Amy Van and Chris Tan have been so kind as to allow Gastronommy to publish some of the recipes from their book, Chinese Heritage Cooking, for you to try out at home. The second recipe to be presented will be Steamed Whole Fish. (For other recipes, see Steamed Radish Cake and Sweet and Sour Pork.)
Steamed Whole Fish
The success of this dish depends on using supremely fresh fish and having precise timing. Diners should be seated and waiting for the fish as it steams, as once done, the fish will wait for no one. Every element is designed to precisely enhance the taste of the fish in some way—the high heat cooks the flesh quickly, preserving its freshness, the acidity of the spring onion (scallion) and ginger balance the richness of the oils in the fish fat and the final drizzle of sauce over the cooked fish adds umami (savouriness). This recipe can be used for fish such as sea bass, grouper, marble goby (soon hock), snapper, sole, and so on.
Whole fish 1, about 700 g (11/2 lb)
Shaoxing rice wine 1 tsp
Salt 1/8 tsp
Ginger 4–5 thin slices
Spring onion (scallion) 1, cut into 3-cm (1-in) lengths
Rock sugar 25 g (4/5 oz), finely crushed
Water 150 ml (5 fl oz)
Coriander leaves (cilantro) with roots 1 small sprig, well washed
White peppercorns 1/4 tsp
Dried tangerine peel 1 very small piece
Superior light soy sauce 80 ml (21/2 fl oz)
Superior dark soy sauce 1/2 tsp
Spring onions (scallions) 2, cut into fine shreds
Red chilli 1, deseeded and cut into fine shreds
Young ginger 4-cm (11/2-in) knob, peeled and finely shredded
Peanut oil 2 tsp
Sesame oil 1 tsp
1. Make the sauce. Combine rock sugar, water, coriander, peppercorns and tangerine peel in a small pot and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10–15 minutes. Strain into a bowl and let cool before stirring in light and dark soy sauces. Set aside.
2. Gut and clean fish, then rinse well and pat dry. If it is very thick, make a few slashes on each side or slit it along its belly and splay it out. Rub it all over with rice wine and salt.
3. Lay 2 or 3 chopsticks across a shallow oval dish that is just bigger than the fish. Lay the fish on top of the chopsticks, on one side if the fish is flat-bodied or with its slit stomach splayed out if it is a round-bodied fish.
4. Scatter ginger slices and spring onion over and around the fish. Steam over mediumhigh heat for 9–12 minutes, until fish is just cooked through to the bone. Large or thick fish will take a bit longer to cook.
5. Carefully transfer fish to a serving plate. Discard ginger slices and spring onion. Reserve the juice that has collected in the steaming plate only if it tastes good.
6. Drizzle some of the sauce and cooking juice (if you have kept it) around the fish. Garnish with spring onions, chilli and ginger. Combine peanut and sesame oils in a small pan and heat until very hot. Pour hot oil over spring onions, chilli and ginger to release their aroma. Serve immediately.