I’m a big fish eater. In general, given a choice about what to eat, I’m
usually happiest when I get to eat a nice fish. Even now that I’ve started eating
beef again, most of the time, I’d rather eat a nice piece of wild salmon
than pretty much anything made of beef.
When it comes to cooking fish, I think that there’s no cuisine that does
a better job with fish than Chinese. The chinese style of cooking fish is, in
my opinion, perfect. It relies on getting really good quality, fresh
fish – and then doing as little to it as you reasonably can, so that the wonderful
flavor of a really fresh fish comes through.
The best example of that is a Cantonese steamed fish. You do so little to
it – and yet the result is one of the best dishes in the entire world. To make this
work, you need a really fresh, smallish fish. I typically do this with either rainbow trout or striped bass, and I try to get it from someplace where I can be sure that the fish was
swimming no more than 24 hours before. The easiest place to find fish like that is usually
a chinese grocery; American grocery stores often have fish that’s been sitting on ice for a long time. Chinese shoppers are, properly, very picky about their fish, so you tend to get it much fresher from a chinese grocery.
- Two small freshwater fish, gutted and scaled, but not deboned, and head-on.
- Several cloves of garlic, sliced as thin as possible.
- About 1 1-1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced as thin as possible.
- 3-4 scallions, green parts chopped, while parts kept whole.
- Soy sauce.
- Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon of sesame oil mixed with one tablespoon of canola oil.
- Sprinkle the fish generously with kosher salt, and let them sit for about five
minutes in the salt. Then brush the salt away with a rag or paper tower. (This helps
draw a bit of moisture out of the skin to prepare for what comes next.)
- With a very sharp knife, cut 3 angled slits into the side of each fish, parallel to the gills. Do this to both sides of the fish. (For those with dull knife issues, go check out a buying guide on knife sharpeners, you need a good sharpener before you can have a good knife.)
- Stuff the slits with slices of garlic and ginger.
- Whack the whites of the scallions with the back-side of your knife, then stuff then into
the body cavities of the fish.
- Put the fish each onto a heatproof plate, and sprinkle with the scallion greens.
- Sprinkle each fish with a couple of tablespoons each of vodka and soy sauce.
- Add about 1/2 teaspoon of sugar to the sauce on the bottom of each plate.
- Move the plates into a bamboo steamer, and steam the fish until just barely cooked through. For an average rainbow trout, this takes between 8 and 10 minutes; for a bass (which is usually a bit bigger), it’s more like 10 to 12 minutes. Be careful to not overcook the fish!
- While the fish is steaming, heat the mixed oils until they’re smoking hot. Don’t let
them burn – you just want them really hot.
- When the fish is done, spoon a tablespoon of the hot oil over each of them.
Serve with rice, and a stir fried vegetable. (Snow-pea greens go extremely well with this.) The soy and vodka will have formed into a nice sauce with the juices from the fish. (This is why you want the head on. The cartilage exposed around the gills really helps to build the sauce. Also, there’s a little piece of meat just above and to the front of the gills which is called the cheek, which is the most tasty piece of the entire fish.)
That’s really it – some garlic and ginger, some soy sauce, and then steam it. It’ll be
one of the best fish you’ve ever eaten.