This is a classic dish that you will find in a good Chinese seafood restaurant. To tell a good Chinese seafood restaurant, you will notice a large fish tank in the premises where you can pick the exact fish you want sitting on you table. Usually, the ambience is loud, raucous, and filled with rather annoying Chinese music!
I made this dish for Chinese New Year as fish is one of the symbol foods of this ancient holiday and tradition. The Chinese character for ‘fish’ 魚 (yú) has the same phonetic sound as the character for ‘surplus’ 餘 (also yú). Some of you might have heard the favored Chinese New Year greeting 年年有餘 (niǎn niǎn yǒu yú) which wishes the receiver of said greeting, ‘surpluses each year’. This dish makes sure of that. Tradition has it that you should not eat all of the fish but leave a little behind to signify that you have more than enough.
1 whole fish; the fish in the picture is a red snapper but you may use any white-fleshed fish like cod, halibut, or bass (you will find fresh whole fish at your local Asian supermarket and some might even prepare it for you by cleaning and scaling the fish for free)
2-inch piece of fresh ginger root julienned as thin as possible without slicing your own fingers
Soy sauce, Sugar, Cooking Oil, Rice Wine Vinegar
1. Place the fish on its belly so that it stands up on a dish. You might have to spread the underside of it slightly so that it will stay standing. Pour a few teaspoons of water and soy sauce over the fish. Sprinkle the julienned ginger all over the little fella.
2. Prepare the steamer. Place an overturned bowl onto a deep skillet or saucepan that is larger that the dish your fish is on. Fill water up to about 1 inch. The key element in steaming is the lid, so make sure that whatever cooking equipment you use has a lid that fits well. With the lid on, Bring the water to a rumbling boil.
3. Once the water is up to a boil, Place the dish with the fish on top of the overturned bowl and cover. Steam for 10 minutes. You will notice some of the skin on the fish begin to peel off, exposing the white flesh which will help you determine when the fish is ready. Do not steam for longer than 12 minutes or you will get a piece of rubber that looks like a fish.
4. While the fish is in the sauna, heat up 2 tablespoons of cooking oil. In a separate saucepan, heat up 3-4 tablespoons of soy sauce. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar and a dash of rice wine vinegar and stir.
5. Once the fish is ready, remove from the steaming station and drain off all the liquids that are produced from steaming the fish. This is usually a cloudy liquid that you won’t want to serve! Pour the hot oil over the fish and listen to the sizzle. This will give the quickly crisp the skin of the fish and also coat it with a nice glisten.
6. Pour the soy sauce mixture of the fish and serve immediately.
Fish is one of the dishes that I grew up on. My grandfather sold fish in the morning markets of Singapore and would set aside the best of the catch for his family. Living in the middle of a continent, it’s difficult to find good and fresh seafood but with a little creativity, and tolerance, it’s possible to enjoy the delicate flavors that seafood brings. If you are not a fan of fish, I plead with you to give it a try and hopefully, you might be introduced to a world beyond steak and potatoes, and chicken breasts!