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Last night was fun. Christina, Danbee, Xiao xiao, and Noah came over to partake in the making of a splendid Chinese meal. We took some picture of food, but most of them came out either looking unappetizing or blurry. On the menu was: yu xiang eggplants, tofu with chinese bacon in clay pot, chinese celery with five-spice tofu, steamed tilapia, and ribs and winter melon soup.

I promise to share the recipes eventually (or perhaps on a new collective food blog featuring all of the Asians?!), but today I want to focus on the steamed fish. Steamed fish is incredibly simple, but tastes delicious and looks intense. It’s so easy it seems  silly at first to even have a recipe. But I’ve messed this up enough times I think it’s worth elaborating over a bit more.

After the jump: vaguely appetizing pictures and extensive descriptions on how to buy, prepare, cook, and serve the fish. I may also decide to attach picture of my totally insane friends.

Buying the fish.

In Chinese cooking, it is absolutely essential to buy live fish, killed in front of your eyes. Especially if the fish is to be only steamed, because the dish depends on nothing but the fish’s flavor. Dead and frozen fish become “xing qi” or “fishy-smelling” and will ruin your whole dish. You can always find live ones in Chinese markets. The guy behind the counter will give the flapping fish a pound in the head with a rubber mallet, and BAM it’s dead. He will also descale and clean the insides for you. All you have to do is receive the bag with the bloody fish and pretend you’re not completely terrified and disgusted. The type of fish is also important. For steaming, you want to choose a tender fish, like Tilapia or Striped Bass. Bass is supposed to be a nicer fish (it’s more expensive!), but you might want to make sure you “do it right” first with tilapia (only $2.99/lb!).

Preparing the Fish

Of course you want to rinse the fish first. Take a few minutes to just stand over the sink, staring into its bulging eyeball. You may say a few prayers here before you reach in the bag and fully molest the poor recently-dead creature. He will be slippery and sort of gross. Wash him inside and out, then put him on a plate. Cut parallel slits on his body, angled towards his head. Do this for both sides. Then splash the fish inside and out with some Chinese cooking wine and rub him with salt. Then cut some thin slices of ginger and place it in the slits.

(Quick tangent for a possibly amusing story: I remember when I was a kid, my mom once called me into the kitchen. I found her standing next to a plate of uncooked fish, looking quite bewildered. I screeched when I realized the dead fish’s tail was twitching. It turns out after my mom cut some slits and salted the fish, which probably triggered some neurons to fire. At least we hope so.)

DSC_0026Cooking the Fish

This is the easy part. Just gently slide the fish into a steamer and put the cover on! If you would like, you can put a scallion in it’s mouth. I promise you it will provide you endless delight. Steaming should take around 10 minutes, depending on the size of your fish. Monitor it closely and make sure it doesn’t over cook. It will be done with the meat is tender and flakes off the bones easily.

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Making the Sauce and serving the fish

While the fish is steaming, pour a liiiiiiittle oil in a pan and 1 or 2 sliced jalapeno and some ginger until it smells fragrant. Add maybe 1/2 cup of soy sauce and maybe 1/3 cup of water (arbitrary measurements). Actually, you probably want more. It’s better to have extra sauce than not enough. Take the green parts of 2 scallions, cut them in half horizontally, and proceed to thinly slice them into four parts length-wise. I would also recommend some cilantro. When the fish is done steaming, transfer him into a plate (though preferably a deeper plate to hold the sauce). Place scallions and cilantro on and around the fish. Pour the hot sauce (hot in temperature, not spicy, unless you overdid it with the jalapeno’s) all over the plate. Serve pipin’ hot. No one wants to eat cold dead fish!

DSC_0008Asians in the kitchen say: “Oh yay so yummy, 100% o-ten-tik!

DSC_0050Oh my god, food coma.

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