Chao Gan (Fried Liver) is a featured local snack in Beijing. Its soup is in bright red color, the liver and intestine are rather delicious, tasty but not greasy, the soup is thin but no clear separation of water.
Chao Gan is evolved from Ao Gan (stewed liver) and Chao Fei (stir-fried lung), folk foods in the Song Dynasty. Its main ingredients are pork liver and intestine, while the auxiliary ingredient is garlic, etc., which are thickened during cooking by starch. Initially, when eating Chaogan, people would sip along the ring of the bowl, and ate small dumplings at the same time. But now the procedure is not so rigid and complicated.
During Tongzhi reign in Qing dynasty, Huixianju restaurant in Xianyukou Alley of Qianmen invented a new recipe to cook Chaogan without starch thickening. Now, many people would think Huixianju is the inventor for Chaogan.
In typical recipe of Chaogan, pork intestine is the main ingredient, while pork liver only accounts for one-third. The process of making Chaogan is: Soak up pork intestine in solution with soda and salt, then wash it with vinegar-added clear water, and boil. When the water boils, continue stewing with soft fire, and make sure the pot lid is well covered so that the intestine would be well done. When the stewing finishes, cut the intestine into segments about half an inch in length, which are popularly called “thumbstall segments”. Next, wash up the fresh pork liver and cut it into strips like willow leaves.
The production of seasoning is to put anise into hot cooking oil, when it is well fried, put in garlic. After the garlic turns yellow, immediately put in some yellow soya paste. When the seasoning is ready, put it in a pot for later application. In addition, some soup made of top mushroom should also be stewed for future use. When all the ingredients and seasoning are ready, we can start to cook Chaogan. First, put the well boiled intestine into hot water, and then add garlic, paste, chopped onion, starch, chopped ginger, and mushroom soup. Next, put raw liver strips into the pot, thicken it with starch. Last, spread some smashed garlic, ready to serve.
When the Chaogan from Huixianju restaurant got popular, more and more small restaurants and snack bars added Chaogan into their food list. Accordingly, there appeared some slang expressions centering on Chaogan, such as “you guy is like Chaogan – short of heart and lungs” to scold a person, or “Zhu Bajie eats Chaogan – an internecine struggle” to satirize those people or actions fighting internally.
Chaogan in Beijing has a long history, evolving from folk foods of Aogan and Chaofei in Song dynasty. During Tongzhi reign in Qing dynasty, the restaurant called Huixianju made it without using starch, which got quite popular. In those years, there was a popular allegorical saying developed from Chaogan, “Chaogan without starch thickening – torturing heart and lung”. When eating Chaogan, the person should take a small dumpling in hand, and sip along the bowl ring.
In Qing dynasty, sales of Chaogan had two ways – from restaurants or peddlers carrying his outfits with a shoulder pole. Among the first kind, the most famous should be Huixianju outside of Qianmen.
The Chaogan made by Tianxingju in Beijing was awarded the title of Chinese famous snack by the National Cooking Association in December, 1997.
Chaogan was first invented by brothers of a Liu family, who ran a restaurant in Beijing called Huixianju. The three brother of Liu first sold boiled entrails, but the business was not much satisfied. Therefore, the three brothers often studied the ways to improve their products. Coincidentally, a famous reporter called Yang Manqing liked to visit snack bars in Beijing at that time, so he knew the Liu brothers well. When he knew their concerns, he suggested they take out the heart and lung from their product, then add soya paste and starch, but the name should not be stewed intestine but fried liver – Chaogan. He continued to tell the brothers that if people asked why it was called fried liver, the brothers should reply they the liver had actually been fried. Finally, he added that he would publish some articles to promote it for them. Hearing this, the brothers were very happy and followed what Yang had said. They soaked pork intestine in solution of soda and salt, then wash it with water and vinegar, and stew it with soft fire. When the intestine is well cooked, they took it out and cut into small segments. Then they sliced the fresh pork liver into strips like willow leaves. Next, they prepared seasoning. They put cooking oil into frying pan to fry anise, then put in raw garlic. After the garlic got yellow, put in soya paste. At the same time, they cooked soup with fine mushroom. When all these were ready, they began to make their Chaogan. First, they put the well cooked intestine segments into hot water, then garlic, soya paste, chopped onion, chopped ginger, mushroom soup. Next, they put in the slices of raw pork liver, and immediately thickened it with starch. Finally, they scattered some mashed garlic to finish their product. The soup of it is clear and bright, the pork intestine is soft and delicious, the liver is tender and fresh, so that the whole snack is tasty but not greasy, small wonder that it is one of the top snacks in Beijing.