Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Chinese New Year: Steamed Whole Fish with Ginger and Green Onions...

It's New Year's Eve and tonight many families are having their "toon neen fan"- reunion dinner with family and relatives. Mine with my parents and the extended family will be on Saturday, so tonight we just had a small feast to celebrate the end of the old year. What better dish to make than steamed whole fish, a must main course in a Chinese banquet, especially on new Year's Eve because the Chinese word for fish "yu" is pronounced the same as the word "to spare"- meaning that there's always something on the table to spare! Steaming preserves the freshness and natural flavours of the fish, and with the classic addition of ginger and green onions, it's also healthy and delicious. Tonight, two fish for double the happiness and fortune...

Elaborate Chinese New Year displays in supermarkets.

To check for freshness, look into the gills and poke the eyes. If the gills are red and slimy, and the eyes 
are bulging and look firm, the fish is fresh. Ask your fish monger to scale and gut the fish for you. 

Steamed Whole Fish with Ginger and Green Onions
Makes 4 servings

1 large fish, or two smaller fish (carp, sea bass, sea bream), scaled and gutted, rinsed and blotted dry
1 tsp. salt

dashes of white pepper powder
2 tsp. sesame oil
3 slices of ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
3 green onions, cut into 2-inches, then cut vertically into silken strips

1/4 cup seasoned soy sauce for seafood (*see note below)
2 Tbsp. canola oil
Sprigs of cilantro, stems removed and chopped (optional)

*NOTE: If you can't find seasoned soy sauce for seafood make your own mixture with 2 Tbsp. soy sauce, 1 Tbsp. cooking wine, and 1 tsp. brown sugar dissolved in 1 Tbsp. warm water.

If you wonder why the soy sauce tastes particular harmonious and delicious on whole fish served in Chinese restaurants it's because they use a brew that is made for especially for seafood- savoury but slightly sweeter to bring out the natural sweetness in its meat. Once I figured this out, I can't go back to any ol' soy sauce on fish. Look for seasoned soy sauce for seafood in the soy sauce/condiment section in Asian supermarkets-- the only brand I ever buy is Pearl River Bridge.

Add seasoned soy sauce along with hot oil after the fish are cooked. 

Rinse the gutted fish and pat dry well. Score both sides of the fish to the bone with diagonal cuts. Rub the inside and outside with salt and sesame oil. Sprinkle both sides with white pepper.

Always score whole fish on both sides to ensure that the flavours of all the ingredients gets through.

Place fish on top of green onions in heatproof plate and place ginger on top. Steam, covered inside a wok or skillet on a rack and steam on high for 15-18 minutes. The fish is done when a knife inserted into the thickest part of fish easily parts from the bone.

Remove the plate from the steamer and pour out the fish water and remove the ginger. If not using steaming plate to serve, transfer fish to serving platter. Pour seasoned soy sauce evenly over the fish. Heat oil until hot in wok or skillet and meanwhile, dress fish with onions all over. Pour hot oil over the whole length of the fish to cook the onions. Serve with cilantro on top.

Updated tips for great-tasting results:

- lay two pair of chopsticks on bottom of pan before placing the fish (this creates a steam on the bottom and prevents the fish skin sticking;
- if working with fresh caught-fish (butcher's usually remove this), make sure you remove the inner jagged jaw cartilage which is used for filtering food-- this cooks bitterness into the meat;
-  trim all the fins, and cut the tail off for easier eating;
- looking into the inside of the gutted fish, cut the membrane on both sides of the spine where two dark lines run down, to remove the blood; rinse for optimum meat flavour;
- score the fish on a slight angle at several intervals on both sides of the fish to cook thoroughly and maximize flavour;
- do not open the lid while steaming-- reference-- 1-1/2 lbs. whole fish needs about 15 minutes to cook thoroughly on high steam.

Beautiful fish duo ready to be devoured!
Tangerines are symbols of wealth , with their bright happy, vibrant colour suggesting good fortune. 
Perfect for a sweet ending to a New Year's Eve dinner.

The rest of the meal consisted of roasted BBQ pork and roasted duck picked up from a Chinese BBQ deli, Marbled Tea Eggs, homemade Carrot and Radish Pickles, stir-fried celery and Chinese greens with oyster sauce. 

Gung Hay Fat Choy!  "Best wishes for a happy and prosperous new year!" 

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