Secret of“Eight Chevon Dishes”
Secret of the savory “Eight Chevon Dishes”
By Gong Jingyang Photographs by Meng Zhigang
Founded in the early years of the Republic of China (1912-1949), the 80-year old Zhengxing Restaurant is well-known for its Time-Honored Eight Chevon Dishes in Huize County and is now running by its third-generation successor Wang Tianshun. The well-known series of dishes of the restaurant, including what is called Fenglang Wangyue, chevon jerky, scallion and corainder haggis, boiled chevon, stewed chevon, scallion minced chevon, braised chevon and pepper-fried lamb liver, are all made of the quality chevon in Huize by steaming, boiling, stir-frying and braising.
Sheep and goats as herbivore animals only diet on grass, hence their meat has a finer, more distinctively savory taste than the meat of pigs, chicken, ducks and geese—all are omnivorous animals. Both are raised for meat, of which is the well-reputed Huize black goat.
Grazing in the deep valleys near the peak of Wumeng Mountain in northeast Yunnan plateau, the black goats in Huize are quite lean yet sturdy. “We can boldly say that the black goats in Huize are purely natural food because they eat medicinal herbs and drink mineral water,” said Wang. Most of the black goats he purchased come from subordinate townships of Huize County, such as Huohong, Nagu and Yulu. “Black goats have darker hair and have more lean flesh than sheep. The chevon looks bright red after braising and boiling while sheep chevon looks pale with stronger goaty flavor.” He added.
The black goats used for making Eight Chevon Dishes should be around the age of two. “At the age of one, a black goat just grows out its teeth and the chevon is too tender to boil for long and it doesn’t taste as good. On the other hand, two-year-old grown-up black goats have optimal size and taste. While black goats bred for over three years—“old goat” as we call it—require a long time to cook thoroughly. And the chevon tastes loose and lacks tightness.” Wang said. It takes luck rather than choice to score the black goats perfect for cooking. In the good days, Wang could find three or four of them in the market. But even he could end up with only one or two when luck works against him.
In Zhengxing Restaurant, up to 20 dishes are made from chevon. The well-known Eight Chevon Dishes are Fenglang Wangyue, chevon jerky, scallion and corainder haggis, boiled chevon, stewed chevon, scallion minced chevon, braised chevon and pepper-fried lamb liver. In addition, the restaurant offers dishes cooked with other parts of a goat, such as hooves and goat blood. A variety of cooking skills are applied here, such as steaming, boiling, stir-frying and braising.
Fenglang Wangyue is in fact cold dish made from the tenderloin of black goats. A cook tightly wraps lean chevon by fat chevon, rolls it into chevon balls and braises it in a pot for over three hours. The cooking employs a traditional cooking ware, native Qujing pottery wok, which is embedded beside the stove. The chevon inside the pottery wok is steamed by the surrounding heat and the whole room will be filled with tasty smell once the wok lid is open. The chevon, after cooked thoroughly, will be sliced and made into cold dish after it cools down. And the dish, placed in distinct arrangement of fat and lean slices, tastes sweet and tender even without any seasoning or dipping source. The name Fenglang Wangyue was given for the appearance of this dish.
As for chevon jerky, the pickling of chevon raises a peculiar demand for timing: it can only be made after The Winter Solstice (22nd solar term) and one month after which is the optimal season to make this dish. After pickling by refined salt for six or seven days, a cook takes the chevon out for air drying. “I’ve tried to pickle chevon in different seasons. Yet only this season gives it a special sweet scent. It is actually a traditional cooking method, which raises a strict requirement for temperature.” Wang said. The rear legs are suitable for making this dish, and Wang added, “Every goat has only two rear legs. Sometimes we can’t meet the demand with the chevon we manage to pickle. And we even run out of stock at times.” The pickled chevon jerky slices taste less goaty and crisp after slowly frying in gentle heat with dry red pepper. It looks red and bright in distinct fat and lean slices, which has a peculiar taste compared with other jerky.
The scallion and chopped entrails is made from the head, hoof and viscera of a black goat. A cook first cleans the raw ingredient, chops them into small pieces and boils them. Then the cook stews the ingredient after washing them clean and put them in dishes with scallions and corainder on it. The soup looks bright and clear and tastes refreshing without ever being greasy.
Braised button is a traditional Yunnan local specialty. A cook fries chunks of black goat chevon (with skin) with condiments and braises them with moderate amount of water. The soup is quite tasty with a delicious goaty flavor and you can have an entire chunk for each bite.
Braised chevon with soy sauce is an exotic dish. A cook fries chevon ribs, covers them with soy sauce and sugar and stews them till they are cooked thoroughly. It has a slightly sweet taste.
For scallion minced chevon, a cook fries minced chevon with cold oil in intense heat. No starch is needed.
Four-season boiled chevon also uses tenderloin as the ingredient. Wang was slicing the chevon as he pressed it with another hand — 30 years’ experience has given him excellent slicing skills. Then he covered it with starch, fried it and then put it in a plate. Finally, he spread Sichuan pepper, pepper and heated oil on it. The tender chevon tasted spicy and hot.
Back to the year of 1911, Jiangxi Chamber of Commerce entertained guests in Jiangxi Hall. “It is also called ‘to invite Chunke’,” said Wang. The Chamber of Commerce specially invited Wang Kaiyun, the chef of Wang family’s Time-Honored Chevon Restaurant, to manage the banquet. Wang cooked three tables of all-chevon banquet, which is a lucky symbol in China; each table has 8 dishes, which is an implication of thriving business.
Wang Tianshun still keeps what his grandfather used when running the restaurant: the old black signboard with red-traced characters, pottery pot, pottery boiler, trays painted by pottery tray, old abacus and wine-warmer bottles. All of these were discovered when Wang was cleaning up his house. He has been keeping them till now since he always has a nostalgic complex for old stuffs. As he applied for the title “Time-Honored Yunnan Brand” for the restaurant, he took pictures and placed them on file.
It has been 35 years since Wang Tianshun began to learn how to cook Eight Chevon Dishes. And it has been 26 years since he took over the restaurant and finished all Eight Chevon Dishes deftly for the first time. “In 1981, my family opened a new restaurant, which I recalled to be the 4th restaurant in Huize County,” said Wang. Since it requires complex techniques, large number of staff and high costs to maintain an Eight Chevon Dishes restaurant, Wang’s brothers shunned away and switched to other catering businesses, so Wang took over the restaurant in 1990. “I never thought of shifting to other business. I have to do this, or else this handed-down technique of ours will get buried in the long history,” said Wang.
Today, the Eight Chevon Dishes Restaurant in Huize County has become a time-honored brand in Yunnan Province. And Wang Tianshun becomes the successor to the intangible catering heritage of Qujing City. “I will hang on this brand, which I have taken great pains to build,” said Wang.
Now, he seeks to open a branch restaurant in Kunming whereby to pass down this brand.