The Origins of Braising: Reaction Post
A commentator on the SCA Chinese research group posted an article on the origins and history of lu cai, (there are various names for it), which is a class of dishes made by braising typically meat in stock. I'd not heard of these before, and the article was a fun read. I thought I'd put the highlights here in English, and translate the original sources mentioned.
"滷 Lu" is the operative word and originally meant "to boil water to obtain salt, sometimes an alkali salt," and from there gained meanings around reduction by boiling in general and so can refer to sauces or gravies, as well as things like halogens. Fun!
The article points first to Chu Ci, a collection of poems from what was then the southern kingdom of the fractious warring states period, from around 300-250 BCE. One poem talks about the various foods one eats when returning home, and includes the line 露雞臛蠵，厲而不爽些, narrowly translating as "nectar-chicken and braised-turtle, none can contravene them!" One scholar, Guo Moruo reportedly points to this as the first mention of this cooking style. Perhaps! There's not much else to go on here.
The next reference is to my most familiar text, Qimin Yaoshu. Chapter 79 is "[this character screws up Blogger]綠 Pickled greens." The unprintable character is fairly obscure, and the link for it gives several historical dictionaries under a claimed homograph 菹 zu defining it as variously
- Pickled vegetables
- Salted or pickled vegetables, fermented when fresh, and then stored at moderate temperatures so as to not go mushy (probably a lacto pickle)
- "When finely cut, we call it 齏 ji, when whole pieces we call it 菹 zu"
- A few meanings around fresh pond grass
They call out a recipe titled "綠肉法 Recipe for Green Meat," which they claim is a homophone for braised meat. I'm not sure, but the recipes in it are certainly along the lines of braises or stews:
[X]綠第七十九 Chapter 79: Pickled greens
白𦵔 White Pickles
[X]法：To Make Like-Pickles:
蟬脯菹法：To Make Dried Cicada Pickles:
綠肉法：To Make Green Meat:
白瀹〈瀹，煮也，音藥。〉肫法：To Make White Suckling Pig Soup:
酸肫法： To Make Sour Suckling Pig:
These certainly look like stews in the direction of braising. The word I'm translating here as "braise" can also mean "to roast, to dry-fry," and acquires a meaning of "boil" as the medieval period progresses but I think this reading of "braise" is more likely for this section. It could equally be boil, however - it's not clear. I'm not sure why this section is titled "pickled greens."
The next reference is from Record of the Dream of Rafters, a pretty disorderly text about life in the late Song dynasty around the greater Shanghai area. The page in question talks about how everybody in Hangzhou, no matter how rich or poor, enjoys soups. Salted fish is the main ingredient, and vast amounts of it are on sale spread out in the market and being carried about. The author then lists a bewildering list of kinds of "famous kinds of dried fish", and transitions into "and there's also..." listing other foods that are a little unclear but include "wine river skate, wine fragrant snails, wine oysters, ..., small nail-head fish, purple fish, fish fat, arc clams, mackerel, ... " before mentioning 鹵蝦, "salted shrimp" but which our article claims is the braised shrimp 滷蝦 (remember the etymology of braising originating from salt brine reduction). Another list follows with salted fish condiments (鮓) and jellies, and it does proceed on to "roasted" (炙) fish of various kinds, as well as steamed and stirfried white shrimp.
|Basically this but it's all dried fish|
Image owned by its copyright holder and not released under cc-sa-4
Initially I was unconvinced: 鹵 is not 滷, but when I went to look at the scanned text the character is actually 滷. Now, this is not a slam dunk: this kind of character swap is fairly common historically and while the text appears printed that doesn't meant there are no errors. I'm inclined to think that this is just salted shrimp, since it's not with the prepared food in the list. Either way, we don't have a recipe - the article uses this to cite the beginning of the name 滷 for this cooking method.
The rest of the citations are from the Qing dynasty and I won't be pursuing them in this post, but Sean Chen over at Way of Eating has a recipe for Braised Chicken and Hanged Soy Braised Duck ("braised" as in 鹵) from 1792 cookbook Suiyuan Shidan. Give them a read!
The rest of the article gives more historical background but I'm not equipped to assess it. Enjoy the recipes! Let me know if you try them.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
All images are also released under this license except as noted.