Saturday, 1 February 2014

Steamed River Fish with Ginger (清蒸鲈鱼) & The Hutong Review

It's been a long while, I'm sorry.  It's been a mixture of laziness and stress and apathy, perhaps not the best way to start the year. 

So let's talk about January.  January was mostly spent in Beijing, where it was cold, sunny and "foggy".
I went to a cooking class over at The Hutong, which is a Chinese cultural center for foreigners.  I learned to cook Chinese New Year specialties, and this is one of the recipes that was taught: steamed river fish with ginger.  We like to eat whole fish. Fish is like the lucky mascot of Chinese culture.  It's often eaten on New Year's because the word "yu", fish in Chinese, sounds the same as the word for "surplus".  So we'd say may every year have surplus.

Sometimes Westerners get freaked out by the whole fish.  In a lot of restaurants in China, when you order a fish, the waiter would bring over the fish to you in a bag - still alive  (kind of), asking if the fish is to your liking.  Right at the dining table, it's the norm.  Well, maybe not so much anymore in large cosmopolitan cities like Beijing, but you still see it.
Ok - let us go back to The Hutong.  I don't normally do cooking class reviews because.. I don't go to that many cooking classes - not because I think highly of myself, but because they're usually quite expensive.  Now, let me make this clear again, unfortunately nobody's paying me for this, so this is all honest feedback.  It's not necessarily targeted towards beginners as it is to foreigners who don't know much about Chinese cooking.  The teacher took us through a nice introduction of Chinese ingredients, Chinese knife skills and Chinese culture. It's very hands on, and everyone's given a chopping board and knife.  You'd be surprised at all the differences really.  I felt quite ignorant as I was Chinese.  For instance, you might be used to chopping things by "slicing" with a knife.  Your knife is constantly in contact with the chopping board as you chop away those spring onions.  However, in Chinese cooking, you "chop" - the knife leaves the chopping board with every cut.  Also, did you know that they just use one knife?  They don't have a range of knives of different sizes and shapes for different uses, they just have one large multipurpose knife.  Did you know that there was a Chinese equivalent of mirepoix?  That there are three types of soy sauces?  That garlic can take the role of a vegetable in a stir-fry?  Well, the cooking class will open your eyes. 

For around £30/$50 a class, you get three dishes, that's cooked in a span of 2 hours and people usually stay back for another hour or so to eat and chat. Oh and also, they have other cultural classes as well, ranging from tea tastings to market tours.

So, I'd put this on your travel itinerary for Beijing - it's a good way to learn about the culture.  And if you're not going to China anytime soon, this is a nice light change to the usual greasy Chinese takeout that you get.

Recipe from The Hutong
1 river fish, guttered and scaled
10cm piece ginger, cut into matchsticks
4 spring onions cut into 5-7cm matchsticks
1/2 red pepper cut into matchsticks
bunch of fresh coriander
3 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp chili oil

Put the ginger pieces into the stomach of the fish - as much as you can and you can save the rest for garnish later.  Place on a plate and steam for 15-20 minutes until flesh flakes away from spine when paired with a fork

Pule up a generous amount of ginger, spring onions, red pepper and coriander on top of the fish.  Pour the light soy sauce and chili oil over the fish.

Heat up the oil in a pan until smoking, then pour it over the fish to sear it.  Now it's ready to be served. 

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