This is one of the best lunches I’ve had in years.
In the past few months, it seems like there has been a whole stock of eateries setting up shop. It’s like they came from nowhere, you know. I had been planning to visit one of these places today, but on the realization that no one was home – a rare case these days – I decided to relish in the emptiness and the stillness of it all. Besides, I spotted a white snapper fillet in the fridge!
Taking inspiration from my childhood’s Sunday brunches at Crystal Jade Palace (and subsequently Kitchen as I grew older), I fashioned a Cantonese classic: steamed fish with soy sauce. The dish is a particular favorite of mine, and one that inspires my wander with Cantonese cuisine’s philosophy of sophistication in simplicity. The principles and techniques aren’t intricate nor challenging, but it maintains a certain elegance and savoir faire. It’s food that feeds the mind, body and soul, and not many cuisines can achieve that with so little.
As it turns out, Cantonese steamed fish with soy sauce is not terribly challenging to prepare.
One begins like anyone would to seafood, unless you intend on consuming it raw: rubbing. Rub salt and pepper all over the surface of the seafood. This step isn’t so much for the seasoning, but the salt locks in all the juices inside the meat, keeping it tender throughout. You want to add some roughly sliced ginger too. If you’ve got a whole fish, stuff the ginger into every hole you can find but don’t overdo it.
While it cooks, dice some garlic, slice spring onions and pour some soy sauce into a small bowl. You may add red onions, parsley and any other condiment you can think of, really. Prepare a hot pan of oil (a little bit…not too much), making sure you kill the fire just before it smokes, and pour it into the bowl. The hot oil cooks the condiments, unlocks their hidden flavors and fuses them together. The effect is quite magical, I assure you.
Finally, drain away the excess liquid from the steamed fish. I know some people like to use that for more “gravy”, but in this case, don’t. The brine that accumulates smells incredibly fishy. Pour the mixture over the fish and serve.
In the spirit of all things Cantonese, I cooked my vegetables Hong Kong style. The whole principle is to get the oil really hot – when it starts smoking – and whatever that comes out, is nothing short of stunning. Although the flavors were unbelievable with that characteristic “wok hei” flavor, it’ll be a while before I do this again. The heat from the stove is intense – almost dangerous really, and my hands for a few hours after that felt like it was on fire.