Annual surpluses and prosperity (steamed fish with black beans and garlic)
February 13, 2014
Steamed fish is a staple food in many households in Hong Kong and is eaten daily. But for the last 10 years spent in London/ away from home, we had found it difficult to eat fish on a regular basis for three reasons: 1. Fresh fish is not readily available unless you live near one of the rare fishmongers in town; 2. whole fish are not readily available in supermarkets - supermarkets tend to stock fish fillets which are deemed less 'intimidating' to European customers; 3. fish is extremely expensive and can only be savoured every so often.
However, about a month ago, TwinnyDip finally ventured down to the Billingsgate Market in Canary Wharf, and it proved to be one of the best early shopping spree we have ever had. We woke up at 7am and arrived to the market at 8.30 only to find that actually most of the shops were already closed, if not packing up. In any case, we quickly walked through the entire market (retail customer section only - the wholesale section is probably a labyrinth) to identify the fish and seafood we wanted, only to find that everything is sold by the box. For example, if you are after smoked haddock, you have to buy something like 30 fillets in one go. It took us a little while to get over this hurdle, but once decided (and on the promise of a good price!), we opted for a box of sea bass. Seven sea basses, with total weight of over 3.5kg (approx. 500g per fish) only costed us £16.9 (i.e. £2.4 per fish). Just to give some perspective, a smaller fish (not sure about weight but probably about 300 - 350g) in waitrose would cost £4.5.
When we got home, we quickly froze 5 of them and we served one up with fermented black beans and garlic to our European / North American friends for Chinese New Year dinner and it did not disappoint! We also shared this on a favourite Readers' Recipe Swap column on the Guardian and this went to print on 1st February - available here.
In Chinese culture, food symbolism is really important especially during festive seasons. As the Chinese pronunciations for fish and surplus are homophones – they are both pronounced ‘yu’, fish is a must have during Chinese New Year. Eating fish during Chinese New Year symbolises having surplus / leftover money at year end. Further, serving the entire fish symbolises a good ‘start’ and a good ‘end’ to the year as represented by the head (pronounced “tao” in Cantonese) and tail (pronounced “may” in Cantonese) of the fish. This is because ‘tao’ (head) and ‘may’ (tail) are homonyms to ‘start’ and ‘end’ respectively! We know that to some a whole fish on the table is not exactly the most palatable, but you know what you have to do if you want extra cash and a good year from the beginning to the end for the upcoming year of the horse (starting 31st January 2014 and ending 18th February 2015)! Regardless of your choice of whole fish versus fish fillet, this is truly an effortless recipe that can be prepared in no time. The fish is topped with chopped fermented black beans and minced garlic before steaming. Once steamed, all you have to do is pour hot oil and soy sauce over it before serving. Recipe serves 4 - 6 people alongside other dishes in a typical Chinese meal.
1 grey mullet, about 450g, scaled, gutted, washed and patted dry (use 350g fish fillet if you absolutely can’t stomach the idea of serving fish head and fish tail to your guests!) - use see bass or cod if you can't find mullet
30g fermented black beans, available in Chinese supermarkets
10g cloves garlic, minced
1 cm chunk ginger, sliced
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1. Bring water to boil in a steamer at high heat. Be sure the water does not touch the bottom of the steaming rack. Cover the steamer.
2. While the water is boiling, rinse and drain fermented black beans (this will remove some of the saltiness of the fermented beans). Chopped them roughly and mix with the minced garlic and 1 tsp vegetable oil. Set aside.
3. Place sliced ginger into the 'stomach' of the fish. This will help eliminate the fishy smell and taste.
4. Place the fish onto the steaming plate. Top the fish with the black bean and garlic mixture.
5. When the water in the steamer is boiling hot, place the steaming plate with the fish onto the steaming rack. Cover and steam for 8 - 10 minutes or until the fish is just cooked. The flesh will be flaky when it is ready.
6. Remove the fish from the steamer when it is ready. Drizzle 1 Tbsp soy sauce evenly over the fish. Heat 1 Tbsp vegetable oil in a pan or wok over high heat. When hot ( this will take about 30 seconds), drizzle over the fish evenly. Serve immediately alongside other dishes with steamed rice.