Home, to me, was the western suburbs of Sydney at a time when new housing estates dominated the landscape. In a culture that was almost entirely white Aussie, my family was fortunate enough to have neighbours from Greece, Egypt and Hong Kong. I only realised many years later, long after I had moved away to the big smoke of Sydney, that many were political asylum seekers. We would share food. My dad was a mad cook and loved his food, so he both encouraged and relished the occasion.
The Chung family lived directly behind our house, with only a wooden fence separating us. With our Sunday roasts and meat and two veg, and they with their homemade dumplings and Cantonese stir-fries, food would be passed over the fence. This ignited in me a passion for Asian flavours. I enrolled in a Chinese cooking class at the local TAFE when I was 14 and the rest is history.
The Chungs would make a weekly pilgrimage into Sydney’s Chinatown. Sometimes, I would tag along. On these excursions they would get all the ingredients they needed to get them through the week: fresh ginger, spring onions, garlic chives, Chinese greens and seafood.
I clearly remember fish head soup and curries and the classic steamed whole fish with ginger and spring onions. This recipe translates perfectly well to cooking on a firepit. It is simple to prepare, impressive and delicious.
- 1 large, whole snapper, about 2kg, cleaned and gutted
- 3 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
- 10cm piece of ginger
- 1 bunch spring onions
- 1 bunch coriander, chopped
- 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon white pepper
Cut several diagonal incisions across the skin and flesh of the fish. Put the fish in a large non-metallic dish and pour the rice wine over it. Cut the piece of ginger in half and cut one half into thin discs. Cut half the spring onions into 10cm lengths. Put the ginger discs, spring onion pieces and half the coriander in the cavity of the fish. Cover and set aside for 20 minutes.
Peel and cut the remaining ginger into thin matchsticks. Cut the remaining spring onions into similar-sized pieces to the ginger.
Combine the soy, chicken stock and sugar in a small bowl, stir to dissolve the sugar.
Tear off a sheet of foil, ensuring it is larger than the fish. Tear off a similar-sized sheet of baking paper and lay this on the foil. Put the fish on the baking paper. Now lay another sheet of baking paper and then foil over the fish. Fold around the edges to seal. Set aside for 20 minutes.
Your firepit is ready to cook on after about 2 hours of burning, when the timber is charcoal black, has transformed into red hot coals about the size of golf balls, and the smoke has all but subsided. To test for heat, you should not be able to hold the palm of your hand 5-10cm above the grill for more than 2-3 seconds. Replace the grill over the firepit and give it around 10 minutes to heat up.
Put the fish parcel on the firepit grill and cook for 30 minutes. Leaving the fish wrapped, transfer to a serving platter. Unwrap the parcel and pour the sauce over the fish. Scatter with the ginger and spring onions.
Put the vegetable oil and sesame oil in a small frying pan and place on the firepit. When the oil is smoking hot, pour it over the fish then quickly scatter with the remaining coriander and white pepper to serve.
Firepit Barbecue by Ross Dobson is out now.