SINGAPORE - Eating this spicy garlic-packed Thai-style steamed fish could well be a test of true love.
If you find your significant other willing to engage in a passionate bout of kissing after you have feasted on pla kapong neung manao, you know he or she is a keeper.
In Thai, pla is fish and kapong refers to the Asian sea bass, which is a popular choice for this dish. At the wet market, ask for gim mak lor, which is the Hokkien name for sea bass.
Ask the fishmonger to butterfly the sea bass without boning it. Butterflying the fish allows you to arrange it with its belly flaps splayed out on the steaming plate. This allows for quicker cooking.
For this dish, the sea bass is blanketed in garlic and chillies, which are regarded as aphrodisiacs in folk medicine.
I cannot comprehend how having garlic breath can be sexy. But you know the attraction is there if you do not need a fancy dinner in a posh setting to get in the mood for love.
After all, the person (and food) should matter more than the venue. It is also special to cook for someone you care about, especially if you are not one who usually enjoys pottering about the kitchen.
As for those celebrating family and friendship, this fish is also a healthier but no less tasty dish to round off all that festive feasting. Here's to more love in the year ahead.
PLA KAPONG NEUNG MANAO (STEAMED SEA BASS WITH LIME AND CHILLI DRESSING)
1 whole sea bass (800g)
1/3 tsp salt
3 stalks of lemongrass, use 15cm from root end
220ml chicken or fish stock
2 coriander roots
20g Thai palm sugar
80g garlic, chopped
60g shallots, thinly sliced lengthwise
7 chilli padi (20g)
50ml fish sauce
60ml lime juice
40g fresh coriander (with stems)
1.5 litres of water (for steaming the fish)
1. Rinse the sea bass and pat dry. Rub the salt into both the interior cavity and exterior of the fish.
2. Stuff the fish cavity with the lemongrass.
3. Place the sea bass in the fridge. Remove from the fridge 15 minutes before you want to start steaming it.
4. To prepare the lime and chilli dressing, bring chicken or fish stock to a boil in a saucepan.
5. Add the coriander roots and simmer over low heat for five minutes.
6. Add the palm sugar, garlic and shallots, and allow the mixture to reach a simmering boil.
7. Add the chillies, fish sauce and lime juice.
8. Turn off the heat. Bring the dressing to a simmering boil just before fish is cooked.
9. Bring 1.5 litres of water to boil in a wok.
10. Place a steaming plate above the waterline in the wok.
11. Place the fish with its belly flaps splayed out, on a piece of parchment paper (35cm by 25cm) on the steaming plate.
12. Cover and steam for 12 to 13 minutes. The eyes of the fish should turn an opaque white when cooked. Use a fine skewer to pierce the thickest part of the fish. The meat should give way easily when cooked through.
13. Transfer the fish onto a serving dish.
14. Pour hot lime and chilli dressing over the steamed fish.
15. Garnish with coriander and serve immediately.
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