Jiangsu Cuisine (苏菜), widely referred to as Su Cuisine, is one of the eight famous culinary "schools" of China. The famous chefs of three major cities of the Jiangsu Province of past dynasties created the traditional dishes that make up what is today termed Su Cuisine. These cities are: Nanjing, known since antiquity as "the Emperor's Domain"; Suzhou, commonly referred to as "Paradise"; and Yangzhou, acclaimed by historians as "the Most Affluent City under Heaven". These three Jiangsu Province cities are considered cradles of Su Cuisine, having produced many famous Chinese chefs as well as a multitude of famous Su Cuisine dishes.
The culinary school known as Su Cuisine is arrived at by simply co-joining the unique cooking styles of these three prominent Jiangsu cities. The essence of Su Cuisine, seen as a combination of its three subcategories, can best be described by the following general characteristics:
1 - Su Cuisine pays a great deal of attention to detail, both in the choice of ingredients as well as in the choice of their method of cooking. This includes carefully regulated preparation and cooking/ baking times so as to produce the optimal result, neither under- or overcooked.
2 - Su Cuisine excels in a variety of common cooking methods such as stewing, simmering, steaming, sautéing, stir-frying, and baking - or warming up, as the case may be - via gentle heat.
3 - Su Cuisine is characterized by a clear and fresh taste, with moderate saltiness and sweetness. Its heavy sauces are thick without being greasy; its light sauces achieve lightness without being watery.
4 - Su Cuisine leans toward flavor-enhanced, light soups and meat dishes that employ the original juices of the meat, obviating - as far as possible - the need for "gravy", i.e., heavier sauces.
The three separate subcategories, or styles, of Su Cuisine distinguish themselves as follows:
Nanjing Style - The Nanjing style of Su Cuisine emphasizes fine slicing and dicing techniques, with speed and accuracy as important metrics, as it were. Nanjing style dishes tend to have a robust flavor, since the Nanjing style has let itself be inspired by the "four corners of China" (this is not surprising, given that Nanjing was known down through the ages as "the Emperor's Domain"). Its fresh ingredients, with their fresh bouquet and their "just-right" (al dente) degree of crispness versus tenderness, has won the Nanjing style of Su Cuisine many kudos.
Suzhou Style - The Suzhou style of Su Cuisine leans toward a slight sweetness in taste, and excels in the use of fresh, seasonal vegetables. The latter means that the Suzhou style of Su Cuisine specializes in dishes that reflect the seasonal availability of vegetables, a corollary of which is that one would have to visit Suzhou during each separate season of the year in order to appreciate the breadth of the Suzhou style of Su Cuisine.
Yangzhou Style - The Yangzhou style of Su Cuisine, which used to be called the Huai-Yang style cuisine, is characterized by superb cutting (slicing, dicing, etc.) techniques, carefully regulated cooking times and fresh, vibrant colors, all of which are dovetailed to the larger perspective of a supreme taste as well as visual experience. Hearty yet light, the Yangzhou style of Su Cuisine appeals to almost any palate. Yangzhou style soups are unparalleled.
Typical Su Cuisine dishes are: Diced Chicken and Carrots, Mandarin Fish in Squirrel Shape, Wind-Dried Chicken, Sparrow in Hot Sauce, Braised Turtle, Dove with Spice Powder, Freshwater Shrimp with Bitter Melon, Egg Soup with Chrysanthemum Blades, Long-Lasting Wealth (stir-fried tripe) and Crispy Fragrant Duck.