Chapter 77 - Braised Food

She used a pair of scissors to cut open the chicken intestines and then used cold water to wash out all of the feces. When they were fixing up the rear courtyard, she had deliberately directed people to create a channel next to the well that connected to the outhouse’s latrine pit. By having this, they could wash laundry and vegetables and the dirty water would just flow away.  

“Cao’er, what can I do to help?” Madam Liu couldn’t bear to just watch the two sisters being busy and walked over. 

Yu Xiaocao smiled at her and said, “Mother, you came at the right time. Do we still have any coarse salt left at home? You can grab it and use it to forcefully scrub the inside of the chicken intestines. This will remove any weird odors from it.”

“Use coarse salt to scrub? Are you sure you can sell this for money? When the time comes, I hope you can sell out because otherwise we won’t be able to eat it and would have wasted all of these materials!” Although coarse salt was cheap to buy in areas by the sea, about one copper coin could buy half a jar of it, Madam Liu was used to being frugal and couldn’t help from warning her daughter.

Xiaocao pouted her lips and said, “Mother! Relax! My methods are given to me by the God of Fortune and they definitely won’t fail!” 

After the little girl used the god’s name as a rebuttal, Madam Liu didn’t say anything more and squatted down to scrub the chicken intestines clean with salt. She was very thorough in her work as she was afraid that if they weren’t clean, she’d end up causing more problems for her daughter.  

Xiaocao started to fully concentrate on preparing the chicken liver and gizzards. The most important part when cleaning the liver was to cut off the gallbladder on top. This was delicate work because if you weren’t careful, it was very easy to cut into the gallbladder and leak out its contents. With the spillage, the liver would have a bitter taste that would influence the taste of the final dish in a bad way. Luckily, she had more than ten years of experience from her past life in preparing this and could even do it in her sleep. 

The gizzards, on the other hand, were slightly more troublesome as she needed to cut them open, wash out the feces, and then cut off the inner layer of yellow colored film. However, this yellow chicken gizzard lining was an important medicinal ingredient and was also called ‘fowl’s inner gold’. If a child had indigestion from eating too much, the sun-dried fowl’s inner gold could be ground into a powder and taken. After taking it, the digestive problems would go away. 

Xiaocao was an expert in peeling off this membrane. Out of the forty-so chicken gizzard linings she had to take out, every single one was intact and not a single rip could be seen. 

After the chicken intestines, liver, and gizzards were all cleaned, Xiaocao told her mother to go rest. She then pulled Xiaolian into the kitchen with her. The plan was to finish braising all of these meats tonight and then go into town the next day to see if she could sell them. 

“You want to sell this in town? The townspeople are snobbish and picky. If they found out that you had made these dishes out of the innards of a chicken, they would probably beat you to death. In my opinion, you should try your luck at the docks instead. First of all, we live closer to the docks as it takes less than two hours to walk there. Second, the people who work there, such as the fishmongers and dock porters, all wake up early. Most of them either bring their own breakfast from home or buy something. These people don’t have high expectations for their food. As long as it tastes good and the price is reasonable, they won’t think anything of spending a couple copper coins for food.” Xiaolian had overheard her eldest maternal aunt describing her small business on the docks and proposed this idea to Xiaocao. 

Xiaocao thought for a bit and then nodded her head, “Ok! You are right. It’s very lively and bustling at Tanggu Docks. There’s a decent market for food even if we only count those dockworkers. We’ll go there tomorrow to try our luck!”

The two sisters went into the kitchen and lit the fire to boil water. After the water reached a boil, they first blanched the chicken to remove any odd odors. Next, they needed to make the seasoning sauce. Whether or not a braised dish tasted good depended heavily on its sauce. There were three general types of seasoning sauces for braised food: red sauce, white sauce, and yellow sauce.

In her past life, Xiaocao had received the authentic recipes for the sauces from her shop’s boss. All of the sauces were her proprietary specialties. She thought for a bit and then asked Xiaolian, “Xiaolian, give me a couple more coins, I need to go to Doctor You to buy some herbs and then I’ll come back…” 

At the beginning of spring, Doctor You had returned to the village with a young boy around the age of ten. It was said that this boy was his grandnephew or some sort of relative. Xiaocao had already returned the medicine trunk with all of the money she had earned during the fall and winter back to him. The villagers were also relieved. Although most people had recognized her medical skills, fellow villagers still preferred to have an older doctor to take care of them.

“Medicinal herbs?” Can you really cook with those?” Xiaolian asked, perplexed.

Xiaocao grinned, “Of course. Don’t the more wealthy families often eat ginseng chicken and angelica sinensis stewed with chicken? Don’t those dishes contain medicinal ingredients?” 

Xiaolian muttered under her breath, “How can we compare to those rich people?” However, she still went back to the room and took out the embroidered pouch Xiaocao had returned to her that afternoon and placed it back into her younger sister’s hands.

The medicinal herbs that Xiaocao needed were all very common ones and, thus, were cheap. She only spent ten copper coins on a bunch of different types. After she got home, she started to make the sauce. Since the weather was cold now, she made sure to blend a large portion of the seasoning sauce. 

The seasoning sauce of a braised dish could be used multiple times as long as it was stored properly. In fact, the more times the sauce was used and the longer it fermented, the better the taste and quality. This was because the percentage of soluble proteins in the sauce increased as time went by. This was also the reason why the braised dishes made with older sauces had a more mellow and rich taste compared to the newer sauces. 

Xiaocao started measuring the ingredients. Her recipe required: 20 grams of star anise, 20 grams of chinese cinnamon, 50 grams of dried orange peel, 20 grams of Sichuan peppercorn, 15 grams of fennel, 20 grams of bay leaves, 15 grams of licorice root, 100 grams of dried hot chili pepper, 150 grams of scallions, 150 grams of fresh ginger, one catty of yellow wine, 400 grams of soy sauce, 200 grams of salt…(Author’s note: Please don’t try to make this at home, this is a simplified recipe.

When Xiaolian saw forty copper coins worth of materials being wrapped into a cheesecloth and being thrown into the basin, she hastily said, “Is it okay to make so much on the first try? What if it turns out bad…” 

“There won’t be a problem with it!” Xiaocao interrupted her firmly. Perhaps her confidence made Xiaolian feel more confident since she didn’t make any more comments and only followed Xiaocao’s instructions in increasing or decreasing the heat on the stove. 

“Smells so good! Mother, do you smell it yet? This must be the smell of Second Sister’s finished offal dish. I’m going to go look!” Little Shitou, who had been laying on the bed digesting his food, was like a police dog who had smelled something interesting. He scrambled off the kang bed, hastily slipped on his old and worn cotton shoes, and bolted out the room. He ran so fast that he almost tripped on the threshold of the door. 

Madam Liu could only laugh and shake her head, “This child...Shitou’s father, let’s go look too?”

Yu Hai was also bursting with curiosity so he nodded his head and put on his shoes quickly to go to the kitchen.

The forty portions of chicken offal had been stewed together in one big pot and was simmering merrily at low heat on the stove. Little Shitou waited impatiently at the side of the stove, his eyes flickering with a feverish, excited light. He resembled a little puppy who had spotted a juicy, meaty bone. All he lacked was a wagging tail and a lolling tongue. 

Xiaocao felt that the time was about right and opened the lid. She ladled up some chicken intestines and blew on them a couple of times before offering them to the little fellow’s mouth. 

Little Shitou shook his head in refusal, “This will be sold for money, I shouldn’t eat it…” 

“It’s just a small bite, we don’t need to save it” Xiaocao forcefully pushed the food into the little boy’s mouth. The braised intestines had a delicious flavor and the texture was very crispy which gave it a very good mouthfeel. The little fellow closed his eyes in bliss and carefully chewed on the food as he wanted to savor the flavor as long as possible. 

Xiaocao also gave everyone else a share to let them all have a taste. Yu Hai and Xiaolian very willingly opened their mouths to eat it. Madam Liu, on the other hand, was much more hesitant. She asked her husband doubtfully, “How’s the taste? Does it smell or taste bad?”  

Xiaocao didn’t know whether she should laugh or cry and said, “Mother, do you really think my cooking is that bad?” 

Yu Hai soothed her ego by nodding his head profusely, “Delicious, very delicious! You really can’t tell these are chicken intestines. They have the flavor of chicken—no, they’re even better than your red-braised chicken pieces! Yes, if you’re going to sell these, there will definitely be people who’ll want to eat it!” 

Xiaolian also vigorously nodded her head to express her agreement. Xiaocao also took a taste herself and slightly frowned and said, “Too bad we don’t have any MSG or bone broth. The taste is not as good as it could be. However, it’s still quite good!”  Once Madam Liu saw that everyone was praising the food ceaselessly, she got the courage to try a mouthful. As soon as she put it in her mouth, the fragrant and dense flavor stunned her, “This...is this really the flavor of those dirty chicken intestines? This is truly, truly too inconceivable!!”

Xiaocao also put the leftover chicken blood from the previous night into the stew. After braising it together, she was planning on selling it together with the chicken offal. 

“How much should I sell one catty for?” Xiaocao somewhat worriedly talked to herself.

Yu Hai gave her a very good idea: The dockworkers could usually earn around thirty to forty copper coins a day. When business wasn’t as good, they could still get more than twenty coins. The braised food that Xiaocao made still had the taste of meat even if it was made with chicken offal. If she sold it by the catty and the price was low, then she wouldn’t make much money. On the other hand, if the price was high, then no one would buy it.  

However, if she split into small packets of food and sold it for one copper coin a packet, then the workers definitely wouldn’t care about spending one to two copper coins. After all, it was food that had meat in it and was tasty and cheap. How could it not sell? 

Xiaocao felt like she had reached the light at the end of the tunnel and regarded her father with gleaming and admiring eyes. She had to admit, her father really had a head for business! 

Yu Hai felt his pride swell when he saw his daughter’s worshipful gaze. He chuckled as he went to find some oiled paper. The whole family worked together to make sixty little portioned packets of the braised chicken offal. Each packet had some intestines, liver, and gizzards. The chicken blood was not easy to pack into the oiled paper so instead they put it all into a jar. When they were selling the food, they could add a little chicken blood to each portion. This way, the portion size of each one copper coin packet wouldn't be small! 

That night, Xiaocao was so excited that she tossed and turned on the kang bed for a long time but still couldn't fall asleep. It was only after about 3 in the morning did she finally doze a little before she woke up at dawn.  When Yu Hai saw the dark circles underneath his younger daughter’s eyes, he laughed and teased her, “Still inexperienced, huh!  Aren’t you super confident in your own skills, eh? What are you worrying for?”

‘Hey, do I look worried, eh? I was excited, ok?’ 

After finishing breakfast at the crack of dawn, Xiaocao refused her father’s offer to come with her. Instead, she brought along the equally excited Little Shitou and started walking in the direction of the docks, with a large basket holding their goods. 

As the rays of the early morning sun shone upon the docks, the area was as bustling and lively as before. The sounds of hawkers advertising their wares, shouts, and work chants...wove together again. A cargo ship from far away had just reached the shore and the dock workers were in full swing unloading the goods. 

This was her second time coming to the docks. As before, Xiaocao took in the sights and sounds of the scene with an interested curiosity. 

“Second Sister, where should we go to sell our braised food?” Little Shitou had a lot of confidence in his sister and was eager to get started.

Xiaocao thought a bit. The dock workers and fishermen most likely had brought food from home with them. However, in the chilly air of dawn, most of them still needed to drink a hot bowl of soup to warm themselves up. Therefore, she walked towards a row of low straw sheds with her basket in hand.

The stalls here sold porridge, hot noodle soup, or steamed buns fresh from the stove. There were also people like her with baskets on their arms, selling some small appetizers from home or some pickled vegetables. For example, Xiaocao’s eldest maternal aunt was one of these people.

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Translator: Sanguine