Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Fish in Chinese cooking

Fish is a greater delicacy than meat and poultry in Chinese food. The cooking of fish is also a more delicate matter. A Chinese restaurant is often known by the chef's skill in fish and a new Chinese cook is also often tested by his fish.

The charm of Chinese seafood is the way in which vegetables are combined with it to make more of the fish itself. Each is independent of the other, yet each depends on the other for the excellence of the dish. While westerners rarely, if ever, cook fish and vegetables together, the Chinese, for the most part, do just that. There are almost as many ways of cooking fish as there are ways of cooking. Fish is even eaten raw, for which salmon and cod are good.

Fish from the sea is much used along the coastal provinces of China but fresh-water fish plays a much greater part in Chinese cooking than in the west. The Chinese ways of cooking probably make it so. Restaurants and even households often buy live fish and keep them swimming in tanks until needed for use. For celebrations and parties the Chinese serve fish whole. A headless, tailless fish is considered incomplete and unaesthetic. There is a practical reason for leaving the fish intact: fewer juice escape during the cooking process.

Of sea fish, bluefish, whitefish, flounder, cod, salmon, bass, and fresh sardine can make good Chinese dishes. Shad and mullet are partly sea and partly river fish. Shad is a great delicacy in China. Of fresh-water fish, carp and buffalo carp are the most important in Chinese fish dishes.

Give me a fish, I eat for a day. Teach me to fish, I eat for a lifetime. - Robert Louis Stevenson

Common methods fish are prepared in Chinese

There are two ways of cooking fish plain in China, steaming and simmering which are both a good choice from a nutritional point of view because unlike frying, they do not increase the fat content. To steam, the fish is placed in a plate with seasoning and very small amount of water, and the dish is placed on a rack in a wok with boiling water. Alternatively, instead of plate, you can use the bamboo steamer but that's not a good idea really because the sweet juices seep out of the fish will drip right down into the boiling water. The aluminum steamers is your best bet if you are concerned that boiling water in the wok will remove your hard-earned seasoning. Only a good-sized fish is worth cooking in this way. An alternative method apparently just as good is to clear-simmer it. You put the fish together with the small amount of liquid seasoning directly into the pot and bring to boiling over high heat and reduce heat to simmer as soon as boiling starts. Never let boiling continue hard or it will ruin the fish. Shad, bass, pike, and mullet and plaice are suitable for clear-simmering.

The Chinese word for fish is pronounced "yu". The same pronunciation is given to the word "remain". From this coincidence the Chinese developed a tradition of serving fish at celebrations and happy occasions: The fish ("yu") served at the meal "guaranteed" that the happiness felt by the participants would remain "yu") for a long time.

Remember that fish, like most other foods, continues to cook even after you remove it from the heat source. So, try to stop the cooking before the dish is done.

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