潮式蒸午鱼 Teochew-styled Steamed Threadfin
Haven’t had Teochew-styled steamed fish in quite a while. This used to be such a common and popular fare on our dining table, but since my mum passed on and my sister moved out after she got married, this dish stopped appearing for quite a while. Just two weeks back I saw my friend Hock Chai from Zi Zai Restaurant in Penang featuring this dish on his facebook and sent me craving to have a taste of it again.
As with all forms of steamed fish, the subject must be fresh, just bought from the wet market earlier in the morning. The gills must be still crimson red with laden with mucus while the scales glistening and the eyes clear. The fresher the fish, the less you have to do and add to enjoy its succulence and sweetness. There are two main ways to prepare steamed fish, i.e. (1) steam the fish with all the ingredients and condiments added at the same time or, (2) steam the fish as it is with very little seasoning if not at all, or only with some slices of ginger. A sauce is then prepared and drizzled over the fish, often with hot scallion oil as well just before serving. I prepare steamed fish both ways and enjoy them equally and thoroughly. Teochew-styled steamed fish follows usually the first method which is generally thought of as more traditional and old-school.
Even within Teochew styled steam fish, there are a few “standard options”. The combination of pickled plums in brine and salted vegetables is by far the most common for many. Silken tofu, chinese mushrooms and tomatoes are added to steam together as “sides” as they mop up the juices that are so full of flavour. For many older folks, this single dish alone is enough to make one hearty meal!
At home, white pomfret 白鲳 or Chinese pomfret 斗鲳 is usually the fish of choice for this dish, but no thanks to Chinese New Year, seafood prices have gone up quite a bit over the last week or so. Thus, I followed Hock Chai’s lead and used black spotted threadfin 午鱼/马友鱼 for yesterday’s dinner. Threadfin, also known as ikan kurau is one of our favorite fish at home too, often steamed with just slices of ginger and fermented soya beans aka taucheo. We also eat it with steamboat! But steaming it Teochew-style is a first for me!
Teochew-styled Steamed Threadfin 潮式蒸午鱼 (serves 2-3)
Ingredients and Mise en Place
1 medium sized threadfin, gills and innards removed, sliced lengthwise to open up . If the flesh is thick, make diagonal cuts also the flanks of the flesh as well.
1 box of silken tofu, cut into large chunks
2-3 chinese mushrooms, pre-soaked and sliced
1 thumbsize knob of ginger, finely julienned
1 large red chilli, julienned
1-2 bracts of chinese salted vegetables (咸菜) , washed thoroughly to remove excess brining liquids and julienned
2 medium tomatoes or 1 large tomato, cut into large chunks
2 salted plums pickled in brine (酸梅)
1 tbsp of cooking oil
2-3 tbsp of water
1 stalk of Chinese coriander and spring onion each, rinsed and chopped into long strips.
Bring a large wok of water to a strong boil. Meanwhile prepare fish.
Add water onto steaming plate and place fish opened up into a “butterfly”. Request fishmonger to cut it open if one is not confident of doing it.
Scatter julienned ginger over the fish and tug some under as well.
Gently squeeze the sour plums to break them apart and place over fish.
Arrange tofu cubes, tomato and mushroom slices on the sides.
Place julienned salted vegetables and red chili over fish as well as tofu
Drizzle cooking oil over the top of the fish
Place plate only a steaming rack over fast boiling water, and steam for about 10-15 min, depending on the size of the fish and thickness of flesh. The eyes of the fish turn cloudy white and JUST pop out of their sockets. Do not oversteam the fish as it would lose its succulence.
Scatter chopped spring onions, Chinese coriander leaves over.
Serve immediately with piping hot rice.
Try this at home! Super easy and so gratifying for dinner. Just make sure that the fish is fresh! Otherwise, pop by my friend Hock Chai’s 自在饭店 Zi Zai Restaurnt when you are in Penang for this simple but delicious dish!