recipe

Credit: EARL CARTER

Cantonese-style steamed fish with bok choy

I like cooking whole fish, particularly when steaming them. I like the way the fish maintains its flavour and, more importantly, its moisture. In some ways steaming is not a particularly delicate way of cooking – it can be quite brutal, especially if the timing is out – but fish responds very well to it. 

Don’t get me wrong – pan-frying a whole flounder can also be one of the more textural and flavoursome ways to cook fish. But steaming allows for even greater subtlety. 

What’s nice about the spring onions and ginger in this recipe is that they can impart a gentle flavour through the fish that would be lost in a pan or oven.

Serving a whole fish is also a lovely way to share a meal. Prowess in taking the flesh from the bone is also very satisfying. It’s a good opportunity to show off. The best way to dissect the whole fish is to pry the head from the body using a spoon and fork. From there, run the tip of the spoon down the centre of the fish until you hit the spine. Then gently pry the flesh away from the incision, lifting it off the skeleton and being careful to leave the bone structure intact. 

Once the flesh has been taken from the top, pick up the spine from where the head was, pulling the skeleton away from the flesh on the other side. For this, use a spoon and fork and fingers. 

This recipe has been taken directly from Chinese cooking, specifically Cantonese. I think it’s one of the greatest ways to cook fish. A similar technique is used for any number of proteins or savoury custards. Cantonese cooking will also often use steaming as one component for something that is then fried.

Before I was blessed with the good fortune of a steam oven, I can’t tell you how many times I brought a fish home from the market to discover with horror that it wouldn’t fit in my steam basket. The best option to deal with this situation is to take a few sheets of aluminium foil, lay the fish over that, and parcel it up as a small Dutch oven to be baked. 

An even better alternative is to buy a steam oven.

 

Steamed fish, soy, ginger and spring onion   

Serves 4

– about 1.4kg whole snapper or similar white flesh fish, scaled and gutted
– salt
– 80g young fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
– ½ bunch finely sliced spring onion, green part only
– 50ml sweet ginger vinegar
– 50ml Healthy Boy soy (light soy)
– 130ml grapeseed oil
– ½ lemon, juiced
– 1 bunch coriander, leaves picked and washed
– 1 bunch chrysanthemum greens, leaves picked and washed

Fill your steamer with hot water and bring to the simmer.

Ensure the fish has been cleaned, with no scales remaining, and pat dry inside and out with paper towel. With a sharp knife, score both sides of the fish lightly without cutting through the flesh too much and season both sides with a little salt. Arrange on a piece of lightly oiled baking paper and place onto your steamer basket. Top the fish with the ginger and spring onion. Place the lid on the steamer and cook covered for 20-22 minutes or until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork in the thickest part.

Meanwhile, to make the dressing, puree the sweet ginger vinegar and soy in an upright blender. With the blender running slowly, drizzle the oil to emulsify the dressing. Season with a little salt and lemon juice to taste, then set aside. 

When the fish is ready, pull it out of the steamer, being careful not to tear the paper, and place straight onto a large oval platter or similar, and season with salt. Stir the dressing and douse the fish quite liberally with the lot. Scatter the coriander and chrysanthemum leaves over the fish before serving. 

 

Bok choy, amaranth, oyster sauce and garlic    

Serves 4

– 1 tsp sesame oil
– 1 tsp light soy sauce
– 1 tsp oyster sauce
– 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
– 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped 
– 2 bunches baby bok choy, cut in half and washed
– a few leaves of purple amaranth
– 2 long red chillies, deseeded and finely sliced

In a small bowl combine the sesame oil, soy and oyster sauce. Mix well until combined and then add one tablespoon of hot water, stir and set aside. 

In a wok or large frypan heat the grapeseed oil and add the garlic. Cook the garlic until aromatic before adding the bok choy. Add two tablespoons of water and continue to cook until the bok choy is tender. Tip out any excess water before adding the blended sauces. Place into a medium-sized serving bowl and sprinkle the torn amaranth and chilli threads. Serve immediately.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 2, 2016 as "Shallot and steamy". Subscribe here.

Andrew McConnell
is the executive chef and co-owner of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc.