Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Soul Of Indiscretion; Spaghetti Con Uova Di Pesce; Za Jiang Mein – The World’s Oldest Pasta Dish?

"Francis Wheen's comic portrait of one of the 20th century's great characters, Tom Driberg: wit, parliamentarian, serial cottager, alleged communist spy and friend to the Kray brothers.  There are few people for whom marriage was so ill-suited yet well attended: at Tom Driberg's were cabinet ministers and mobsters, Betjeman and Waugh, but it was Osbert Lancaster who commemorated the sheer extraordinariness of the occasion, and with it celebrated the social life of Driberg, and an era of Englishness now passed into history when the Brideshead generation sang the Red Flag."

Spaghetti Con Uova Di Pesce (Spaghetti dressed with a fish roe sauce)
From Alan Davidson, Mediterranean Seafood.

This dish is the invention of Massimo Lorato of Lerici.

Heat olive oil in a pan and add a few cloves of garlic and some parsley.   When the garlic has turned golden, add a suitable amount of fresh fish roe (removed from the enclosing membrane) and a little fresh cream.  Sprinkle the mixture with paprika and moisten it with fish fumet.  Add salt to taste and cook gently for 5 minutes.   Then pass it all through a sieve and use as the dressing for the spaghetti, which you have cooked separately.  (If you have used soft roe, sieving will not be necessary.)   Highly recommended.


This is a simple, but extraordinary, recipe from Alan Davidson, the pre-eminent modern author on fish cookery.   When cooking this dish, we buy flounder roe from the fish seller.  It’s inexpensive, mild and perfect for the dish.  I’ve read previously that this and similar dishes made using the roes of relatively inexpensive commercial fish (i.e., not shad, salmon, etc.) were prized by fishermen, who reserved the delicate roes for their own use while sending their fish to market.  

Za Jiang Mein – The World’s Oldest Pasta Dish?
From Bruce Cost,  “Ginger -- East To West”

This spaghetti with meat sauce can be traced back to around 100 BC.  Although jiang is the Mandarin word for ginger, the jiang in the title of this dish refers to the bean sauce, literally bean pickle, which is a staple of northern and western Chinese cooking.

As with any ancient recipe, versions are nearly as numerous as the cooks who make it.  The authentic versions, such as the one included below, tend to be somewhat salty and oily for Western tastes, but the Chinese intend that a little of this sauce go a long way compared to what a Westerner is used to.  Adjust the oil and bean sauce to taste.  This dish is wonderful served with a platter of shredded garnishes such as sweet or hot peppers, carrots, cucumbers, celery, fresh coriander, or whole bean sprouts.



½ cup peanut or vegetable oil

1 lb. ground pork, the fattier the better

¼ cup chopped ginger

6 tbsp. bean sauce

1 tsp. Sichuan peppercorn powder

1 ½ tsp. sugar

1 lb. Chinese fresh noodles (mein)

1 tsp. sesame oil

½ cup scallions cut into ½ inch lengths

Heat the oil in a wok or heavy skillet and add the pork.  Stir and mash the pork in the oil to break up any clumps.  When the granules have separated, add the ginger and stir for 1 minute.  Add the bean sauce, the peppercorn powder, and the sugar and stir until the sauce is bubbling hot.  Turn off the heat while you prepare the noodles.

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add the noodles.  Turn the heat down slightly and stir the noodles with a large fork to make sure they’re separated.  Cook for just 3 ½ minutes.  Drain in a colander.  Dribble the sesame oil over the noodles and toss briefly.  Reheat the sauce and stir in the scallions. Serve the sauce and the noodles separately, with any or all of the suggested garnishes.  Serves 4-6.


  1. ACravan said...
    Layout poor Inexpert. Never leave a boy to do a man's work. Thissss (hiss intentional) unattractive presentation will be cured anon, but not anonymously. A batman deserves credit.

    ACravan's Batman

  2. Aliki: These two recipes are THE BEST and, once you have the ingredients assembled, SO easy to make. The Italian one is incredibly subtle and delicious. If you like taramasalata, you would love this. The Chinese one really seems to be the world's oldest pasta dish. Did you know that Chinese hot and sour soup is also an ancient recipe and appears in very old books as a cure for colds?

    Your humble compiler,