Steamed fish in soy sauce

Enjoyed on countless occasions, in a dozen different guises – steamed grouper in Ming Kee’s, the Leung family’s Po Toi island restaurant, steamed mullet on Baris and Estee’s boat, steamed sea bream with Tim and Gordon in the Ap Lei Chau cooked food market , steamed pomfret in the Aberdeen Boat Club, to name but a few – it was our friend Estee who taugth me how to prepare it, onboard their Hunter 460, Peace & Peanuts. The recipe is so brilliantly simple, the set-up so clever and the result so delicate and deeply satisfying, it is in other words so Chinese, I have to start my collection with this recipe.

Steaming fish is straight-forward enough, provided you take it out of the steamer on time. The trick here consists in collecting the cooking juices in a dish and diluting the sauce which otherwise would be too salty and overpowering.

Ingredients

Fish: any of the above grouper, pomfret, mullet or sea bream, but I assume any fish will do, provided it’s fresh. Something tells me this recipe works best with fish whose flesh is not too oily.

Aromats: ginger, spring onions, coriander (cilantro). Some add a chopped chili or two. The ABC adds a couple of spoonfuls of black bean sauce to their steamed pomfret, for a great, if very different result.

Sauce: light soy sauce and rice wine, in equal measures (the rice wine can be replaced by Japanese sake)

Preparation (5 minutes)

  1. Make lateral incisions on both sides of the fish, cutting down to the bone
  2. Place the fish in a glass or porcelain dish or plate
  3. Shred the ginger, cut the white and green part of the spring onions in long thin strips, chop the coriander – sprinkle on top of the fish
  4. The Thai insert a bruised lemongrass stalk in the fish’s abdomen
  5. Mix the soy sauce and the alcohol and pour over the fish. There must be enough to cover the bottom surface of the the dish
  6. Leave 5 minutes to soak – collecting the soy and wine with a spoon from the bottom of the dish and pouring it on top of the fish regularly

Cooking (10-15 minutes)

  1. Bing water to a boil in a large wok (the wok must be large enough to contain the dish).
  2. Place the dish inside the wok, and cover the wok
  3. Leave to steam for 10 to 15 minutes. After 10 minutes, poke the fish with the pointed end of a chop stick to check the colour of the spine. If translucent or pink, it is not cooked enough. As soon as it turns to an opaque white, it’s ready.
  4. Chop the heads of the spring onions into small rings and sprinkle over the cooked fish .

Serving

The fish is generally served in its cooking dish. At Ming Kee’s, Florence collects some soy sauce with a spoon and pours it over the fish several times. She then runs the sharp edge of the spoon down the spine and separates the flesh from the bones in a series of quick movements. Nothing too fastidious or precise, keep it casual, Hong Kong style.

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