Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mom's 10-minute Whole Fish Dish

A dish so humble it doesn't even have a name.
Millions of housewives in Chinese households have prepared this dish for their families a zillion times. I've eaten it myself for years yet the curiosity on how it's prepared only dawned on me today. Duh!

Duh, because it is so Chinese, so easy to prepare and so yummy. This is definitely one of the most common dishes you can find in a Chinese family. And one you'll never find in a Chinese restaurant in the US or Europe. It is too authentic and too home-cooked to be commercialised! It is right where it belongs - at home. 

Again, I used my duck fat but you can use any type of cooking oil. So here are the ingredients and methods, the first time I'm documenting my mom's food.

One big onion, sliced
One whole fish (can be almost any type of fish really. And if the fish eye or head grosses you out, try a fish fillet. I'm sure it'll work just as well.)
Plum sauce (see picture)
Dark soy sauce (see picture)
Spring onions and tomatoes (for garnishing)

1. Clean and pat dry fish. Rub salt all over fish. 

2. Heat oil in wok. Saute onions till fragrant. Add some water, just a cup or so.

3. Add plum sauce, about 1-2 TBS (no scientific calculations for true Chinese cooking!). Use less if you don't like the sauce too sweet. Plum sauce is sour-sweet in nature. Look for a brand with no additives, no flavour enhancers and no preservatives. Between us, DO NOT use Woh-Hup brand.

4. Add dark soya sauce (only to darken the colour of the sauce, not for taste, so as long as the liquid turns dark, it's enough. About 2-3 tsp, I think. No hard and fast rules here either.)

5. Bring liquid to the boil. Taste and adjust seasoning. Then add fish.

See, the dead fish is smiling. When you cook out of love, even the ingredients conspire with you!

6. Let it simmer for a while. Heat is transferred to the fish via the liquid. Turn the fish about every few minutes so it cooks evenly. (Don't stain your kitchen walls trying to turn the fish like I did!) Baste the top with the sauce occasionally. Cover with a lid for a few minutes if you like. Remember, "simmer" means small bubbles. If you are getting big bubbles, that's "boiling", which means you need to turn down the heat.

7. It's done when the eye protrudes! My mom also uses a chopstick to check readiness - if it pokes through the thickest part easily, it's done. If you feel some resistance, stop poking. It's not ready.

8. Garnish with some colours like spring onions and tomatoes, and serve with steamed brown rice.

We are taking less and less rice in this household. What about yours?

Easy peasy daily Chinese. You can't get more authentic than this. Ten minutes was all it took. I spent more time taking photos of it and documenting it!

I'm creating a new category in my blog called Mom's Recipes to start documenting her very simple, yet yummy dishes that have fed us all these years. Authentically home-cooked Chinese food that don't make it to restaurants. You can't find these in recipe books and you certainly don't get to eat them in Chinese restaurants in Western countries. 

If you like this post, please share it with your friends.  A small Like goes a long way. Or consider leaving a comment here. Meanwhile, look out for more in this category!

Click here to see Mom's Chap-Chye (very traditional Chinese mixed vegetables) or her Braised Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Cabbage/Mui Choy.

Or click here to find other Whole Fish recipes.

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