It’s amazing how some things stick in your memory and some don’t. Fourteen years ago I spent a day cooking and eating with a Chinese family in their hilltop house in Malaysia.
That morning we had taken a boat to the local fish farm to pick up our fish, and shopped for vegetables in the liveliest food market I’d ever visited.
Back at their house we stuffed fish, wrapped them in banana leaves, and baked them in the embers of a fire. We deep fried tempura, and we hacked open fresh coconut from their garden for our red fish curry. It was quite a day.
As I look back at the photos now I’m amazed how much I’d actually forgotten. In fact, all that really stuck in my mind was the way our host steamed the sea bass, and how perfectly cooked it was. We ended the day drinking huge amounts of duty free whisky, and watching the sun set over the hills. Oh, and then our host insisted on driving us back down the hill to our hotel – I remember that too.
I have tried to recreate that dish in the recipe below. You will need a large steamer with a lid and a large cooking pot; I use a large Chinese bamboo steamer placed over my wok. Once you have begun cooking resist the temptation to lift the lid to check on the progress; a steamer works best when left alone.
East & West Supermarket on New Cross Road is an Aladdin’s cave for lovers of Oriental cooking. Packed with noodles, spices, teas & rices you can’t help but be inspired to try your hand at some authentic Chinese dishes. They also stock woks, bamboo steamers and a fair few rice bowls.
Aromatic Steamed Sea Bass – Serves 2
- Process half an onion with a small thumb of peeled and diced ginger, a clove of garlic, a stalk of chopped lemon grass, a seeded red chilli, and a drizzle of olive oil.
- Gently fry this paste in the wok over a moderate heat for a minute then add 500ml of water and bring to the boil.
- Lay 2 fillets of sea bass in the steamer. Scatter some very thinly sliced salad onions and ginger over the fish. Season with Maldon sea salt.
- Cover tightly and steam the fish over the wok for about 8 minutes, or until cooked through.
- The flesh should look opaque and feel firm when pressed.
- Serve with some fresh coriander leaves, Soy sauce, stir fried vegetables & steamed rice.