EGOR #2: Cooking Outside My Comfort Zone
Growing up, we almost always ate at a Chinese restaurant IF we went out to eat. While we (the offspring) each got to vote for a dish, a giant steamed fish would always arrive at our table. Slivered ginger, green onions, and soy sauce, so fragrant from the sizzled oil drizzled on top, smothered the fish. Without fail. Every time.
Of course, the fish would be the absolute freshest, alive just minutes ago in the giant overcrowded water tanks lining one wall of the restaurant. I imagine being a fish in one of these tanks was not unlike how my parents and relatives grew up in Hong Kong and Bangkok. Always living on top of one another, personal space a rare and treasured commodity.
My mom or dad would hand select our fish, pointing at the exact one they wanted as the harried waiter did the fishing. Eventually, the correct fish would be caught with a metal handled, green plastic net and rushed into the kitchen to meet its maker.
This is urban fishing at its finest.
We ate family style 150% of the time. My Chinese uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents would join us for these meals in Chinatown. The table often sat 15 or more family members, and that’s just counting part of my mom’s side of the fam!
When the giant platter of steamed fish arrived the adults would all begin to jostle for position to have the honor of breaking down and serving the fish to everyone (carefully removing the meat from the bones without flipping the whole fish onto its other side. Bad luck they say). There’d always be a pretend fight over who would get to eat the eyeballs. Not because no one wanted to eat them, but because seniority reigns supreme so my PoPo always got to eat this delicacy.
As for me? Today I’d prefer the succulent cheek of the fish, but in my single digit years, this preparation of fish was not my favorite. I’d dutifully eat the few bites I’d receive from my mom’s insistent chopsticks partly because I wanted to avoid the lecture about eating enough fish so I would have healthy eyes. Mostly, I just wanted to dive back into the beef tendon clay pot (which always got my vote ya’ll).
Between the intimidation factor and the steam preparation not being my favorite way of eating fish explains why I’ve never ventured out of my way to cook a whole fish before. (The intimidation factor is real. I may or may not have considered the following: Oh God, do I have to scale and gut this thing myself? Do I need to trim the fins? Who’s going to eat the eyeballs? PoPo’s back in Texas and I’d feel so wasteful if no one eats them.)
Enter Fuchsia Dunlop and Every Grain of Rice.
What finally encouraged me to take the plunge is the fact that Mr. Hungry* loves, loves, loves this style of fish cookery. Even if my first go around ends up being a complete disaster, I wouldn’t have to eat my mistake alone! Ha!
It was a bit of a treasure hunt to find a whole sea bass. After much stumbling with Canto, Mandarin, Google images, and hand gestures with the fishmonger at my local Asian grocery, I finally figured out that the whole sea bass wasn’t labeled as “sea bass”, but as “Bronzino”, also spelled “Branzino/Branzini” or “Bronzini” (aka Dicentrarchus labrax, European sea bass, loup de mer, Europäischer Wolfsbarsch)
Not confusing at all.
Much less confusing, however, was the fact that I didn’t have to scale or gut poor Mr. Fish.
The prep to make the dish took about as long as it took me to set up my wok and boil the water to start steaming. In the process, I also learned a new cooking trick to cook whatever I’m steaming more evenly. By simply laying down 2-3 torn pieces of a spring onion on the plate (before putting the fish on top and into the steamer), these pieces of spring onion raised the fish up just enough to allow for steam to circulate around the whole fish. (Bonus? More tasty spring onion flavor!)
Saturday lunch ended up being much earlier than expected since I hardly had time to clean the cooking dishes before the fish was cooked through. Ok, I’m kidding. I had to take about 40954289328 photos first, THEN Mr. Hungry and I enjoyed our lunch brought to us by Every Grain of Rice.
Yeah, there were no leftovers. #doublefistpump
*The man also loves dad jokes. For instance: What do you call a fish with no eyes?