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April 9th, 2012

Day Four: Simply, The Rabbit


Day Four began innocently, with chicken thighs.


With the help of Chinese onion, ginger, garlic (local single clove variety), red chilies, Sichuan peppercorns and a handful of peanuts the professor whipped up a reasonably good Kung Pao Chicken (宫保鸡丁; gongbao jiding).


Why only good? Bear in mind that here in school we replace fine chicken stock with water and reuse cooking oil.


In the meantime, the main ingredient for the second dish was boiled and cooled. Meet the rabbit (the upper half), depicted raw. After boiling, rabbits turn gray.


Dressed with chili oil and sauteed bean paste, scattered with peanuts and dusted with peppercorn powder, the rabbit became an attractive and delicious starter known as Rabbit Cubes With Peanuts (花仁拌兔丁; huaren ban tuding).


Time to practice! Our team is large (seven people on some days), so we were assigned a whole rabbit and a torso. Rabbit's proportions and color look oddly human.


While the hands of our in-team chef confidently dismember the body, the hand of our lovely teammate keeps diving for the peanuts. Her mother sent her to school to learn a practical skill, but her heart is with singing and dancing.


Ingredients were laid out on platters and each classmate took turns at the wok, producing individual Kung Pao Chicken portions.


The teacher does not need to taste the dish to give intelligent comments: the color of each ingredient and the look of the sauce tells him everything.


"It's all too easy to burn the peppers!"


The practice is over, but we aren't done with rabbits. Later that night we visited a legendary eatery, Mother Wang's Roasted Rabbit. The shop was barren, crammed with rabbits. Roasting rabbits spinning on the rotisserie grill, charred rabbits impaled on skewers, smoked rabbits in cellophane bags, rabbit heads piled separately. Speaking of rabbit heads, I haven't graduated to eat this delicacy yet, but I've been reading theory and readying myself for this great leap forward.


The rabbit body, however, is safe and scrumptious. First smoked, then grilled, then hacked in pieces, then torn by hand, and lastly tossed in oil with chilies, leeks, peppercorns and cumin. It was some of the most fun 'fast food' I've had. We pretty much got drunk on roasted rabbit, so good it was.


The rabbit lasted for a while, complemented with spicy grilled lettuce and garlic shoots and quelled by ice-cold beers (chilled beer is rare in Chengdu). Too bad it didn't last forever...