With all of its rivers and lakes, China is blessed with a great variety of such fish as the Mandarin and the carp; the Mandarin is popular for its delicate taste. In this recipe, steaming preserves the delicate freshwater flavours. The Chinese speak highly of “sea-flavours,” but freshwater fish are actually preferred by many. I sampled this recipe at a local restaurant in Shaoxing. The famous local rice wine provided the basis for the sauce, giving it a richness of flavour. With the mushrooms and bamboo shoots, this dish makes a substantial and flavourful meal, a centerpiece for any family gathering. In the presence of the Mandarin this recipe works well.
Soak the mushrooms for 20 minutes in warm water. Remove the stems and finely shred the caps.
Make three or four slashes on each side of the fish to help it cook faster and allow the flavours to permeate. Rub the fish on both sides with the salt. Set on a heatproof platter.
Combine the rice wine or sherry, soy sauce, and sugar and pour over the fish. Scatter the bamboo shoots, mushrooms and ginger over and around the fish.
Set up a steamer or put a rack into a wok or deep pan. Fill the steamer with about 5 cm/2 in of hot water. Bring the water to a simmer. Put the plate with the fish into the steamer or onto the rack. Cover the steamer tightly and gently steam the fish until it is cooked. Flat fish will take about 6 minutes. Thicker fish such as sea bass will take about 15 to 18 minutes.
Remove the plate of cooked fish and pour all of the liquid into a small saucepan. Bring this to a simmer and stir in the cornflour mixture. When the sauce has thickened, pour it over the fish and serve at once.
© 1990 Ken Hom. All rights reserved.