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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Steamed Fish with Ginger Puree 姜茸蒸鱼

This was totally impulsive - I woke up missing fresh swimming fish, and all of a sudden I was so missing the ginger-puree-style of steaming. I missed the ginger pungency with its heat factor and I simply missed missing it having last had it easily more than a decade ago. Now time sure flies! So off I went to the the Chinese grocer and got myself a tilapia fish at its freshest. One moment the fish was happily mingling with its kind in the large fish glass tank, the next moment the five-minute-dead fish was sitting still in the box beside me in the passenger seat as I drove home in my evil grin - obviously thinking about the dinner I was so anticipating lol.

When you have a fish this fresh to begin with, I would really think that you are already halfway there. And while there are plenty other ways to getting them done equally good, I would really love to think that steaming when done right, is the way to go. It brings out the best a fresh fish can offer - tender flesh flaking just so optimally and a texture so delicate it almost goes melting with each bite, held back by the very bit of chewy nature it retains still. With the right heat and duration, steaming lets you savor the freshness and natural sweetness with a minimal intrusion. 

Regardless of which steaming styles with what kind of sauces you decided to adopt, they always do come back to the steaming basics - a real fresh fish to begin with, scale, clean and gut thoroughly, season and stuff, make a bed, set timer and steam, lift and transfer to a serving plate, pour prepared sauce over the fish, garnish and serve! Contrary to that precious essence we do always get with steaming a chicken, the pool of fish juice and the stuffing post-steaming is anything but good. Fishy and cloudy in appearance, having utilized them fully throughout the steaming process would have rendered them tasteless, flavorless and simply too unpleasant a sight when served alongside the fish. So yes, have them removed and always let the fresh fish start anew post steaming.

The whole picture of dealing with a whole fresh fish may look so intimidating and too overwhelming especially for a beginner. But we all start as a newbie and there always is so many firsts in life. Surely this
is something that only gets better with experience. So keep trying, make mistakes and when you know that you finally have got them under control, you will then agree that steaming fish is something easy - pure, and simply delicious. 

Steamed Fish with Ginger Puree 姜茸蒸鱼
Serves 2-3
1 whole fresh tilapia (usually weighing about 1 to 1.5lb)
salt and white pepper powder
2 tbsps Shaoxing wine
2 tbsp fried garlic oil (made from 4 cloves minced garlic in 3 to 4 tbsps cooking oil)
2 stalks spring onion (green parts only) sliced thinly lengthwise to make curls for garnishing (optional)
a handful cilantro leaves for garnishing (optional) 

Stuffing and bed

6 stalks of spring onion (just the white parts), cut into 3" to 4" sections, lightly crushed
3" ginger, cut into large chunks and crushed

Ginger puree

5" ginger, skin removed and roughly sliced into smaller pieces for smoother blending
1/4 cup water


tbsps light soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp rock sugar
a dash of white pepper powder
a scant of salt
4 tbsps water 

1.  To prepare the fried garlic oil, heat up the oil in a saucepan. Once well heated, turn the heat down to medium-low and add in the minced garlic. Keep an eye on it. Stir regularly for an even heat distribution. They are done when they turn golden brown on the whole. Remove from heat and transfer to a heat-proof bowl and set aside for later use.

2. To make the ginger puree, bring the ginger to blend in a food processor. Add in water slowly and blend until the mixture appears smooth and fine in texture. Set aside.

3. Mix the ingredients for the seasoning in a small bowl. Transfer it to a small sauce pan and put on low heat to lightly heat up dissolving the sugar within. Leave heated on low until ready to be used later. 
4. Clean and gut the fish thoroughly. Pat dry and cut two slanting slits across the thicker part of the abdomen on each side, taking care not to cut right through. Season in and out with salt and white pepper powder. Stuff the fish cavity with half of the stuffing and leave aside while you prepare the bed.
5. Line the center of a steaming plate with the remaining of the stuffing. This will be the platform to which the fish will be resting on, at the same time making sure that the fish will not be bathed in the pool of fish juice that forms in the process later. Meanwhile, get the steamer ready with enough boiling water in it.
6. Lay the fish on the bed in the steaming plate. Pour in a tbsp of Shaoxing wine into the fish cavity, and another tbsp over the fish. 
7. Carefully place the steaming plate onto the steaming stand. Cover, set the alarm and turn the heat down to medium. I had my tilapia weighing at 1.4lb which needed about 12 minutes to be thoroughly done. Adjust the steaming time to your fish accordingly. 
8. Meanwhile, heat up 1/2 tbsps of fried garlic oil in a small skillet. Add in the ginger puree and stir to lightly fry. Pour in 2/3 of the seasoning from the sauce pan and mix well. Dish out and set aside in a bowl.
9. When the alarm goes off, check if the fish is ready - you can stick in a fork at the site with the thickest flesh. Flaky and separating well - it's done. Give it another minute or two otherwise. 
10. Remove from heat, remove the stuffing in the fish cavity and gently transfer to a clean serving plate. Top the fish generously with the ginger puree sauce. Pour the remaining seasoning around the fish, and slowly drip in 1½ tbsps fried garlic oil all over the fish.
11. Garnish and serve hot.

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