It’s MARCH guys and gals. How is it March?
This is a straggler recipe from Chinese month. I know I said I was going to stop apologizing at the beginning of my posts; this is me not doing that.
Question for you:
Have you ever eaten a whole fish?
Like a whole fish, head on, tail, fins, skin, belly fat. No?
Does it make you cringe to see (or think about) it?
In the US and many westernized countries, it feels like we’ve separated ourselves from where our food comes from. Yes, things are changing here and there with farm-to-table and grass-fed beef, but for the most part we go to the grocery store, maybe a butcher, and purchase perfectly ‘sterile’ cuts of meat or seafood. We don’t see the farm, or the fields, or the slaughterhouse, or where it’s packaged. We start to forget that the salmon or ribeye we’re eating actually came from a living, breathing animal.
Which brings me to one of my favorite things to order in a Chinese restaurant: whole fish. I grew up eating plenty of whole fish, steamed, braised, fried, so I’m accustomed to the idea. The eyeballs no longer bother me. To me it’s like eating fried chicken with the skin on, it’s just better with it. And Chinese people would agree that skin and bones make fish taste better, they add extra depths of flavor and texture, even if it sometimes takes more work to eat.
What follows is a pretty classic Chinese recipe my mom sent me that can work with many types of fish. After searching Chinatown for a grouper with no luck, I settled for a tilapia. You could also try it with sea bass. Here’s what you’ll need:
1 ~1.5lb grouper or tilapia (gutted and scaled)
2 bunches scallions
2-3 inches fresh ginger (peeled)
4 Tbsp light soy sauce
2 Tbsp sesame oil
salt to taste
Step One: Bring some water to boil in a wok or large pot. The water should sit below what you’re going to steam your fish in. Make sure you have a lid to seal in the steam. I used a bamboo steamer.
Step Two: Roughly chop one bunch of scallions and slice 1 inch of ginger. Place on a heat proof platter that can fit inside your steamer or pot. A deep dish will work best to catch the juices of the fish as it steams.
Step Three: Rinse your fish and place it on top of the ginger and scallions. Salt it lightly, cover with more ginger and scallions, and place the platter in your steamer or pot. Steam the fish for approx. 30-45 minutes or until you can stick a chopstick all the way through. You can also tell when the fish is done when the eye turns white.
Step Four: A little bit before the fish is done, slice the remaining ginger and scallions into long thin strips. Sauté the ginger in some canola or vegetable oil on medium heat and add the soy sauce. Turn off the heat and add the sesame oil.
Step Five: Once the fish is steamed top with more fresh scallions and ginger, and the hot soy-sauce ginger sauce. The hot sauce will slightly cook the raw ginger and scallions on top. It will also mix with the liquid released by the fish in steaming to create a flavorful broth.
Serve hot with rice and green vegetables like Chinese broccoli (gai lan).
TIP: Try not to over-season the fish with salt as the soy sauce will make it salty as well. You can also substitute the salt for MSG for extra umami flavor.