While I love living in the Pacific NW and for the most part Portlandia has a surprising amount of variety when it comes to ethnic eateries, you may very well starve to death if you’re holding out for delicious non-battered, General-free Chinese cuisine. It’s completely understandable since besides me and 5 other people ;), there’s not a lot of Asians here and even fewer of Chinese descent. I’m lucky enough that I can gorge myself in the land of earthquakes down south on our periodic excursions but sometimes I want some salty, greasy, steamy goodness. 豆豉 Douchi, fermented black beans or salted black beans are actually made from preserved soy beans and can make plain Jane ingredients like tofu into savory, velvety, almost custardy 麻婆豆腐 Ma Po Tofu. It can make green beans taste so good even your verdant veggie hating cousin Vicky will be licking her bowl clean. And it can make tender, flaky fish juuust that much better.
I remember eating this dish for the first time as an 8 year old in San Francisco and finishing my plate which at that time was an unheard of feat for me–I’ve always had a small stomach snacked my way through the day. (I also thoroughly embarrassed my dignified Dad at one of the most famous dim sum restaurants in the city, so famous that you’re routinely sat next to anyone as long as there’s an open seat, by whining about how I wanted pancakes at IHOP but that’s a story for another recipe hehe.) So where was I? Oh, yeah. Memories of juicy succulent fish floating in a delicious briny sauce with zings of ginger and green onion shooting through it still can make my mouth fill with drool in 0.3 seconds flat. And since I have a purveyor of never frozen snapper and a new high flow range hood to suck out all that oily air, let’s get to it!
Why’s and wherefore’s:
1) Why discard the steamed herbs and fish water? Um, cuz they taste fishy in a bad way and by adding fresh herbs at the end you still get that zesty flavor.
2) Ugh, you want me to pour smoking hot oil over my low-fat, healthy, steamed fish? Yup. That small amount of oil heats up your herbs aka aromatics releasing their flavors into the dish making that zesty ginger and green onion taste even better.
3) I don’t have rice wine, can I just substitute sherry or some other wine? Usually you can substitute many ingredients in cooking but in this case, the sweet smell of the rice wine actually helps cancel the “fishy” odor of seafood. So either try it without if you’re able to get live, super fresh fish or skip this recipe and use a different preparation for your lovely snapper, like roasting or blackening or crusted with almonds (yum!).
4) What’s with the mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine), isn’t this a Chinese dish? Um, yeah, but I find that little hint of sweetness brings out all the other flavors but if you don’t have it, just use another rice wine like shaoxing or sake.
5) I’m allergic to nuts so can’t I use another vegetable oil? Sure, just make sure it has a high flash point. Eh? The flash point is the temperature at which a substance can literally flash or ignite into flames which would be bad for the majority of cooking situations. Some cooking oils that have high flash points and are used for high heat cooking or frying are rice bran oil, canola oil, and coconut oil. Olive oil has a low flash point so would not be safe with high heat cooking.
2 4-oz snapper fillets (~3/4-inch thick), skin and pin bones removed
2 stalks green onions, in 2-inch lengths and finely julienned
2 stalk green onions, cut in half crosswise
2 inches ginger, peeled and finely julienned
2 tbsp fermented black beans, minced
2 + 2 tbsp mirin or shaoxing rice wine + 1/4 tsp sugar
2 tbsp sake or shaoxing rice wine
1 tbsp peanut oil
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
3 tbsp light soy sauce (I use Pearl River Bridge Superior Light Soy Sauce)
2 c steamed rice
In a heat-safe dish that will fit into your steamer, pour 2 tbsp mirin and 2 tbsp sake. Lay green onion stalks over the plate crosswise then place fillets on plate so that they are propped up on the stalks. Spread minced beans over fillets.
Fill a large pot or wok with 1 cup of water then place the steamer in the pot. Bring water to a simmer and place steamer in pot then place dish in steamer and cover pot with tight sealing lid. Steam for 8-10 minutes, two 4-oz, 3/4-inch thick fillets took me 10 minutes. Re-plate your fillets and discard herbs and cooking liquids. Top fish with julienned green onion and ginger.
Heat peanut and sesame oils in a small pot over high heat till oil is smoking. Keep the pot lid nearby in case you get any flames or sparking so you can quickly cover the pot and extinguish any flames. Carefully pour hot oil over fillets, the oil can spatter and burn you (or anyone nearby) so hold the pot low over the plate as you pour since pouring from a lower height will reduce splashing. Pour soy sauce and remaining 2 tbsp mirin into the oil pot and swirl to mix then pour over fish. Serve with rice. Makes 2 servings.