You know that awful feeling when your throat is sore and your face is so congested you can’t breathe properly through your nose? Well that feeling hit me on Monday evening, and I knew straight away that I wouldn’t be fit for work the next day. I’ve been at home for two days now as I literally couldn’t do anything but sleep, make myself simple meals, and check e-mail and WordPress. Hoping that I’ll get well enough to be able to go into work tomorrow and to London on Friday for a training course on digital editing, which I’ve been looking forward to for awhile.
However I’m not one to sit around feeling sorry for myself, and one of the good things about being ill is the comfort food. For comfort food, we often turn to our roots to the foods that we grew up with, so today I’d like to share two quintessentially Cantonese dishes that Hong Kongers love eating: steamed fish, and congee.
Cantonese Style Steamed Sea Bass
– two fillets of sea bass, descaled and deboned
– ginger, 2 inches of it sliced into very thin matchsticks
– spring onions (scallions), two stalks sliced diagonally into small pieces
– garlic, two cloves
– coriander, several stalks
– vegetable oil
– soy sauce
– sesame oil
– table salt
additional materials – bamboo lattice, slightly rimmed plate (so that the liquid doesn’t run over), and wok with a lid*
*This is just how I steam food but you can use any trivet or steamer basket within a large lidded pot/wok for the fish.
1. Heat wok with water on high heat to bring water to boil. Set bamboo lattice inside the wok. You will use this lattice to rest the plate containing the fish, so that the water below the lattice gently steams it without touching the actual plate.
2. Put the fillets of fish on a rimmed plate, skin side up. Scatter the ginger and half of the chopped spring onions on the fish, pushing some of it gently into the fish.
3. Drizzle a tiny bit (no more than half a teaspoon) of oil over the fish. Drizzle a little bit of soy sauce and a bit of salt.
4. Place the plate containing the fish onto the bamboo lattice. Cover the wok with a lid. Lower the heat to low heat, or just enough so that the water steams so gently you can’t hear the lid bubbling up. The gentler the steam, the better the fish will taste. This is crucial.
5. Steam for 12-15 minutes, until fish is cooked through.
6. Remove plate, bamboo lattice, and water from the wok. Turn up heat to low-medium heat.
7. Heat wok with a bit of oil, and fry the minced garlic and remaining spring onions for 2 minutes.
8. Add the garlic to the fish. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves. Add a few drops of sesame oil. Serve hot!
Congee (say ‘juk’ for the Cantonese name) is another popular kind of breakfast/lunch food in Hong Kong. It is basically a savoury rice porridge cooked to a creamy consistency, almost to the texture of apple sauce. We usually eat it cooked with various ingredients, the most popular being preserved egg and shredded pork. Also, for some reason Hong Kongers like peanuts in their congee too, something which I’m not so crazy about — I have a slight aversion to peanuts (a story for another time).
I grew up eating congee with my paternal grandmother; in fact, I don’t remember eating much else apart from congee and pickled vegetables when I lived with her for a time. I believe she ate congee almost every day, often while watching black and white Cantonese and Teochew opera shows on TV in her tiny flat in North Point, Hong Kong. Sorry I’m getting sidetracked here by nostalgia — my paternal grandmother is no longer with us but my memories of her are deep. She was an incredibly strong and resilient woman: a single mother and silk-worm factory worker, and a reserved but loving grandmother.
Anyway, I’ve listed below my own basic recipe that uses dried scallops to lend the congee a seafood-y flavour without overpowering the delicate flavour of ginger and scallions. Yum!
Plain Congee (Rice Porridge)
Ingredients, for two generous portions
– uncooked long grain/Thai fragrant rice, 1/2 cup
– water, 5 cups*
– (optional) dried scallops, 4 pieces
– spring onions/scallions, 3 stalks chopped finely
– fresh ginger, two inch piece sliced thinly into matchsticks
– eggs, 2x
– (optional garnish) fried onions
for seasoning: soy sauce, sesame oil, a little salt, a little white pepper
*There’s no need to be exact here, but a general rule of thumb is the uncooked rice to water ratio should be about 1:10.
1. Add rice grains, water, ginger, and dried scallop to a stainless steel pot. Bring water to boil.
2. When water starts to boil, cover, turn down heat to low, and let mixture simmer for at least 45 minutes. Check on it occasionally and add more water if you see that the congee is drying up.
3. In a separate small pot, hard boil the eggs for 10 minutes on medium-high heat. Drain water carefully, and de-shell eggs.
4. When congee has reached a creamy consistency, switch off heat and add in eggs.
5. Garnish with extra spring onions. Season to personal taste.