Teochew steamed sea bass

My latest post and recipe for Borough Market features Teochew steamed sea bass. By a strange stroke of luck, Chinese New Year begins tomorrow. Maybe you could add this to your banquet?

I’ve no first hand experience of cooking this cuisine, so I hope that my research has resulted in an authentically flavoured dish. It certainly tasted good to me. You can read more on the dish and a few other fishy things on the Borough site. In the meantime, some brief thoughts on the balance of Teochew cuisine and on steaming whole fish:

  • I was surprised at A Wong to find tomatoes in one of the dishes – not an ingredient I associate with Chinese food. In fact, Wikipedia tells me that China produce 1/4 of the world’s tomatoes …
  • There are many recipes out there for Teochew steamed fish. Few are exactly the same as each other, but the key elements appear to be: tomatoes; preserved mustard cabbage; salted plums; dried shitake mushrooms; light soy sauce. Shaoxing / Shaohsing rice wine and fish sauce appeared in many recipes too – so I included them. The intended effect is a blend of sweet, sour and umami.
  • The most authentic looking recipes used pomfret or gurnard. I fancied sea bass. Sea bream would be good too. If you use a different fish (or different sized fish) to me, you’ll need to change the cooking time. Probably reduce it.
  • To cook this in a traditional way, you should steam the fish above a boiling wok. I haven’t got a wok with a steaming stand, let alone one big enough to house a 800g sea bass. Using a roasting tray with a touch of just boiled stock and some tightly fitting foil has the same effect.
  • I’m now slightly in love with preserved mustard cabbage. A bit sour, a bit hot, a bit vegetal. The thinking man’s kimchi.
  • I’ll cook this again and again – it turned out very nicely.

Teochew steamed sea bass

Serves 2 comfortably. Could stretch to 4 (or more) alongside a few side dishes.

  • 800g sea bass
  • 250g cherry tomatoes
  • 20g fresh ginger, cut into thin strands
  • ½ white onion, finely sliced
  • 90g preserved mustard cabbage (kiam chye), sliced into 2-3mm strips
  • 3 salted plums sliced finely
  • 3 dried shitake / Chinese mushrooms
  • Pinch bonito flakes (optional)
  • 300g (ml) water
  • 1tbsp light soy
  • 1tsp shaoxing wine vinegar 
  • 1tsp fish sauce 
  • 1 Spring onion, slice finely on a diagonal
  • 1 red birds eye chilli,
  • Just a few chopped coriander leaves
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 clove garlic, sliced

Pre-heat your oven to 180C.

Ensure the fishmonger scales and guts your fish for you. Score 3 or 4 lines across the skin on either side.

Rehydrate the shitake / Chinese mushrooms with 300ml of boiling water. Add a pinch of bonito flakes, if you have them, and allow to stand for 15 minutes. Remove the mushrooms and slice into c.3mm strips. Don’t discard the stock.

Put the cherry tomatoes in a small roasting tin that’s a snug fit for your sea bass. Stuff the belly of the fish with 1/3rd of the ginger, 1/3rd of the onion and 1/3rd of the salted plums. Scatter the rest of the vegetables (including the preserved cabbage) over the tomatoes and sit the fish on top of this colourful base.

Put the mushroom stock in a small saucepan, add the soy sauce, the wine vinegar and fish sauce (if you have them). Bring to the boil, then pour this stock into the roasting tray. Cover tightly with foil – ensuring no steam will escape. Cook for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and take the foil off (to prevent it cooking further).

You could serve this from the roasting tray, or on a platter if you have one – carefully lift the fish onto the platter and arrange the vegetables around it, pouring much of the remaining stock over it.

To garnish, heat the vegetable oil and throw the garlic in for 45 seconds. Pour this over the fish, then the scatter spring onions, chilli and garlic on top.

Eat with plain rice and Chinese greens or seasonal purple sprouting (soy, garlic and ginger work just as well with the English brassicas as they do with pak choi and co.).