Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Cantonese Steamed Sea Bass with Spring Onions, Ginger and Coriander

I think I’m turning into my mother.

Similarities keep erupting at unexpected moments... using showers of choking hairspray, needing flesh-coloured tights (the most unsexy garment bar flesh-coloured pants), spouting old wives advice (only wash your hands in warm water and drink cola boiled with ginger when you’re pregnant - apparently the potion dispels wind...).

And I take after her party-throwing ways. When she’s hosting, Daddy Lee complains she cooks too much. The guests, however, marvel at the multiple dishes they are presented with – she doesn’t serve one course after another, but many dishes - and a lot at once. Such is the Chinese and Malaysian way.

One of her classic dishes is steamed fish. Whether it’s skate, rainbow trout, bream, my mother often nourishes us with this when we’re -what the Chinese call - ‘heaty’ (that is, when we’ve stuffed ourselves with crisps, deep fried goodness and break out in acne). She’s a master at it.

This recipe is a tribute to my mother. I am using sea bass, a firm fish with delicately flavoured white flesh -perfect for withstanding the boiling hot oil that transmutes the dish from standard to spectacular. This is also for my friend Joey – an affectionately fussy eater who shies away from whole fish with heads - but I’m happy to say was clamouring for the recipe by the end of the evening.

Extremely simple to make, perfect for a quick supper.

Serves 2

1 large sea bass (already scaled and gutted)
4 tablespoons oil (vegetable or sunflower)
2 spring onions, finely shredded
5 cm knob of ginger, finely sliced into very thin matchsticks
Handful of coriander
Several glugs of light soy sauce

Place the fish in a steamer for 15 -20 minutes, or until it is just cooked. I like to line coriander in its belly, but this is not essential.

Once the fish is done, take the fish out and place in a heatproof serving dish. Pour a few glugs of light soy sauce all over the fish before sprinkling over spring onions, coriander and ginger.

Heat the oil in a wok over the highest heat (or a small saucepan that can withstand high heat). You want this to be smoking, it’s so hot. Be patient, the dish will be ruined if you take it off too early.

One hot enough (you can check with a wooden chopstick, the oil will bubble furiously around it), pour over the fish and herbs, and there will be a loud satisfying sizzle as the ginger etc. flash cooks and the skin of the fish crisps up.

Serve immediately with white rice and stir-fried vegetables (such as pea shoots).

To see the other Chinese dishes I cooked the same evening, click here.


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