SINGAPORE - Ordering a dish of steamed pomfret at a restaurant or zi char stall is likely to set you back at least $45. So why not whip up your own at home for less?
I use Chinese silver pomfret, which is known as dou chang or dao doi and is considered the creme de la creme of pomfrets. For this recipe, I snagged an 800g one for $29 at the wet market.
Pick a fish that is clear-eyed and plump. Chinese silver pomfret is a fatty, flaky fish with plenty of natural sweetness.
Steaming is the best way to enjoy it. This Teochew-inspired recipe is simple and there is no need to make the sauce separately.
Kiam chye (salted mustard greens) imparts flavour and taste. Soaking it for about an hour helps get rid of excessive saltiness without robbing it of taste. You can also add ingredients such as tofu.
Pork lard, which some say is a must-have ingredient, lends more flavour to the dish. But I leave it out in this recipe as I feel the dish is tasty enough without the extra fat.
Instead of salted plums, I use umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums), which are less salty.
Some home cooks trim the fins of the pomfret, but I leave them. The fishmonger I go to agrees with me that the fish looks better with its fins and tail intact.
If you cannot cook the pomfret on the day you buy it, store it in the freezer, the fishmonger says.
Purists may baulk at using frozen fish for steaming, but I have done it many times. As long as the pomfret is fresh, it should be fine.
One problem home cooks face with steamed fish is an interior that is not cooked through.
Here is a hack: Place the whole leaves of the kiam chye and spring onion under the fish to help circulate the heat during steaming.
Another tip is to stick a small ceramic spoon into the fish cavity as it acts as a heat conductor.
If you prepare the fish ahead and keep it chilled, remove it from the fridge and place it on the kitchen counter for 45 minutes to an hour before steaming.
A metal plate works best for cooking and serving this dish.
• 200g kiam chye
(salted mustard green)
• 2.5 litres water
• 2 tsp salt
• 1 whole Chinese silver pomfret (800g)
• 1 Tbs white rice vinegar
• 1 tsp sugar
• 2 stalks of spring onion (70g)
• 2 umeboshi (Japanese preserved plums, 40g)
• 15g ginger, slice half and julienne remainder
• 2 dried shiitake mushrooms (12g), soaked and sliced
• 1 tomato (150g), sectioned into six pieces
• 1 red finger chilli, de-seeded and slice finely
• 3g fresh coriander
1. Place the kiam chye in a basin. Add a litre of water and 1/2 tsp of salt. Soak for one hour.
2. Rinse the kiam chye thoroughly. Remove the first three leaves from the outside and set aside.
3. Slice the remaining kiam chye into 2cm by 4cm strips. Set aside.
4. Place the pomfret in a deep dish. Add 1 tsp of salt and the white rice vinegar. Rub the mixture all over the fish, including its cavity. Leave for three minutes and rinse thoroughly.
5. Place the fish on the cutting board. Score it along its back and make three cuts on its surface. Turn it over and repeat.
6. Rub the remaining salt and sugar all over the fish, including its cavity. Set aside.
7. Cut the lower white parts of the spring onion into 5cm lengths. Set aside four.
8. Cut the remaining spring onions into 5cm lengths and slice thinly. Place them in iced water until they curl. Remove and set aside. Keep them chilled until ready to use.
9. Remove the seed from one of the plums.
10. On a round metal plate, place the three kiam chye leaves, three pieces of the lower white parts of the spring onion, flesh from the seedless plum and three ginger slices.
11. Place the fish on top. Place one piece of the white part of the spring onion, the plum's seed, two ginger slices and two slices of mushroom in the cavity of the fish.
12. Stick a small ceramic spoon into the fish cavity.
13. Arrange the remaining kiam chye, mushrooms and tomatoes around the fish. You can place some on top of the fish too.
14. Place the remaining plum on top of the fish.
15. Garnish the plate with the red chilli.
16. Bring water to a boil in a steamer.
17. Steam the fish for 10 minutes. Keep it covered and let it cook in residual heat for another two minutes.
18. Remove from the steamer and garnish with remaining spring onion and coriander before serving.