Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chinese Steamed Fish

The first time I tried to make this dish I went all out.  I bought a fish that had been swimming in a tank mere hours before we consumed it.  The Asian grocery store scales it and everything so all I had to do was follow the recipe.  It seemed simple enough, and I was patting myself on the back for being so Chinese.  W was gonna love it!

Of course that fairy tale ended as soon as I started seasoning the fish.  I think I was adding salt or something on the outside and I swear the stupid thing jumped a little.  I, in turn, jumped a mile and swore really loudly (I don't swear often, I promise).  I stuck it in the fridge until I had the nerve to finish prepping it.  The fish tasted okay, but it wasn't the tender, flaky, steamed goodness that I had wanted.

I finally decided to attempt the recipe again, but this time I used cod fillets.  What can I say?  I'm an ABC.  The results were better, but I probably over-cooked it a little.  We still ate all of it, and I think with practice it'll be a nice staple.  I wish fresh seafood was more readily available, but at least I can improvise.  There are probably simpler ways to prepare this but I appreciated the details of this recipe.

Thanks to Steamy Kitchen for the recipe!
Chinese Steamed Fish

1 pound whole fish (or fillets 1″ or thicker) yields the best results
4 stalks, scallions – cut into 3″ lengths
3″ piece of ginger – slice into “coins”
small bunch of cilantro
1 1/2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine to pour on fish prior to steaming (or any cooking wine like dry sherry)
salt & pepper
2 tablespoons rough chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt + 1/4 teaspoon white pepper (or black pepper if you don’t have white)
fresh chilli – thinly sliced (optional)
2 stalks, scallions – cut into 3″ lengths
2″ piece of ginger – finely julienned to the skinniest, thinnest strips you can possibly manage without a microscope
2 tablespoons cooking oil
Equipment: shallow pan to hold fish & large pot or wok for steaming. If you don’t have a fancy steamer or steamer insert, take a shallow-ish bowl and invert to use as a stand. Or…3 shot glasses inverted.
1. Clean & Stuff: Clean your fish, pat dry. Season generously inside and out with salt and pepper. Take half of (A) and stuff inside the fish. If you are using fillets, skip this.
2. Make your bed: Take the other half of (A) and lay it in a shallow pan. If using fillets, just use all of (A) for the bed. Lay the fish on top of the bed. If fish is too long, cut in half. Pour 1 1/2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine on top of the fish.
3. Steam: Add 2″ of water to your large pot, cover and boil. When it is boiling, uncover and wipe the inside of the cover clean of any condensation (all this condensation will drip back down on your fish, diluting the flavor) Put your fish pan inside, propped up with a small inverted bowl. Steam the fish on medium (see below for cooking times).
  • Whole fish 1 lb: check at 12 minutes, add 2 minutes for every 1/2 lb
  • Fillets 1″ and thicker: check at 10 minutes, add 2 minutes for every 1/2″ more thickness
  • Fillets less than 1″: check at 7 minutes
  • Super thin fillets: check at 5 minutes
Check to see if its done at the times indicated.  Poke your chopstick at the flesh near the top fin. If flesh flakes easily near the top fin, then its done. If flesh sticks together still, then add 1-2 more minutes to cooking time. For fillets, just gently poke at the flesh in the middle. Timing really depends on the thickness of your fish.  Also check to make sure you haven’t run out of steaming water.
4. Aromatics: Towards the end of the steaming process, you’ll want to start preparing the aromatics that garnish the finished dish. Take a microwave-safe bowl, add (B) and microwave for 30 seconds. Set aside. When fish is done steaming, carefully lift the fish out onto a serving platter, discarding all of the cooked cilantro/ginger/scallions and the fish juice in the pan. Pour the hot (B) over fish.
Now we’ll work with (C): In a separate pan or wok, heat up cooking oil until you see smoke. Add the ginger and scallions, fry for 10 seconds to “pop” the flavors. Pour this cooking oil + herbs over the fish. You’ll hear a very satisfying sizzle!

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