountain, Fujian, China. Photo by Flickr user zzchen.

As you might have already guessed, coastal Fujian has a lot of seafood in its cuisine. Its most famous dish is called "Buddha jumps over the wall," and oh did I want to make it until I discovered that it contains up to 30 different ingredients (including the very illegal shark fin and the very soon to be illegal sea cucumber) and takes two to three days to prepare. So alas, here is what I chose instead:

Drunk Ribs
(from Chinese Recipe)
  • 1 1/2 lbs pork ribs (I used boneless country-style, probably not authentic but more husband-friendly)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup Shaoxing wine
  • 1/2 cup sweet potato flour (more if needed)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • Splash of sesame oil
  • 1 tsp powdered chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
Fujian Fried Rice
(from DayDayCook)

For the rice:
  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • 3 oz small shrimp
  • 2-3 broccoli rabe or Chinese broccoli stems, diced*
  • 1-2 Chinese dried scallops, soaked in water overnight, diced (optional)
  • 2-3 shitake mushrooms, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 2 eggs, beaten
For the marinade:
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
  • Ground white pepper to taste
  • Dash of salt
For the sauce:
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp corn starch
  • 2 tbsp water
* If you can't find broccoli rabe or Chinese broccoli, substitute broccolini, which is an American/Chinese broccoli hybrid.

Green Vegetables with Mushrooms
(from Travel China Guide)
  • 5 oz bok choy
  • 3 1/2 oz shitake mushrooms
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
Let's be straightforward this week and start with the ribs:

Rub the meat all over with salt and pepper and then pour the wine over. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Now dredge each rib in sweet potato flour. Heat some cooking oil over a high flame and brown the ribs on all sides. Remove when golden.

Mix the garlic and chives with the dark and light soy sauces, sugar, vinegar, white pepper, sesame oil, chicken stock powder and the rest of the wine. Pour the sauce over the ribs and let cook for a few more minutes. Done!

And the rice:

Devein the shrimp and either chop them up or leave them whole (I left mine whole). Mix the wine with the salt and white pepper and pour over the shrimp. Cover and let marinate in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Now heat some cooking oil over a high flame. Add the garlic and mushrooms and saute for one or two minutes, taking care not to burn the garlic. Add the vegetables and the shrimp and keep cooking until the vegetables begin to soften and the shrimp is cooked through.

To make the sauce, put the chicken stock and soy sauce together in a small pot and bring to a simmer. Let cook for two minutes. Dissolve the cornstarch in the water and pour into the sauce. Reduce to low heat.

In a large frying pan or wok, add the beaten eggs and cook over high heat until they are about halfway set. Now add the rice and stir until combined.

Keep stirring until the eggs are done and add salt to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl and pour the sauce over.

And finally the vegetables:

Trim and quarter the bok choy. Cut the mushrooms into chunks.

Heat some cooking oil in a wok over a high flame. Add the garlic and let cook for a few seconds (it's really easy to burn at this temperature), then add the bok choy. Keep stirring until the bok choy starts to shrink, which should only take a minute or so. Add the salt and turn off the heat. Arrange the bok choy on a serving platter.

Now add a little more oil to the wok and heat over a high flame. Add the mushrooms and cook for one minute, then add about 1/3 cup of water. Reduce the heat and let the mushrooms cook for about five minutes. Increase heat to medium and add the salt, soy sauce and the cornstarch mixture. Stir until combined and then remove from heat. Pour the mushrooms and sauce over the bok choy and serve.

What we thought:

It's hard to know what is traditional and what has been dumbed-down for the American palette, so it could be that an angry person from Fujian will eventually post a message on this entry telling me that my recipes were all wrong. Of course he or she won't actually send the correct recipe to help me fix my error, because he or she never does. But anyway, if this is indeed an accurate representation of Fujian cuisine then I am a fan.

The ribs were really good with a delicious sauce that was just a little bit sweet but without that overpowering American-Chinese sweetness. Now I do think that the ribs could have benefited from being slow-cooked to make them more tender, but their chewiness didn't detract from their good flavor.

I liked the rice a lot—of course I don't think I ever met a fried rice I didn't like. The sauce made it really different from the stuff I usually think of as fried rice, which doesn't typically include sauce at all unless you count straight soy sauce.

And the vegetables—I didn't know I liked shitake mushrooms. I usually find them a little too earthy for my taste. But cooked this way they were really good. I also didn't know that I don't like bok choy. Up until now I've just had it cut up in slivers and added to main courses, but all by itself it's a little too bitter for me.

As for Martin, he approved. This was more like the Chinese food he knows in England. The kids, on the other hand, well I'm sure you can guess. They picked at the pork. They ignored the rice. And the vegetables were met with an overwhelming "ew." But that's just kids.

Next week: Gabon

For printable versions of this week's recipes:


  1. Yeah, I still feel bad about not sending you a recipe for jug-jug (Barbados), sorry. There isAN ingredient in the recipe that you cannot get in this country (guinea corn flour), so I emailed my cousin to find out what substitution to use (from someone I know made it really well here in the states) but she didn't get back to me. Would you like the recipe as is, and you try and figure it out?

  2. Oh! Please don't feel bad. Yours was one of the polite "hey-you-got-this-wrong" messages and I do want to be told when I cook a bad recipe or make a mistake. It's the nasty commenters I have a problem with, who just parachute in, complain and then leave without offering to tell me what exactly it was I did wrong.

    Thank you for posting the jug-jug recipe and I promise I will make it though it will probably be when the weather cools down a bit. I actually already figured out that it must be the guinea flour I was missing (the recipe I used had a substitution which I think wasn't a good one). Believe it or not I did find some guinea corn flour from a seller on Amazon so I'm pretty sure I can make your recipe work. I will post an update when I do and thanks again, I do really appreciate it!


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