Monday, February 7, 2011

Happy New Year!

No, this isn't a late post.  Well technically it's super late since the last time I posted was {cough} September {cough}.  It's Lunar New Year and one of the (many) perks of marrying into a Chinese family is that I get to celebrate.  And celebrate with gusto I do.  

What's not to love about a holiday that gives you the chance to constantly chow down on an endless supply of Chinese food at various celebratory dinners? What other holiday actually suggests a fresh haircut and cleaning house (we outsource that one), offers suggestions as to what to eat (long-life noodles, whole fish, sticky cakes and candy anyone), sanctions the use of fire-crackers (supervised and only in states where it's legal of course [wink, wink]), and results in the acquisition of money contained in small red envelopes (well, if you're under the age of 12)?  And, more importantly, what other holiday lasts TWO WHOLE WEEKS?  Not even my people* (who love to celebrate with food) have holidays that last TWO WHOLE WEEKS.  There's Passover but that's only 8 days and you can't have cake.  What kind of a holiday is THAT?

My favorite Lunar New Year culinary tradition involves the eating of whole fish (something I admittedly never dared order in a Chinese restaurant before meeting my husband).  It is said (I'm paraphrasing here) that the fish symbolizes prosperity and that you shouldn't finish the entire fish.  By leaving some behind it is believed you will always have money in the bank or something "extra" lying around.   Money in the bank?  I’m in.

Steamed Whole Fish with Ginger, Scallions and Cilantro
Yields 6-8 servings, especially when paired with other dishes in a traditional Chinese meal.  

This recipe is adapted from something my mother-in-law has been cooking as long as my husband can remember.  I have also looked up recipes for it online and in various cookbooks.  While every person seems to put his or her own spin on it this is a solid recipe and my go to.  It seems complicated based on the ingredient list but it is a snap to make and is truly delicious.  It can be made with fillets of fish as well.

  • 2 lb whole fish (or fillets 1 or thicker – cod, halibut, etc.)
  • 8 stalks, scallions – ½ cut into 2" pieces, ½ thinly sliced and reserved for after the steaming process
  • 4 piece of ginger – ½ sliced into thin rounds, ½ finely julienned and reserve for after the steaming process
  • small bunch of cilantro** (often called Chinese parsley) – chopped with about ½ reserved
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 TBS olive oil
  • 1 TBS sesame oil
  • 2 TBS soy sauce
  • Equipment: large pot/wok for steaming; bamboo steamer (or other steamer if you don't have bamboo)

    1. Clean the fish and pat dry. If using a whole fish check for any scales which may have been left on the fish.  You can do this by running your hand gently over the flesh of the fish.  Season liberally with salt and pepper both inside and out if using a whole fish.  If using fillets season on both sides. Take the stalks of scallion, the rounds of ginger and ½ of the cilantro and stuff inside the fish. If you are using fillets use ½ of the aromatics as a base for the fish and sprinkle the other ½ over the top.
    2. Add about 2 of water to your large pot.  Cover and bring to a boil.  You want to be sure to have enough water in the pan to steam the fish but you also want to make sure it doesn't touch the steamer once you place it over the pot. Place steamer over pot of boiling water and place fish inside.  Cover and steam.  Make sure to periodically check the water level so that there is enough to keep the fish steaming.  It generally takes about 10-12 minutes per inch to steam the fish when using fillets.  For a whole fish steam for 15 minutes and then add 2-3 minutes per inch of thickness. You want the fish to be opaque.  If it looks "clear" in any way it is not fully cooked.
    3. When fish is done steaming, carefully lift it out onto a serving platter.  Remove and discard all of the cooked cilantro/ginger/scallions and the fish juices.
    4. Scatter the reserved cilantro over the fish and drizzle on the soy sauce. 
    5. In a small sauce pan heat up the olive and sesame oil.  Once they are hot add in the reserved ginger and scallions and cook for about 10-20 seconds or until you can smell the ginger (to bring out the flavors). Pour this cooking oil with the ginger and scallions, over the fish.  Serve immediately with lots of steamed rice.

    *Jews (said in a loud stage whisper)

    ** Some people hate cilantro.  And some people lack an enzyme which results in cilantro leaving  a soapy taste in the mouth.  If you know someone who suffers from this great misfortune feel free to substitute parsley.   Force the haters to try it with the cilantro.  The hot oils transform it.

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