38. Identify Leftovers
Proofread by Peter Gong
What Cai Renxin and Shuixian bought are Bean Noodles within Offal Gravy and Fried Pork and Omasum, both of which are quite popular but commoners don’t cook Bean Noodles within Offal Gravy frequently. The so-called offal gravy is stewed from chitterlings, pork tripe, pork hearts and pig lungs, which is similar to offal soup now while the difference is adding more chitterlings. Put bean noodles in this gravy, and Bean Noodles within Offal Gravy is done. Commoners won’t cook it frequently because pig offal is not easy to deal with. Besides, a full set of pig offal will make a big pot of gravy, which cannot be eaten up quickly and is difficult to be stored, too.
In contrast, Fried Pork and Omasum is normal in people’s daily life, and fried pork is actually braised pork, which is just slightly different from classical braised pork in later times. It must be fried with caramel colorant before braised, so it is called fried pork. “Fried Pork and Omasum” is exactly braised pork with omasum. At that time, a high-level stoker is needed when cooking Fried Pork and Omasum on stove, or it is not easy to stew pork soft and make omasum absorbed.
Xu Zhiwei takes a mouthful of Fried Pork and Omasum which is bought by Cai Renxin and Shuixian, and frowns at once. He keeps chewing it and savors its taste carefully instead of swallowing it.
“Chef Xu, is there anything strange?” Zhu Shengpeng asks calmly, though he is anxious in his heart.
Xu Zhiwei doesn’t reply. He picks up chopsticks and takes a mouthful of Bean Noodles within Offal Gravy. This time he chews and swallows it quickly, smacks his lips, and then takes a spoonful of gravy. He frowns again when he just puts the spoon in his mouth.
“Hmm, they taste somehow strange. Oil is heavy in the omasum so that it has no astringency and bean flavor at all. It should have been cooked very well, and its ingredients should be cooked properly. However, somehow I can feel a kind of oily which irritates my throat when I chew it meticulously. Bean Noodles within Offal Gravy is also strange. Bean noodles’ softness is quite well when chewed, and the heating degree is also appropriate. But the gravy has a burnt and bitter aftertaste. It can’t be explained by normal cooking methods.” Even Xu Zhiwei himself cannot understand what he has discovered.
“That is already enough. We will soon send people to disseminate the news everywhere that Taihe’s Fried Pork and Omasum makes throat uncomfortable and its Bean Noodles within Offal Gravy is burnt and bitter.” Zhu Shengpeng breathes a sigh of relief. He just worries that Xu Zhiwei couldn’t find out shortcomings in Taihe’s dishes because he does not fear that there is something strange with those dishes.
“No, no. It is hard for people to feel these shortcomings. Even I must taste them carefully. If you disseminate what people cannot check, they will say we plot against others for no evidence. What’s more, even some experienced and critical gourmets could feel it, they can only whack two of Taihe’s dishes but have little effect on its whole business.”
“Then what do you…”
“There is something strange with these two dishes now. We’d better find out the reason, and then maybe we can give a devastating blow to the cooking methods of all dishes or selection of ingredients at Taihe.” Xu Zhiwei insists on finding out the reason.
“It is difficult enough to get these two dishes. It must be more difficult to find out the reason why they taste strange. By the way, Mr. Cai, have you heard anything helpful when you went to buy dishes with Shuixian?” At the moment Cai Renxin and Shuixian are concentrating on murmuring beside the counter, and pay no attention to Xu Zhiwei who is tasting dishes and has noticed something strange. Shuixian praises Cai Renxin in a low voice, “Today you were kind of heroic. I told you to go but you kept standing with me.” “What did you say? How could I leave you behind in danger? I wouldn’t go first in any case even if we couldn’t get these dishes.” Cai Renxin’s voice is low but firm. “Aren’t you afraid that Chen Erwei might get away and turn back to catch you?” “I’m not afraid, aha. I won’t let them hurt you even if they arrest and torture me.” Probably feeling diffident and embarrassed with what he said, Cai Renxin begins to scratch his tangled hair.
“Hmm, that’s good. Wait, you are still blamable. You didn’t obey my order when I asked you to go. It is a grave mistake when soldiers fail to obey the general’s order. It is not a question of torture but of beheading.” Shuixian says while she feels like eating honey.
Meanwhile, Zhu Shengpeng interrupts their murmurs. “Anything helpful? What do you mean?” Cai Renxin only hears the last half of the sentence. “I’m asking if you have ever heard anyone’s talking about Taihe’s dishes when you bought dishes there.” Zhu Shengpeng repeats his question at length with patience. “I’m afraid not. Those customers just say Taihe’s take-out dishes are delicious, greasy and cheap.” What Cai Renxin heard is no more than that, and he can’t recall more. “Is there anyone who didn’t buy dishes from there and has ever said anything? Or have their own servants said anything?” Xu Zhiwei asks again. “No, no, I really didn’t hear anything.” Cai Renxin reaches out to scratch his head again, but tips his cap.
“Hey, someone did! Don’t you remember it? When Chen Erwei dragged me into the hall to order dine-in dishes, he said Taihe’s dishes are inedible which are made from hogwash in bucket and are prepared for inferiors.” Shuixian interposes at once. She doesn’t have a good memory, but Cai Renxin paid no attention to this sentence at all when he focused on Chen Erwei’s sexual harassment.
“Did Chen Erwei ever say this? If so, I’m afraid he wanted to temp you to the hall with him.” Cai Renxin’s view is also convincing. An asshole like Chen Erwei always talks trash. Nearly whatever he says is a lie.
“Don’t say that. This time Chen Erwei may have leaked the truth unintentionally.” Xu Zhiwei softly taps the table. Then he picks up the spoon and chopsticks and rushes for that two dishes again.
This time he doesn’t taste those dishes. Instead, he takes out another bowl and ladles out some gravy in Fried Pork and Omasum. Then he puts the bowl in a basin of cold well water. After that, he takes out a bowl, picks out bean noodles in Bean Noodles within Offal Gravy and puts them in the bowl, and slowly pours out its gravy. Only ingredients which have deposited at the bottom of the bowl are left.
When that is finished, Xu Zhiwei pokes at bite-size offal that has settled in the lower layer of offal gravy. He puts aside offal, and what is left in the middle are some short and chopped pieces of bean noodles.
“Can you perceive what is different with these bean noodles?” Xu Zhiwei asks, but continues before anyone answers him. “Compared with those long bean noodles I have just picked out, these are more thick and seem distended.”
“It’s not strange. Short and chopped pieces of bean noodles can absorb water more easily, so they are likely to be more thick and distended.” Shuixian sometimes prepares meals herself. She once soaked bean noodles so she knows the law to some degree.
“But soaked bean noodles will lose their water when they are put in gravy and boiled, so they are supposed to turn thin again and keep soft like those long bean noodles I have just picked out. If they sink at the bottom and cannot lose water and turn thin, they must have been soaked twice.”
“Have been soaked twice? What does it mean?” Shuixian is curious.
“That is to say, they have once been soaked in water before cooking and are soaked in soup again after they are boiled in gravy and turn thin. As a result, these bean noodles have lost elasticity so they will stay in a swollen condition and sink at the bottom with abundant water.”
Zhu Shengpeng partly understands it. “Chef Xu, you mean leftover gray is used in Taihe’s take-out Bean Noodles within Offal Gravy so that some short and chopped bean noodles are unavoidably left in it when they pour out leftover gravy?”
“You’ve got it. They use leftover gravy so condiments and materials in it will be boiled twice, which is likely to bring about burnt and bitter taste in gravy. It is especially obvious with offal which is naturally bloody and dirty.” Xu Zhiwei judges with confidence.
“Leftover gravy? Disgusting! Taihe is so shameless in business!” Shuixian covers her mouth as if she is about to vomit.
“According to their current price, they can’t even get their investment back, not to mention wages and rents. And they dare not use dead livestock or poultry in dishes, which is easy to be caught because normal customers can directly feel strange in terms of elasticity, smell and color. In the end, they have to use leftover gravy in the private rooms and hall, and add some cheap bean noodles when cooking take-out dishes. It is not easy for customers to feel strange, while the cost drops sharply.”
“Aha, no wonder Taihe’s take-out dishes are intermittent. They are actually waiting for leftover dishes and soups in the private rooms and hall, or they can’t cook take-out dishes!” Cai Renxin also realizes it. “So do they use leftover meat and omasum in Fried Pork and Omasum as well?”
“Fried Pork and Omasum is mostly omasum in fact. A little meat and gravy serve as omasum’s condiments. Consequently, meat is rare in leftovers because customers usually pick out and eat it first. Omasum will be stained after boiling. If leftover omasum is boiled twice with condiments, its color will be quite different from fresh omasum, which will be revealed at a glance.”
“So Fried Pork and Omasum doesn’t have any problem?” Cai Renxin shouldn’t have asked that if he focuses on Xu Zhiwei’s testing instead of murmuring with Shuixian.
“No, it does have. The omasum is too oily, which is unattainable with less meat and gravy. They must have added extra oil, and the oil is not so good and it irritates my throat.”
“Maybe they use unqualified oil, or old oil which has already gone off?” Shuixian asks with her hand covering her mouth, showing her disgust. “Not much chance. Unqualified oil or old oil is also easy to be found by customers. Look at the cooled gravy. What do you see?” Xu Zhiwei points at the bowl in the cold well water and asks, “Oil will form on the surface of cooled gravy. If it is simply oil in fried meat, it should be white lard, and sugar and sauce can be seen indistinctly on the surface. But you can see there is some yellow flowing oil on white lard. It does not freeze because it is vegetable oil whose freezing point is lower than that of lard. Besides, it is hard to see sugar and sauce’s color on the lard, but a faint green can be seen.” Everything must be pointed out by Xu Zhiwei or others cannot notice it.
“So what do they mean?” Zhu Shengpeng still fails to know why, though he has seen it.
“You fool! The oil in Fried Pork and Omasum is miscellaneous. Both animal oil and vegetable oil are used.” Cai Renxin answers Zhu Shengpeng’s question actively. Probably he wants to show his wisdom in the presence of Shuixian.
“Not only miscellaneous oil, but also oil on water, or you can call it slaver oil. They put some leftovers in water, and collect oil on the surface when it floats up.” Xu Zhiwei has heard someone cooked with this kind of oil when he was touring and learning cooking, but this is the first time he himself has witnessed that.