Easy Chinese steamed fish dinner

Chinese steamed fish and riceNeed a quick, no-fuss, healthy dinner? Steamed fish, rice, and green vegetables is my go-to meal that cooks in one versatile pan—a Chinese multi-layer steamer. With relatively little effort, I am rewarded with a complete meal highlighted by moist succulent fish.

The origin is Chinese. In a Hakka restaurant in Meizhou, China, we ate a steamed whole fish, very simply seasoned with a bit of ginger, rice wine, soy sauce, and green onions (page 39 in The Hakka Cookbook). Throughout China, we ate different variations of steamed fish, sometimes with fermented black beans, chiles, red peppers, and pickled mustard greens. In Meizhou, we also ate rice steamed in small clay bowls (page 270 in The Hakka Cookbook). I merge these two in this easy, quick meal. Chinese stacked steamer

With a big Chinese steamer this meal cooks efficiently in about 30 minutes.  I use a  self-contained multi-layer metal steamer. You could also use two stacked bamboo steamer racks over a 14-inch wok. Cook bowls of rice on one layer and fish on the top layer. When both are done, plunge vegetables into the boiling water in the base pan and cook briefly, then drain. Look for the steamers at the Wok Shop, Asian cookware stores and Asian supermarkets, and online. Choose steamers or bamboo steamer racks at least 11- to 12-inches wide to accommodate wide plates.

Steamed Fish and Rice for 2

In this easy version, I often use a piece of fish fillet. You can also use a small whole fish and increase the seasonings. Season fish as you like: choose from shiitake mushrooms slivers, sliced chiles, dried hot chile flakes, pickled mustard green slivers, lemon slices, fresh herbs. If desired, lightly mix the cooked green vegetables with Chinese oyster sauce and sesame oil to taste.

2/3 cup white long grain rice

12 to 16 ounces fish fillet such as rock fish, salmon, or halibut

1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine (shaoxing)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon thinly slivered fresh ginger

1 tablespoon fermented black beans, rinsed (optional)

Salt to taste

1 green onion, thinly sliced or slivered, included tops

6 to 8 ounces Chinese green vegetable such as Chinese broccoli (gai lan) or yau choy (ends, trimmed and cut in 3-inch lengths), or baby bok choy (cut in halves or quarters lengthwise)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil or sesame oil

Cilantro leaves (optional)

 

1.  Fill the base of a Chinese metal steamer half to two-thirds full of water or a 14-inch wok (if using bamboo steamer racks). Set wok over a ring if it has a round bottom to stablize.  Bring water to a boil over high heat.

2.  Rinse 1/3 cup rice in fine wire strainer; drain. Place rice in a small Chinese rice bowl (about 1 cup size). Fill bowl with 1/3 cup water. Repeat for second bowl. Repeat if you want additional bowls of rice. Place rice bowls in one steamer rack. When water boils, set filled steamer rack over water, cover and steam about 15 minutes.

3. Meanwhile rinse fish and pat dry. Place fish (skin-side down, if attached) on shallow heatproof dish (such as a 9-inch Pyrex pie pan) that will fit inside a steamer. Drizzle fish evenly with wine and soy sauce. Sprinkle evenly with ginger, black beans, and salt. Sprinkle white part of onion over fish. Set fish in second steamer rack.

4. After rice has steamed 15 minutes, set steamer rack with fish on top of rack with rice. Cover fish. (In a wok, you may need to add more boiling water as it evaporates.) Continue steaming until fish looks almost opaque in thickest part, 8 to 10 minutes for about 1 inch thick piece and rice is tender. In a wok, you may need to add more boiling water as it evaporates. When fish is done, lift off both steamer racks and set the stacked racks on a towel-covered counter. (Be careful, steam is very hot.) Keep steamer racks covered and allow fish to rest.

5.  Add more water to pan if pan is less than half full and return to boil over high heat. Add vegetable and cook until bright green and barely tender, about 2 minutes. Drain, place vegetable in a serving bowl.

6.  Sprinkle remaining green onions over fish. In a small pan over high heat, cook the vegetable oil until very hot and pour over green onions and fish. If using sesame oil, do not heat. Sprinkle fish with cilantro. Serve fish with rice and vegetables.

Searching for Hakka restaurants in Bangkok

On past trips to Thailand, I had never found any Hakka restaurants. I knew Hakka lived in Thailand, but most Chinese I had met previously were Teochow. Through my book, I had met a Hakka who grew up in Bangkok. Luckily when visiting Thailand a few months ago, my new Hakka friend offered to give me a tour of Bangkok’s Chinatown.

Piang Ki Pochana
Tel: 02 221 6024

As we explored the streets bustling with Chinese New Year shoppers, we decided to try a hidden, old time Hakka restaurant in the area. Piang Ki Pochana is tucked into an alley on the way to Wat Kusolsamankarn and The Hakkas Association of Thailand. This tiny hole-in-the wall restaurant specializes in Hakka dishes. We ordered the tofu skin stuffed with minced pork, steamed stuffed tofu, pork belly with picked vegetables, and red-hued stir-fried rice noodles. Our favorite was the paper-thin tofu skin wrapped around a bit of minced pork and fried until extra-crisp. We dipped the crispy morsels into a sweet sauce infused with bits of pickled garlic.

Library at the Hakka Association of Thailand

Afterwards we visited the Hakka Association that includes an event hall and a small library. The library contains Hakka books and publications, most are written in Chinese. If you’re ever in Bangkok, check it out.

A few days later, we tried another Hakka restaurant Aiew Hin Pochana, a short BTS ride outside of city central.

Aiew Hin Pochana
Tel: 086 9456261

At this small homey restaurant we dipped small fried spring rolls filled with pork and water chestnuts into a sweet garlic-infused syrup (photo below).

Pork-filled spring rolls at Aiew Hin Pochana

Their version of pork belly moi choy was dark and succulent. Pork-stuffed tofu chunks, pan-browned on one side and braised in a clear sauce, flecked with red yeast had a mild flavor (photo below).

In our limited tasting of Hakka food in Bangkok, I was surprised to find the dishes rather mild in flavor, especially in the local environment of very spicy Thai cuisine. I need to try more dishes to get a bigger picture of the Hakka restaurants in Thailand. The red yeast rice (kuk 紅 米 麴 ) was present at both meals. These tiny dark red particles are a fermentation by-product of the red yeast growing on cooked non glutinous rice. It adds a deep red color and faint mineral flavor to rice wine, soups, sauces, and fermented bean curd.

Anyone have recommendations for Hakka restaurants in Thailand? Perhaps Hakka cooking only remains in home kitchens. Love to hear from you.

Hakka sweets in Hong Kong

Chuen Cheung Kui Restaurant

Have you tasted these Hakka sweets–deep-fried milk or steamed Hakka buns?

Days before Chinese New Year, anthropology professor Sidney Cheung of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, took us to a local Hakka restaurant, Chuen Cheung Kui Restaurant in Hong Kong. We ate traditional Hakka dishes such as salt-baked chicken and stuffed tofu, but for me, who loves sweets, what I remember the most were the desserts. Like most Chinese desserts, they had intriguing textures but were not very sweet compared to Western versions.

Deep-fried Milk

I had read the deep-fried milk was a must-try at this restaurant. Big lumps of mildly sweet milk pudding were coated in a thin light batter and deep-fried until crisp and golden. Served hot with sugar to dip into, they were irresistible. Unlike other versions of fried custards or puddings I have eaten, these were softer and more voluptuous in size. The crisp exterior deliciously contrasted with the smooth pillow-soft milk pudding interior.

Steamed Hakka Buns

Cheung’s kids insisted we also order the steamed Hakka buns that they had eaten here before. I’m glad they did. Steamed buns, the color of aged ivory, cratered with craggy fissures, sat on a square of banana leaf. Their texture and appearance resembled the bready exterior of a steamed pork bun. The bread boasted a fine, dense, moist, tender crumb. I detected a mild caramel sweetness and golden color that might have originated from brown sugar or the Chinese brown slab sugar. Even though they had no filling, we couldn’t stop eating these soft, slightly sweet buns.

Do you know these Hakka desserts? If so, please share your recipes.

Details:

Chuen Cheung Kui Restaurant
Shop C, 1/F, Alliance Building, 133 Connaught Road
干諾道中133號誠信大廈1樓C舖
Hong Kong
Hong Kong Island, Sheung Wan

Chinese food in Myanmar

Last month, while traveling through Myanmar (aka Burma), I received notice of a new post from The Sandy Food Chronicles. The headline read” In Myanmar: Ham Choy in Monnyinjin”. She writes about finding the Hakka salted mustard greens (ham choy) in the Shan state near Inle Lake. What a coincidence, I am in the same area. A few days later I find a dish of pickled mustard greens and radish tops on the table, ready to add to my noodle soup.

I didn’t meet anyone who identified as Hakka but I’m sure they must be here. The Chinese population in Myanmar is roughly 3% and most come from Guangdong, Fujian, and Yunnan. The Chinese have invested in development in this country, so many Chinese have come to work and live here.

Since Myanmar is bordered by China, India, Laos, and Thailand, it’s not surprising to taste those influences in the cuisine. Chinese and Indian flavors strongly show up. Our guide tells us that most restaurants serve Chinese food, because customers prefer it since they can eat Burmese food at home. That was also true 40 years ago when I first visited Burma in the mid-70’s, I came here to report on Burmese food but no restaurants served it, only Chinese food. I could only find Burmese food in homes, not restaurants. Luckily, I had connections and was able to visit a family and eat a home-cooked Burmese meal. For me, there are many similarities in a Chinese and Burmese meal. Both are centered around rice.

Soy-braised pork belly resembles similar Hakka dish in this typical Burmese meal.

My photos show some of the dishes we ate on our recent tour. Lots of meat and vegetable stir-fries, noodles, and stir-fried vegetables show a strong Chinese hand. The soy-braised pork belly reminded me of Hakka stews.

Simple meat and potato curries were less complex and spicy than Indian versions. Light and brothy soups with a few vegetables were  present at most meals. Some were thickened with legumes.

The salads boast a distinctive Burmese flavor– vegetables lightly dressed with lime juice, chile, ground dried shrimp, fried shallots, fish sauce, and peanuts. Condiments such as relishes, chile pastes, and pickles allow diners to tailor dishes to their taste.

Burmese tomato salad in back, Chinese noodles in front

Chinese New Year long life noodles

roosterHappy New Year! Khiung Hee Fat Choy! 恭禧發財!  On January 28, 2017 we celebrate Chinese New Year. This year will be the Year of the Rooster.

Food plays an important element of this celebration. Many traditional New Year dishes using ingredients with auspicious symbols and meanings appear on the new year’s table. Many family favorites also appear at the dinner.

I adapted this noodle recipe for the family potluck. The noodles symbolize long life. These noodles can be made ahead, served at room temperature, and are highly transportable. The easy sauce that dresses the noodles is adapted from Fresh Ginger-Onion Sauce on page 66 of The Hakka Cookbook. I have used the zesty sauce on noodles and added a few crunchy vegetables to make a room temperature side dish. This sauce is often served with Steeped Chicken (pages 22, 23), Salt-Baked Chicken (page 64), or Salt-Poached Chicken (page 226). For a festive meal, serve the noodles with one of these Hakka chicken preparations.

Fresh Ginger-Onion Long Life Noodles

If desired, add 2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar (Chinkiang) or rice vinegar to the sauce for a slight tang.

Makes 6 to 8 side-dish servings

Noodles:

1 pound dried Chinese wheat noodles

3 or 4 stalks celery, thinly sliced on the diagonal

1 red bell pepper, cut in thin slivers

Fresh Ginger-Onion Sauce

1/3 cup minced peeled fresh ginger

3 tablespoons minced green onions, including green tops

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

 

1. For the noodles: In a 6 to 8 quart pan over high heat bring about 3 quarts water to a boil. Add noodles, stir to separate and cook until noodles are barely tender to bite, 5 or 6 minutes. Drain and rinse with water well. Drain well and place in a large bowl. Add celery and red pepper.

2. For the ginger-onion sauce: In a 1 1/2 to 2 cup heatproof bowl, mix the ginger, onion, and garlic. In a small pan over high heat cook the oil until it ripples when the pan is tilted and is very hot, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour the hot oil over the ginger mixture (it will bubble vigorously) and mix well. Add 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

3. Pour Ginger-Onion Sauce over noodles and mix well. Add more soy sauce and salt to taste, if desired. Serve warm or cool.

 

Holiday gift: The Hakka Cookbook

large version of cover of The Hakka Cookbook

Best Chinese Cuisine Cookbook 2012 by Gourmand World Cookbook Awards

Need a holiday gift for your Hakka children or foodie friend? Consider The Hakka Cookbook. It’s a perfect and unique gift especially for Hakka who want to learn more about their history, heritage, and cuisine. The book tells the story of the migration of China’s “guest people” known as the Hakka. It follows my journey to discover my own Hakka identity as I travel and interview Hakka throughout the world. These transplanted Hakka share their stories and their food. Through the easy-to-follow recipes, cook your way to the Hakka soul.

Ask your local bookstore to order The Hakka Cookbook for you. Or buy online. Check this link for sources and details. Online retailers such as Amazon (North America, France, Germany, UK, Japan, and Canada) and Kinokuniya Online Store Bookweb (Southeast Asia) have sold the book in the past.

Easy winter melon soup

Winter melon soup

 

Winter melon soup sometimes appears at Chinese banquets, often steamed and grandly served in a whole melon. You don’t need to wait for a banquet to eat this delicious, soothing soup. It’s easy to make a simple version of this Chinese classic at home.

winter melonLook for the frosty white-tinged green-skinned melons with snowy white flesh at farmers’ markets and Asian supermarkets. The melon’s size can equal that of a large watermelon so it is often cut and sold in chunks. When simmered in broth the flesh softens into delicate morsels with a mild, soothing, refreshing taste.

This Hakka home-style version uses ground meat for a quick weeknight soup. Feel free to embellish with bits of ham, seafood, or mushrooms.

Easy Winter Melon Soup

Makes 6 servings as part of a multi-course meal

8 cups chicken broth

6 slices fresh ginger, lightly crushed

2 pounds winter melon

1 large carrot, sliced 1/4-inch thick (optional)

8 ounces ground pork, chicken, or turkey

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine (shaoxing) or dry sherry

1 tablespoon soy sauce

About 1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

 

1. In a 4-quart pan over high heat, bring broth and ginger to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, cut skin off melon and scoop out and discard seeds. Cut melon into about 1-inch chunks. Add melon and carrot to broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until melon is almost tender when pierced and translucent, 10 to 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, mix pork, garlic, cornstarch, wine, soy sauce, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Drop 1/2-inch wide lumps of pork mixture into soup. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until pork is no longer pink in center of thickest part, about 5 minutes. Remove ginger slices, if desired. Skim off fat and discard. Add salt to taste and cilantro. Ladle  soup into bowls.

Hakka stuffed tofu

I have been following The Sandy Food Chronicles as she explores Hakka heritage recipes. In a recent post, she discovers the complexities of Hakka stuffed tofu (釀 豆 腐 nyiong tiu fu, yong dau foo) in Singapore.

Cantonese stuffed tofuI remember eating this Hakka classic there in 2004. On our first day, we wandered into a food court and tasted the Singapore style of stuffed tofu. The filling goes into many options besides tofu–chilies, eggplant, bean curd skin, bitter melon. This vendor used the Cantonese filling, a rather bland, smooth fish paste.

Singapore Hakka stuffed tofuA few days later, we ate lunch with a Hakka family. The Hakka version of stuffed tofu appeared on the table. The filling, pebbled with ground pork, boasted a deeper, more robust flavor and coarser texture than what we had eaten a few days earlier. Doreen Ho explained that the Hakka version always contains some pork. Since the Hakka originally lived inland with no access to seafood, they used pork for the filling. As they migrated to coastal areas, some adapted to local ingredients and often added seafood to the filling. There are as many variations to this filling as cooks. Some fillings contain all pork, some add fish, fresh or salted, and some add shrimp, fresh or dried. For recipes in The Hakka Cookbook, see pages 31 to 34, 76, 215, 106. What’s your favorite filling?

In her post, Sandy mentions The Food Canon’s recipe for Auntie Ruby’s Hakka Yong Tau Foo. The recipe looks mouth-watering, as well as authentic and achievable. The blog’s author, Terry Wong, has a new cookbook, Mum’s Classics Revived coming out soon. It is about home-cooking in Singapore and Malaysia. The book looks promising, check it out.

New ways with Hakka pork belly

Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens

Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens at the Hakka Restaurant in San Francisco

One of the most popular Hakka dishes is Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens ((扣 肉 梅 菜 kiu ngiuk moi choi or kou rou mei cai). In a recent post on The Sandy Food Chronicles, Sandra Lue writes about the version she tasted at The Hakka Restaurant in San Francisco. I  also love Chef Li’s version–dark, soft, succulent, salty, and a bit fatty– he captures the Hakka flavor.

img_4046In my book research, I found every cook seemed to have their own version of this dish. Lue shares a few recipes she discovers which I am eager to try. Her post reminded me of another version from Fah Liong, a Hakka from Indonesia. I used many of her recipes in The Hakka Cookbook, but did not have room for her variation on Pork Belly with Preserved Greens. She replaces the salt-and- sugar preserved mustard greens (moi choy) with a more natural salt-free option, sun-dried bok choy (also called cole). She layers the pork slices in the center of the greens so the meat juices can travel through the greens more evenly. Since the pork hides in the center, there’s no need to unmold the dish; just dig in. Serve this homey dish with plenty of rice.

 Hakka Pork Belly with Dried Bok Choy

Makes 4 to 6 servings as a main course or 8 to 10 servings as part of a multi-course meal

3 ounces dried bok choy (also called cole), about half a package
1 piece (1 to 1 1/2 pounds) boneless pork belly with skin, preferably with a high proportion of meat
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 1/2 cups Chinese rice wine (shaoxing) or dry sherry
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce (or 2 tablespoons light soy sauce and 1 tablespoon molasses)
2 teaspoons sugar

1. In a large bowl soak the dried bok choy in hot water until soft and pliable, changing water occasionally, at least 2 hours or up to overnight. Drain and rinse vegetable. Gather the stem ends together, wring out the water, trim off and discard tough ends, and cut the vegetable crosswise into 1 inch pieces.

2. With a knife tip or fork, prick the skin of pork belly all over. Place a 14-inch wok or 12-inch frying pan over high heat. When pan is hot, about 1 minute, add the oil, and rotate the pan to spread. Set the pork, skin-down, in the pan. Cook, pressing down on pork, until the skin is well browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking on all sides until well browned. Lift out of pan and cut the pork across grain in 2- to 3-inch sections. Then cut each section with the grain into 1/2-inch wide slices.

3. Remove all the fat from the pan except for 2 teaspoons. Return the pan to medium-high heat. Add the garlic and stir until soft, about 30 seconds. Add the wine, dark soy sauce, and sugar. Bring to a boil. Add the bok choy and pork. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until 1/2 to 3/4 cup liquid remains, 15 to 25 minutes.

4. With a slotted spoon, lift out and arrange half the bok choy in a shallow 5- to 8-cup bowl. Arrange pork slices, overlapping slightly, if needed, in an even layer over vegetable. Cover with remaining vegetable. Skim off and discard fat from any remaining pan juices and pour evenly over vegetable.

5. Set the dish on a rack over 2 to 4 inches boiling water in a steamer (at least 1 inch wider than dish) or wok (if bottom is round, place on a wok ring to stabilize). If the steamer lid is metal, wrap the lid with a towel to reduce condensation dripping on the food. Cover and steam over high heat until the pork is very tender when pierced, about 2 hours. Watch the water level, adding more boiling water as needed. Carefully remove the dish from steamer and serve from bowl. Or if desired, set a plate on top of the bowl and invert. Lift off bowl.

Hakka pork-stuffed tofu

pork stuffed tofuLast weekend, Lorraine Witte, The Chinese Lady and author, invited me to her kitchen to cook some dishes from The Hakka Cookbook. We cooked a famous Hakka classic, stuffed tofu (niong dou fu). This dish was invented as a result of migration. When the Hakka migrated to the south, they wanted to make the dumpling they had eaten in the north. They could not find the wheat flour needed to make the dumpling wrappers so they improvised and stuffed the meat filling into chunks of tofu.

You can watch us cooking pork stuffed tofu here. The full recipe appears on page 33 of The Hakka Cookbook and originally came from Natalie Com Liu who taught me in her kitchen in Lima, Peru.

IMG_3774There are many variations to stuffed tofu. The original filling was pork because the Hakka lived inland. As they migrated to the coasts, they often added seafood. The tofu could be steamed, deep-fried, poached, or pan-browned and braised. This steamed version is one of the simplest. Feel free to embellish the ginger-scented pork filling to your tastes.