Ginger Cod

My mom really liked this Ginger Cod dish the first time I cooked it for my family when they were visiting me earlier this month. I haven’t quite achieved my vision of it but it is getting there. It does turn out a little different every time I cook it but I guess this is what makes cooking fun — there’s always room for improvisation and improvement!

I made this at a time when I was getting bored of steaming fish so the cooking process is slightly more involved – just slightly.  First, you shallow fry fish covered in a flour and corn flour batter; the fish is removed from the wok when it’s cooked. Then there’s the sauce: ginger, garlic, spring onion (typical Cantonese combination) and sweet soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine, and white pepper with the juices of the fish still in the wok, mmm. Finally, you return the cooked fish to the hot wok so that it absorbs the ginger and garlic flavours and also thickens the sauce. I think this three-stepped method works pretty well; maybe it’s not something I would do on a normal weeknight but when I do have more time, I quite relish the gradual process of cooking the fish, the ginger/garlic, and then the sauce.

you can’t get much more Cantonese than cod with ginger, garlic and spring onion…

Ginger Cod

Ingredients, for 3 persons as one of several mains

250-300 g cod fillet (skinned and de-boned), cut into 2-inch pieces
white peppper and salt to marinate the fish
sunflower or vegetable oil, 2 1/2 tablespoons

to coat the fish
flour, 1/2 cup
cornflour, 1/2 cup
dash of salt for the batter mixture

for the sauce
ginger, 1-inch piece, sliced thinly into discs
garlic, 4 cloves, minced
spring onion, 3 stalks, sliced diagonally into 1-inch pieces
Shaoxing rice wine, 2 tablespoons
soy sauce, 1 1/2 tablespoons – I use for this dish the Rose brand of soy sauce, which is a light soy sauce that is quite sweet and fragrant. It’s from Malaysia, haven’t seen it in the UK, but you can use any light soy sauce and add a little white sugar to the same effect.
water, about 2 tablespoons

1. Prepare the cod and marinate lightly with dash of salt and white pepper.
2. Mix the flour, cornflour and salt in a bowl or small baking dish.
3. Heat oil in wok on medium heat. As you wait for wok to heat up, thoroughly coat the marinated cod in batter mixture.
4. When oil is hot – you can tell by putting chopsticks into it and seeing if bubbles appear – carefully slip in coated cod pieces to the wok.
5. Shallow fry until cod is lightly golden. Remove from wok onto a plate.
6. Turn heat down to low. Stir fry ginger and garlic in leftover oil until fragrant.
7. Add rice wine. After thirty seconds, add soy sauce and water.
8. Sprinkle in spring onions, cook it in the sauce for at least a minute and a half.
9. Add a dash of white pepper.
10. Return the cod to the wok, and heat thoroughly in the sauce. The batter will thicken the sauce; if you want more sauce, add a little water and soy sauce.
11. Once the cod is coated in sauce and piping hot, switch off heat and serve immediately.

Served with white rice and blanched green vegetables, this is really a quintessentially Cantonese meal :).

食飯! (“Sik fan” or “Let’s eat” in Cantonese.)


Sole with Light Parsley Dressing and Spaghetti

pan fried sole with light white sauce and spaghetti

not the most refined of plates but who’s judging?

This dish was an experiment: I’ve never cooked sole before, nor have I ever made a dressing with parsley. But it was so much fun to cook!

I picked up sole in the first place because recently I’ve been trying to find alternatives to foods that I normally pick up on the weekly grocery run. Lemon Sole for some reason is cheap here compared to sea bass, plaice, cod. I’m not quite sure why though. It’s surprising because sole seems to me to be a more delicate fish compared with cod, which in this country is often battered and deep fried for fish n’ chips. I like the chips but don’t understand battered cod — why would you do that to a nice piece of white fish?

Well I wanted to do sole justice, so I paired it with a light white parsley dressing (I thought a full-on sauce would overpower the fish), and spaghetti tossed in olive oil, parsley and garlic. The flavours blended well. I think the star was the parsley – it’s a herb with personality, but  not too overbearing and it goes well with sole and spaghetti. I then made a dressing using milk and butter for the base and had fun with it, improvising by adding a bit of Dijon mustard and minced yellow onion to give it extra kick.


Sole with Light Parsley Dressing and Spaghetti

Ingredients, for 2 portions
2x lemon sole fillet (approx 250 grams)
spaghetti, 150 grams
parsley, 10 stalks, chopped finely
garlic, 2 cloves, minced
1/2 small yellow onion, minced
milk, 1/4 cup
butter, 3 tablespoons
Dijon mustard, 1/2 teaspoon
olive oil
sea salt and black pepper to taste

1. Bring dried spaghetti to boil in pot of salted water.
2. Crack a little bit of sea salt and black pepper on both sides of the fish. Set aside.
3. Heat pan on medium heat. Wait for pan to heat up, then add olive oil to hot pan.
4. Pan fry sole fillets, pressing down gently on the fish to make sure each side cooks evenly. Add one tablespoon of butter to the pan as the fish is cooking. It should take no more than 2 minutes on each side. You might have to turn down the heat to low-medium at this point to avoid burning the butter.
5. Remove cooked fish from pan. Turn down heat to low-medium heat if you haven’t already. Check on your spaghetti.
6. For the dressing: in a little olive oil, fry the yellow onion, two minutes. Tip in the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter to pan and milk, mix, then add chopped parsley and mustard. Cook for another minute, then pour this mixture into a small bowl.
7. Your spaghetti would most likely have been done during step 6. Drain away the hot water. Then in the previous fish pan, turn up the heat. Sautee the garlic with some olive oil, and when the garlic’s edges are turning golden, tip in pasta. Toss in some parsley, sea salt.
8. Once pasta is mixed well with the other ingredients, plate up with the fish and dressing. Garnish with extra parsley.

This was one of the more involved dinners of last week, but as I said, really fun to make because everything cooks very quickly so I never got bored and wandered off to do something else. It’s incredibly satisfying when cooking becomes more than just the means of getting to an end (dinner!), when you enjoy preparing the food as much as you do eating it, no?

Mom’s Sweet and Savoury Prawns

This is one of the first stir-fries I learned to make.

I cooked this for the first time while I was studying abroad for my junior (3rd) year of uni in Cambridge. I had a shaky first term there – culture shock, loneliness, homesickness. It was very different to studying at my home university, Brown, where I had many close friends and where there was a lot more contact time with professors and peers. It didn’t help that I found England cold and lacking in good food – while the college I was in did very nice formal meals at grand hall, I quickly tired of the standard buttery fare.

So it was with great desperation that turned me to cooking. I called up my mom one day out of desperation and asked for her recipes.

“What recipes do you want?” (mom, translated)

“Er, anything, whatever we eat at home usually.”

“Ok… …”

“Something easy for me to not mess up?”

“Hmm… how about the prawns with ketchup? There’s nothing to it: just make sure you use lots of garlic – cook them until they’re golden. Oh and mix ketchup and oyster sauce together for the sauce. That’s it!”

And that really is it. Sweet, salty, tangy – the ketchup and oyster sauce marries very well. Throw in some onions and spring onions for some texture, yum. Apologies to my friends who don’t like prawns – but to those who do, I heartily recommend this easy stir-fry :).

Mom’s Sweet and Savoury Prawns

A little oyster sauce and ketchup going a long way in this dish.

150 grams raw prawns
1/2 medium yellow onion
3 stalks of spring onion, sliced diagonally into small pieces
3 cloves of garlic
1.5 tablespoons oyster sauce
1.5 tablespoon tomato ketchup
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
black pepper to taste

1. Heat wok on medium heat. When pan is hot, add oil.
2. Fry garlic and yellow onion until fragrant.
3. Tip prawns into wok and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add oyster sauce and ketchup.
4. Crack black pepper over prawn. Stir fry for another 1 1/2 minutes. Don’t overcook the prawns! You’ll know when they’re done when they turn from a translucent grey to a stripey orange and white colour.
5. Add spring onion. Might want to add a few drops of hot water at this point if the sauce is drying up.
6. When spring onion is heated through, switch off heat and serve immediately with steamed white rice.

Cooking and eating this dish still brings me back to my old room in college. I remember sitting huddled at my desk in a blanket, freezing (I stayed in the oldest part of college , which was founded in 1347), homesick and lonely, but feeling such warmth from a plate of humble stir-fry. It made me feel safe. It made me feel that I could at least change one thing about my everyday life, and that was the food.

Thankfully, things quickly got better once I found friends. Or in fact, they found me – that’s a whole other story, involving pie and food poisoning (!). But all turned out quite well for me in the end at Cambridge. I’m glad I stayed on for the whole year because if I hadn’t, I would’ve never got into interested in cooking, never would have met such wonderful friends, and never would have met my boyfriend  – and that really is another story :).

My Favourite Seafood Tomato Sauce Pasta

**edited, with a new photo after tonight’s dinner
Making tomato sauce from scratch is surprisingly easy. And pre-bottled pasta sauce is unfortunately more often than not disappointingly bland — though I concede it can be quite good for things like lasagne. So that’s why I’d like to share with you today how I make my own tomato pasta sauce from scratch. Easy, yummy and cheap too! The most expensive ingredient in the dish is the seafood, but you could always substitute it with mushrooms for a veggie version.

I’ve made this several times but I think last night’s rendition could have been the most successful one. WS and I both gulped down HUGE bowls of this (what can I say, we’re greedy, and we’ve both been sick over the past week).

Gotta apologise in advance for the poor photo. I promise this tastes much nicer than how I’ve presented it here — was way too excited yesterday and just couldn’t be bothered to plate up properly!

Ok ok, I got greedy and added seafood AND smoked ham. Good decision though.

My Favourite Seafood Marinara Pasta

Ingredients, for two generous portions
For a pasta with a sauce made from scratch, I think 12 ingredients is pretty good! 🙂
– 4x medium sized tomatos, chopped — doesn’t matter how or in what sizes as it will all boil down to form the base
– 4x shallots or 1 onion, chopped
– 4x cloves of garlic
– 300ml water, boiled
– ketchup, 3 tablespoons
– 1x red chilli, minced and de-seeded
– butter, a small slab
– olive oil, 1 tablespoon
– black pepper
– salt
– 200 grams of *cooked* mixed seafood (mussels/prawn/squid), or can substitute with mushrooms
– 160-200 grams linguine, depending on your appetite

0. If the seafood or bacon you’ve got is not cooked, boil the seafood in salted water. Set aside before making the pasta sauce. This will save you from the headache of trying to cook meat in your sauce!

1. Heat large pan with olive oil on medium heat.
2. When oil is hot, add shallots and garlic. Cook until golden.
3. When shallots and garlic are nicely golden, add the chopped tomatoes.
4. Shallow fry the vegetables for 2 minutes. Add a little water to the pan so that the tomatoes don’t stick to the bottom.
5. Pour in 200ml of water to the pan and squeeze tomato ketchup into the mixture. Then turn heat to low-medium, and cover pan with a lid, letting the tomatoes simmer away in the water. This will form your pasta base.
6. In the meantime, boil linguine in salted water in a separate pot.
7. When the water and tomato-y mixture has thickened, melt in a small slab of butter to the sauce. I add a slab that’s about the size of my thumb. Butter makes everything taste good, and it also in the case of this dish, helps combat some of the acidity in the tomatoes!
8. Let your sauce simmer away until the tomatoes have disintegrated. I like my pasta sauce to be almost soupy; it’s so comforting for cold days. That’s why at this point I would add the remaining 100ml of hot water, but the exact amount is up to you: these are just my guestimates of how much I would reasonably add! Go by your gut! Season the sauce with salt and black pepper to your taste.
9. When you’re happy with the sauce, tip in the cooked seafood (or mushrooms). Cover pan with lid and let it simmer for a good 5 minutes. Mushrooms will be cooked then. You might have to add a little water at this point to maintain the sauce-y consistency in case the meat absorbs some of the liquid.
10. Hopefully your linguine will be done at this point. Drain away the pasta water.
11. Serve sauce on top of linguine, cracking some extra black pepper if you so wish.

Bon Appetit!

Pretty easy right? I’m quite sure the tomatoes + shallots + garlic in total would cost less than a bottle of pre-made pasta sauce, so if you’re looking to save, this is one recipe to try :). Even better if you cook in batches as you can easily freeze leftover sauce for another meal.

I really do think this could be my favourite pasta ever. Forget Linguine with Prawn and Basil. Forget Spaghetti Carbonara. I could eat this for the rest of my days, every week. 🙂

Steamed Sea Bass and Plain Congee — food for the sniffles

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

So healthy and fresh. Credits to WS for cooking this for me. I do suspect that he might be the better cook!

– 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.