All our elders will tell us that fish is a must during Chinese New Year because it’s name evokes abundance and prosperity. But steamed fish has such a reputation as a run-of-the-mill daily fare in today’s households that it’s hard to believe that it used to be a special dish served during the festive season.
What started as a simple dish can now become so varied and lavish that we often forget the humble ingredients that make up the dish.
Take this recipe, for example. It uses soy bean sprouts or sometimes known as malted soy bean, a humble ingredient that costs only about RM1 for 300 grams. Who would’ve known that the malt of the bean can be made into such an awesome topping for steamed fish.
The first time I had this dish was more than 20 years ago and I remember tasting the amazing nutty flavour of the crispy topping. I had to ask the server what it was, and she explained that it was the deep-fried malt of soy bean sprouts.
I was never a big fan of this sprout, but the revelation blew me away. The bitter taste and caustic scent that are characteristic of this ingredient have been replaced by a sweet nuttiness that brings to mind the flavour of deep fried green peas.
The fish that I’ve chosen for this recipe was a grouper because that was the fish served when I first experienced this dish. But you may use any species of fish that doesn’t have a strong smell or flavour because you don’t want it to overpower the subtle flavour of the soy mince.
Also, although I do add a little shallot-garlic oil and sesame oil, do so sparingly so that the soy mince remains the dominant flavour.
Steaming this small grouper of 400 grams took only 7 minutes, and I didn’t even score the flesh of the fish. If you are serving a bigger fish, do score into the thick parts of the flesh and steam a minute or two longer.
Because steamed fish should be served immediately, you’d need to time it so that you bring it to the table when everyone is seated. Then you can enjoy the dish at the peak of its flavour and freshness.
- 400g whole grouper fish
- 200g soy bean sprouts
- 3cm ginger, julienned
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 bulb shallot, ring sliced
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 4 tbsp cooking oil
- salt to taste
- 1 red chilli, julienned
- 1 sprig scallions, julienned
- 1 sprig cilantro, chopped
- Gut and clean the fish. Pat dry and season with ½ teaspoon of salt. Set aside in a chiller.
- Remove stalks and roots from soy bean sprouts. Finely mince the soy bean malt.
- Heat cooking oil in wok at medium. Add soy mince to the oil with ¼ teaspoon of salt and deep fry until crispy and golden, about 10 minutes. Strain off crispy soy mince with a wire sieve.
- In the remaining oil, fry a pinch of julienned ginger at low heat until crispy and light golden. Remove and put aside. Fry shallot rings at low heat. When shallots starts to turn yellow, add minced garlic and fry until crispy and light golden. Allow to cool.
- Plunge julienned scallions and chillies, and chopped cilantro into iced water.
- Place a steaming rack in a wok, and fill with water until it reaches the top of the rack. Bring the water to a boil.
- Scatter a layer of julienned ginger on to the bottom of a heat-resistant plate. Place fish on top of ginger and when steamer is boiling, rest the plate on steaming rack. Cover and steam for 7 minutes.
- When fish is cooked, dress with soy sauce and sesame oil. Garnish with crispy soy mince, garlic, shallots and ginger, and soaked herbs. Serve while hot.
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