Happy Rat Year

A few years ago there was an elaborately fruitless deliberation between Koreans and Taiwanese people about who started the whole Lunar New Year thing. The whole debacle subsided as soon as the subject of their contention dawned, and the bickering gave way to two weeks of delirious feasting, after which everyone sort of just waddled home and forgot about any dawdling disagreements.

If the new year can allay two ethnicity of much-ado-but-do-nothings, have hope that it might hit pause on your dismays. You can get back to your worries in two weeks, if you must. They’ll still be there, but I pray you’ll by then see them in a faded light, whether it be from the maotai you drink or from a prospect renewed, or both.

I hereby bless you with full nets and plenty via the following dish, 年年有魚.

Steamed Whole Sea Bream
Steamed Whole Sea Bream

Growing up with my dad who’s from a sea port town in the north of Taiwan and my mother whose parents were in the fish business with primarily Japanese clients, I was eating whole fish unassisted by the time I was four years old. To this day I still prefer whole over fillets or steaks. Cooking fish whole is as elegant and effortless as it gets, and is impressive AF in case your over-achieving brother, or critical grandma will be showing up for dinner. Also, your finished dish should not look exactly as pictured – this picture was taken pre-steam. Once the fish is cooked, there’s just no time for the camera.

Steamed Whole Sea Bream with Ginger and Scallions

  • 1 very fresh whole sea bream, ask your fishmonger to gut and scale it
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 1-inch piece of ginger, julienned
  • 3 scallions, julienned
  • 2 Thai red chilies, thinly sliced on the diagonal (optional)
  • 3 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice wine or gin
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  1. Rinse the fish in very cold water, to get rid of any scummy fluid inside the cavity and stray scales sticking to the skin.
  2. Rub the salt all over the fish, effectively exfoliating it (including the cavity), and let stand for 5 minutes (while you cut prep the aromatics).
  3. Rinse the fish again and pat dry completely using some paper towel. Make 4-5 diagonal slashes on each side of the fish, without cutting through the main bone.
  4. Place the fish in a heat-proof serving dish and pile on the ginger, scallions, and chilies (if using). Mix together the soy sauce and rice wine and pour over the fish.
  5. Steam on high heat for 20 minutes, or until the eyes turn opaque and the flesh flakes easily.
  6. Drizzle over the sesame oil while the fish is still hot and serve immediately.

When I eat this, I like to spoon the juices directly into my bowl of rice and have it soaked up to go with the dish itself.

Thoughts? I'd love to hear them!

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