In Chinese culture, we always share food and the table is full of a mix of vegetables, meat, fish and rice, so that the food is varied for good health. At each meal, fish is the most important dish. The fish must be very fresh, and well-chosen in an Asian fish market. We prepare it whole, and eat everything from the eye to the tale.
When I was young, I accompanied my dad to choose the fish. He was very excited about that, and he brought is as a trophy to my mum to cook. It was real teamwork, and it was a way to bind my family. When the fish was not fresh, it was also a subject of fighting for my parents – but I saw it as love. I understood that the whole process of choosing the right product, cooking together and sharing the meal together was the language of love in Chinese culture. That is why the moments at the table are the most important ones for me.
The fish was always steamed, very simple but so good and fresh, with a bit of ginger, spring onion, soy sauce and Shaoxing wine. When just cooked in the steamer, you can feel the taste and texture of the fish. I grew up in France and, for me, it was the meal that best characterises my Chinese culture. In French culture we never see the entire fish on a plate, and we eat it fried. So when I made the dish for my French friends, they were always surprised by this way of presenting it, and it meant I could recognise the most curious and adventurous of them.
The fish is also a festive dish. We choose a high-end fish like turbot for special occasions like Chinese New Year. The fish symbolises abundance, so we wish good luck for the whole family by putting this dish on the table. We must know the technique to eat the whole thing; we take out the fish bone with the chopsticks and we never turn the fish over, otherwise it brings bad luck. In one dish, we have a lot to understand about one culture.
600g whole fish (bass or sea bream)
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3–4 slices ginger
2 stems spring onion
1 piece ginger
1 clove crushed garlic
3–5 rehydrated shiitake mushrooms
6 stems spring onion
A drizzle of vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 leek, white part
¼ green capsicum
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Prepare the sauce: peel and roughly cut the ginger into three pieces. Fry the peeled and crushed garlic clove, shiitake mushrooms, spring onion stems and ginger pieces in oil for about 1 minute. Once the mixture is fragrant, pour in the water, sugar and soy sauces (light and dark) and bring to a boil. Allow to simmer for about 10 minutes until the liquid reduces by half. Strain and set the sauce aside.
Prepare the fish: make an incision in the belly and gut the fish. Rinse it under cold water, then pat dry with paper towel. Massage the whole fish with the Shaoxing wine and vegetable oil, then insert the ginger slices and spring onion stems into the belly. Salt lightly and allow to stand for 5 minutes.
Steam the fish for 8 minutes (if the fish is large, cook for 10 minutes).
Meanwhile, prepare the garnish – cut the carrot, leek and capsicum into thin matchsticks. Blanch them in boiling water for 1 minute.
Heat the vegetable oil in a small saucepan over medium to high heat until slightly smoking.
Once the fish is cooked, transfer it to a large serving dish and pour the sauce on the sides. Place the vegetables on the fish to garnish, then gently pour the warm oil onto the fish skin to add flavour to the dish.
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Published in ed#688