POACHED FISH, STEAMED FISH
Realistically, the only fish that the average Anglo-Saxon knows how to do right comes out of a can and goes into mayonnaise.
Perhaps with minced pimientos and capers added.
The problem with Fish and Chips is that both items get tossed into the hot fat at the same time, and pulled out when either the fish is done and potatoes are soggy, or the fries are golden and the fish turned to oil-drenched shoe-leather.
Far too often the result is unspeakable horror.
Properly made fries are wonderful.
That means submerged in hot fat twice - once to pre-cook, the second time to crisp, with an interval of at least thirty minutes in between. The first time, three or four minutes at 320 degrees Fahrenheit, the second time at close to four hundred till they look right.
Obviously, darkened oil with a whiff of yesterday's dead haddock is unsuitable, and the fish itself should really be done in a separate fryer with a proper batter till just cooked through, rather than coated with industrial starch paste and nuked brown.
It goes without saying that the English are not up to the task, as might be guessed from their habit of drenching the results with malt vinegar.
Americans, unfortunately, do an even worse job.
Either way, the acid indigestion can keep you up all night.
And no amount of dark beer will bring relief.
Though it may render you oblivious.
English-speakers on either side of the Atlantic tend to overcook fish to a fare-thee-well.
It is far better that they step away from the stove, and let a Dutchman or a Fleming tend to the seafood.
POACHED FISH CHINESE STYLE
Purchase a live fish of between one and two pounds, and bring it home.
Smack it over the head with a heavy object, gut it, clean it, scrape it, and rinse.
If it is particularly thick, slash it on both sides.
Bring a large cauldron half-filled with water to a roiling boil.
Slip the fish in, and when it boils again, lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for two minutes.
Turn off the heat and let it sit for between seven and ten minutes (depending on how large your fish is), at which point it will be done just right.
Remove to a platter and strew very finely slivered ginger over.
Heat up a little oil in a fry-pan, and sauté a little coarse-chopped garlic. Add a splash sherry or rice wine, a drizzle soy sauce, followed by a hefty pinch of sugar. Boil briefly together, then pour over the fish.
Add some cilantro and shredded green onion.
If you quail at killing your own fish, I recommend that you move closer to Chinatown, as that is the only place where you can buy them alive and have them made ready for the kitchen while you watch.
Dead fish from the supermarket is not suitable, and may actually serve no useful purpose at all, though I am told that fish planted with food crops provides adequate soil-fertilization.
Let me be the first to compliment you on your wonderful vegetable patch!
As an alternative, you can steam the fish.
After gutting, cleaning, scraping, and rinsing, rub it with a little oil (sesame and plain oil mixed) and place it on a plate. Whether you add sliced ginger, cut scallion, or even slivers of green chilipepper around it, is up to you - these will aromatize the fish, but as you plan to discard the steaming juices anyway, they are not really germane.
Bring a large steamer to a boil, set the plate therein, and steam for about seven to ten minutes, according to the size of the fish.
Undercooking is best, as once you remove it from the steamer the heat remaining in the flesh will continue to affect it.
When you take the fish out, slide it onto a clean plate.
Garnish with shredded ginger and scallion, and pour a little sweet soy sauce (ketjap manis) over.
Fish either steamed or poached, with some stirfried kailan or yuenchoy, a few pieces of boiled potato avec persil, and plain white rice, is a feast.
As with everything, a dab of chilipaste on the side is nice, but not necessary.
If you really wanted, you could even have it with fries!
Do not serve a dark beer with this.
May I suggest a nice dry sherry, or plain tea?
ADDENDUM: KETJAP MANIS
[Indonesian Sweet Soy-sauce]
Half cup each: sugar (white, or white and dark mixed), Kikkoman soy sauce.
Two tablespoons each: sherry, dark vinegar.
One teaspoon salt.
One whole star anise, one or two slices of ginger.
Put everything except the vinegar and half of the soy sauce into a saucepan. Heat gently, stirring, till the sugar is fully dissolved and the liquid syrupy and starting to foam. Stir in the remaining soy sauce and in a minute or so turn off the heat. Let it cool and strain it into a bottle. Use the dark vinegar to swish the remaining syrup coating the inside of the saucepan, and add to the bottle.
You'll find any number of uses for it. It adds something special to nicely grilled lamb chops, and a little drizzled over chicken or vegetables is very nice. Eventually it will be indispensible in your cooking, not only for fish.
NOTES: A fish cooked either way is enough for two people having a simple meal together, or a larger table with several other dishes. If you're worried about the shredded ginger being too strong used raw, place it in a small bowl to steam along with the fish, then arrange it over the fish afterwards. That's easier than trying to keep it on top when removing stuff from the steamer.
Ginger is good for the stomach and soul, and mildly tonifying. It keeps you healthy.
For visual appeal, shredded red bell pepper treated the same way is a lovely addition, and will add a subtle fragrance of its own.
When sugar is mentioned, cane sugar is meant specifically. Not beet sugar; cane sugar.
I could say something snarky about beet sugar, but I won't.
For ideas on what else to serve in addition to the fish, go here: "eight easy dishes".
Or click on the label below (菜譜), which will bring up all posts with Chinese recipes,
most recent one first (which right now is this one). Just scroll down and browse.
For a few other fish recipes, go here: inlaid fish.
NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:LETTER BOX.
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.