A bite of China- Power of Time on Cured Meat

2012-07-19China Food

Time, the sworn enemy of food, sometimes is also the friend of food. Although we have obtained diversified ways to preserve food by means of modern technology, such old methods as pickling, air-drying, fumigating and salting had once unexpectedly brought us different and sometimes even unrivalled taste of food, which is the taste of time. Even to these days, those cured food still have a strong impact on people’s daily diet. Here I will talk about two cured meat that is popular in South China especially in Hunan Province – bacon and salted fish.

When autumn comes to South China, people there will be tempted by another taste of time – different from the taste of Kimchi in North China. People have their own way to preserve food that is contrast to that of North China as the weather and natural environment is quite different. With the intention of better preserving fresh meat which easily goes bad in humid and hot weather of the south, people created a way which can sometimes be a combination of salting, air-drying and fumigating. The unexpected bonus is they gain a different and even more unforgettable taste. Bacon is a traditional winter necessity for southerners in China. Today, bacon can be seen on family table as well as on the table of top restaurant. Hot Pot Rice (Bao Zai Fan) is a typical way to eat cured meat. Cooking Hot Pot Rice is a both sophisticated and painstaking task. The most difficult thing is timing. Fresh rice and a clay pot are needed to cook a good pot of rice. Rice is to be done with big fire and then be baked on charcoal stove to allow the gravy slowly seep into rice. Warm, fragrant and sticky Hot Pot Rice is always a mouthwatering food right to be eaten in winter.

In central mainland of China, you will have the chance to enjoy a primitive food – bacon. Jingzhou Miao and Dong Autonomous County (Jingzhou for short), a county in the west of Hunan Province, has a mountainous terrain and is quite secluded from the outside world. Winter is the season to make bacon for each family in Jingzhou. Bacon is fairly popular in Sichuan, Hunan and Guangdong Province. It is usually made in the twelfth month of Chinese lunar calendar, early than Chinese Spring Festival. It hardly goes bad. As it is smoked and salted, bacon is free from flies even on ''sauna day''. Moreover, not being too greasy, it has unique flavor and can be appetite-boosting and digestible. In Jingzhou, Fresh meat is first cut into even slices and then daubed with salt which will be melted in homemade rice wine. Jingzhou is abundant in wood resources. Hardwood from tea tree and arbutus is ideal to be used as fuel to fumigate the meat. The ready meat is then to be hanging above the fire pond where cooking takes place. Pine cores and orange peels will be added constantly to make the cured meat more scented. The best place to keep bacon is the dry and lucifugal granary. Bacon must be peeled off with fire and cleansed in rice water before it is cooked.

The eighth month of Chinese lunar calendar is final growth stage of rice and the best time to make salted Hehua fish (scientific name: Procypris merus) as well. It is essential to make a good wooden bucket, the major material of which is a bunch of China fir. The bucket will eventually be fastened with bamboo splits to avoid erosion of salt. In fact, a Hehua fish is a carp growing in rice paddies and got its name as it likes eating standing grains. The Hehua fish tastes sweet and tender as thriving rice contains high sugars and nutrition. Catching fish in rice paddies is do the most enjoyable and exciting thing for boys and girls in rural areas of Jingzhou. Although these simple boys and girls are short of modern toys, they do not lack fun. The first step to cure the fish is to fry the sticky rice with oil, which is an indispensable condiment. Fresh red peppers, gingers, Shan Nai (Rhizoma Kaempferiae), Mu Jiangzi (Litsea cubeba) and salt are mixed together with fish. Clamp the fish layer upon layer and finally cover the bucket with heavy staffs. Salted fish is edible one month later and usually served along with beans. Bacon is usually served with radish slices. For simple Miao people, Cured meat is not only food but also unforgettable memory in life.
---By Sunny (VisitOurChina)