My daughter Claire sent me a random morning thought from Sydney earlier this week. It read “Most people’s first word of the year is ‘happy'” – a cheerful notion evoking images of clinking glasses and reminding me of our celebration of the arrival of 2015 in Australia and, more recently, of Shane, Shan and Dermot’s first Chinese New Year in Ireland.
On those rare occasions when I’m in Australia at the start of a New Year I have my own special way of marking it. I head to the Royal Botanic Gardens before I return home to find the “I wish” statue. There can hardly be a more beautifully located botanic gardens on this earth, perched as they are over Sydney Harbour and providing a still place, a peaceful escape from the noise and searing summer heat of the city and a breathing lung at its heart. The simple sculpture I go in search of is by Czechoslovakian artist Arthur Fleischman and has been in the gardens since 1946 where it marks the site of the first Wishing Tree.
The first time I stumbled on my wishing girl was on a visit to Sydney in 1999. That was long before I had a daughter living in Australia or a son in China and I doubted I would have an opportunity to return to Australia in my life time. But something about the simple sense of yearning the statue conveyed struck me like a powerful memory of the future and I tried to capture it in a tiny photo that has sat ever since on my window ledge in Duncannon.
Since then, as my children’s lives took their own twists and turns, my wishing girl has become a symbol for me of the conflicted emotions of longing for home and missing those we leave behind in an adopted country. I’ve returned to Sydney several times and each time I seek her out, touch her cool stone and pause in the still shade that surround her to reflect on what is important in my life right then. This January my prayers were many and heartfelt… that Claire will have a safe delivery of a healthy baby in April and enjoy the happiness of motherhood… that Shane, Shan and Dermot will settle into their new life in Ireland despite missing the family and friends they leave behind in China… and for well-being for other friends and family important to me.
Fast-forward to early March and Claire’s baby is due just seven weeks from today. The waiting, wishing and hoping have become an urgent knot in the pit of my stomach. At the same time I’m adapting to the joy of having SS&D living just down the road and the ordinary, extraordinary pleasures of grand-parenting. It’s time to start writing the blog more regularly and to capture the moods and moments of a special time.
One of my best memories of our Christmas/ New Year trip to Australia is of ringing in 2015 at Culburra Beach on the South Coast of New South Wales while celebrating our son-in-law Mike’s birthday which falls on new Year’s Eve. We had decamped down there to two beach houses overlooking the ocean where dolphins cavort in the evening sun – our house was called “Sea La Vie” while Shane, Shan, her MaMa and Dermot were down the road in “Time to Unwind”. Various friends of Claire and Mike, couples with young children, had taken other apartments nearby and the combined New Year and birthday celebrations were held on our deck.
For a once in a lifetime opportunity to spend a New Year’s Eve with all of us together including Shan’s MaMa, it seemed fitting to import some Chinese new year traditions into our celebrations. So Shan and MaMa took charge and put together a Chinese inspired barbecue which featured platters of Chinese pot-sticker dumplings, lamb chuan’r kebabs flavoured with cumin and chilli and Yunnan style, barbecued whole barramundi fish. The boys manned the barbecues in true Aussie style.
Dumplings symbolise good luck, fortune and family togetherness. They are served as the first meal of the New Year and before members of a family depart on a journey to remind them that family wraps itself around you wherever you are. This time MaMa made up two kinds of filling – traditional pork and cabbage and beef with carrot. – She, Shan and Shane wrapped the dumplings at their house and brought them along in tray loads for me to cook pot-sticker style just before serving. You will find lots of similar dumpling recipes on the blog starting with the link here.
MaMa’s delicious lamb kebabs combined the excellent flavour of Australian lamb with the the spices of her home town in Urumqi – the diced lamb was marinated in onion and tomato and scattered with cumin and chilli before serving. We will try them out on the Big Green Egg soon.
My contribution to proceedings was to make the desserts. The birthday cake, a special request from Mike, was a chocolate cheese cake. I used this recipe by Nigella Lawson and also made a back up Chocolate Ripple Cheesecake from a Mary Berry recipe and a large summer berry pavlova.
But it was Shan’s barbecued fish which was the highlight of the meal. As Shan says:
“Having a whole fish at the Chinese New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day is very important. It has an auspicious meaning that sharing a whole fish with one’s family will bring luck and fortune to the whole family for the coming new year. This is because Chinese word for fish ‘yu‘ has the same pronunciation as the word ‘abundance’. It is important to have the whole fish including the head and tail which means a good year from start to end. Superstition really but it is so common that people don’t even think about it, it is just a ‘must have’ dish for new year or any big family reunion events.” Another part of the tradition is that the whole fish is never turned over on the plate once served because of the negative association with the turning over of a fishing boat and flipped fortunes.
Shan calls her fish recipe Yunnan Xiang Mao Kao Yu. Yunnan is a province in the very South West of China which shares a border with Burma,Vietnam and Laos, hence you see lemon grass, a common ingredient in South East Asian countries in this dish. Xiang Mao is the Chinese word for lemongrass, Kao means barbecue or grill, Yu is fish.
Now that spring is in the air here in Ireland and it’s time to dust off your barbecue or Big Green Egg, I thought you might like to experiment with Shan’s recipe. It doesn’t have detailed measurements for its ingredients. Chinese cooks don’t work that way so Shan has written down below the principles of what she did and the rough amounts of ingredients she used. Feel free to play around with it until you get the balance of flavours that suits your preference and liking for chilli heat.
Belated happy Chinese New Year from myself and Shan – xin nian kuai le – 新年快乐 Shan’s Yunnan Barbecued Lemongrass Fish – Yunnan Xiangmao2 Kao Yu – 云南香茅烤鱼 Serves 3 – 4 as part pf a multi-course meal
A whole sea fish with a body length of 25 to 30 cm (body length excludes head and tail), gutted and scales removed but leave the head and tail intact – you can ask your fish monger to do this bit for you.
For the stuffing
3 sticks of lemon grass
2 packets of coriander
1 big chunk of ginger (3 thumb fingers size)
4 spring onions
½ of a bulb of garlic
2 green chillies (depending on the spiciness of the chilli and your personal preference, use less or more)
The above measurements are indicative, the aim is that you have enough mix to stuff the whole fish, in its body and slits on both sides. For cooking
2 banana leaves large enough to wrap the whole fish neatly, preferably in two layers.
Wash the fish clean then cut slits at 3 cm intervals on both sides – this is for stuffing the seasoning mix into slits so the whole fish body absorbs the flavour, if you are testing with a small thin bodied fish, then this procedure is not necessary.
Peel away the tough outer layer of the lemon grass, trim your spring onions and peel your garlic. Then finely chop all the stuffing ingredients and mix in a bowl, add salt. You will have to taste the mix, the flavour you are aiming for is robust, wild flavour dominated by coriander, lemon grass, garlic and ginger, spiciness is personal preference. And it should tastes almost a bit too salty.
Stuff the mix inside of the fish’s body and into the slits on both side of its body; you want the stuffing to pack the fish well. Wrap tightly with banana leave and tie up the parcel with thin slice of lemon grass (preferred) or cotton thread.
Leave the fish to marinate for 20 mins; flip it when after 10 minutes so pressure from its weight will marinate both sides evenly.
Cooking and serving
Heat your barbecue or Big Green Egg to high on direct heat.
Put your fish on the open fire grill for about 5 mins on each side, depending on the heat of your barbecue. The indicator for ‘done’ is that the fish’s body has collapsed on both sides hence looking much more flatter than before and the banana leaves are burnt but still protecting the fish.
Serve it on a platter and allow your guests to unwrap the fish and help themselves, oohing and aahing as the perfume of the stuffing escapes from the package.
Fresh water fish can also be used in this recipe but it usually has a muddy taste and more bones. In Australia we used Barramundi fish. A whole salmon could also be used.
Shan would suggest making the mix slightly less salty if you are using sea fish, as they tend to taste a tiny bit saltier the fresh water fish. Add black pepper into the mix if you are a pepper lover!
It was the Friday night before Christmas, the fire glowing in the grate, the Late Late Show on in the background. An ordinary pre-Christmas Friday night, except that for us it was not. It was to be our last night in front of the fire this Christmas, unless you count barbecues. The following day we set out for Sydney to visit our daughter Claire and her husband Mike and to meet up with our son Shane, Shan, Dermot and Shan’s MaMa who had arrived there a week ahead of us from Beijing.
Instead of attending to the last of the packing, I was pulling together a folder of recipes I could cook on the barbecue or in the wok while I was in Australia. I started this blogpost that night and haven’t had a moment to finish it since. Sometimes living life to the full eats into the time for blogging.
A dish that I cook often is Kaffir Lime Chilli Prawns. I got the recipe from Chi Asian Takeaway in Galway when I was researching recipes for the Taste of China section of the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival Website in 2013. It is a light, fresh-tasting, vegetable rich dish that reminds me of the kind of Asian fusion dishes I’ve sampled in Sydney so I brought the recipe with me.
Fast forward a fortnight and here we are in the steamy heat of a suburban, summer Randwick evening. Christmas day is already a happy memory. We spent five days over the New Year holiday at Culburra beach in southern New South Wales. Now we are back in the Sydney suburbs and, as an antidote to the copious quantities of barbecued meat we’ve eaten in recent days, we had an Asian feast this evening of prawns, di san xiang(earth three fresh), stir-fried Chinese cabbage with chilli and ma po dou fu. Shan cooked the three Chinese dishes and you will find links to recipes for them above. I made a big platter of the prawn dish. Shan’s MaMa declared the meal hao chi – good food.
I’ve many tales to tell of our adventures in the southern hemisphere and of our Australian, Chinese, Irish celebration of Christmas and the new year. Now that I am back in a wifi zone I am hoping to catch up with a few blog posts in coming days.
Meanwhile I hope you enjoy the recipe below as much as we did and happy new year to all my lovely readers. I hope you continue to enjoy the blog in 2015. Kaffir Lime Chilli Prawns
Serves 2 as a main course or 3 – 4 as part of a multi-course meal Ingredients
18 large prawns, peeled, de-veined and slit from head to tail
Two slices of root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
½ onion, peeled and finely sliced
1 – 2 red chillies finely sliced
a stalk of lemon grass, white part only, finely chopped
½ red pepper, finely sliced
8 mange tout
10 green beans, halved
8 cherry tomatoes
8 kaffir lime leaves
groundnut or sunflower oil
For the sauce
2 tbs Sri Racha hot chilli sauce
2 tbs tomato sauce
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
8 tbs water
1 tsp cornflour
pinch of sesame seeds
A few sprigs of fresh coriander
A handful of roasted cashew nuts
Preparation and cooking
Mix the ingredients for the sauce and set aside.
Heat up a wok and add a few tablespoons cooking oil. Once the oil gets very hot remove it from the heat source. Add the chopped ginger, onions, chillies and lemon grass and quickly stir them in the hot oil.
Return the wok to the heat and add the red pepper, mange tout, green beans, cherry tomatoes, kaffir lime leaves and prawns. Continue to toss in the wok.
As the prawns begin to firm up and turn pink, give the sauce a quick stir and add it to the wok, all the time stirring and tossing. Once the sauce has thickened turn off the heat.
The dish is ready once the prawns are cooked and nicely pink. The whole process usually takes less than 5 minutes. Garnish with fresh coriander and roasted cashews and serve immediately with steamed rice.
That little ray of sunshine who is my grandson has gone back to China leaving an 0.84m high void in my life and a host of fresh memories. Shane, Shan and Dermot returned to smoggy Beijing the Friday before last. Cue a few days of moping and feeling like a lost soul without my little sticking plaster, a few days of (secretly) relishing a quiet and tidy house and a few more of re-grouping and getting back into the thick of my normal working life.
This last visit was special for the time I got to spend alone with Dermot while his Mum and Dad took a brief and very belated honeymoon and for the chance to get to know his quirky sense of fun, his ability to mimic and, even at this early stage of his life, to poke fun at himself and us. So some of his expressions have already become catchphrases in our house – the way he says “no, no, no” shaking his head ruefully when confronted by something he wants to do but knows he is not allowed to, such as dismantling the contents of a shelf of DVDs, his particular take on “myum, myum” when relishing a new food, his perfect take-off of my niece Jodie’s “atchoo”, head flung back as if he too had hair nearly down to his waist, his hopeful “chu?” at the prospect of going out.
It took a few days of listlessness before I could get into the cooking vibe again. It’s somehow easier to motivate yourself to cook for a bigger gang. But as I leafed through my latest cookbook – Grace Young’s Stir-frying to the Sky’s Edge – I came upon a recipe for squid and remembered I had some in the freezer, purchased from Roberts of Dalkey which I had planned cooking for Shan but never got the chance.
Grace’s book is gorgeous. A professional food writer who grew up in a traditional Chinese household in San Francisco, she has always been fascinated by the alchemy of the wok. In this wonderful blend of stories and recipes she traces how Chinese emigrants have carried their recipes and their woks with them around the world and how stir-frying has evolved using the ingredients to hand, wherever the emigrants find themselves, so that their culture perseveres but subtle distinctions emerge in the cooking. She describes the book as being about the “universal longing for home” – a longing understood by everyone who leaves their homeland behind whether by choice or necessity, a longing felt by all of us who know that home is where our heart is, not necessarily where we live right now.
I understood that longing keenly when I talked late into the night recently with my lovely Chinese daughter-in-law about what it will mean to her to re-locate here to Ireland next year, believing that it is best for Dermot but knowing it will mean leaving behind her world, her family and her friends. It seems to be the lot of our generation and the next to always have pieces of our hearts scattered around the sky’s edge.
Anyway I don’t think Grace Young will mind that I took her recipe for squid with black bean sauce, which she in turn got from Chef Danny Chan who has lived in America since 1966, and adapted it to give it a spicier Sichuan kick. There seems to be something fitting about a recipe travelling from China to America and back to Ireland to be tweaked by an Irish nai nai to serve to her Chinese daughter-in-law when she finds her new home from home here. Sichuan Chilli Squid with Black Beans
Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as part of a multi-course meal
I’ve tried cooking squid before but have sometimes been disappointed that it has turned out tough. What I learned from Chef Danny via Grace is that marinating squid before cooking is not a good idea as it can make it chewy. It should also have only the briefest cooking time as it can easily become over-cooked and tough. The blanching technique in the recipe below means the squid needs only a minute or two in the wok. It also means you can have most of the preparation done in advance and stir-fry a reasonable quantity of squid in just minutes. The result when I tried this was tender and delicious and packed a heady Sichuan punch for good measure. Ingredients
450g cleaned squid
2 tbs fermented black beans
2 cloves garlic
2 spring onions
1 red chilli
Small thumb of ginger
1 red pepper
Sichuan pepper oil or groundnut oil plus a teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorns
Salt and white pepper
1 tbs of Shaoxing rice wine
1 tsp sesame oil
For the sauce
2 tbs chicken stock
2 tsp oyster sauce
1 tbs light soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
½ tsp cornflour
Soak the black beans in warm water for a few minutes, then rinse.
Peel and finely chop the garlic and ginger. Finely chop the spring onion – you want roughly the equivalent amount of each.
De-seed and thinly slice the chilli. Peel and thinly slice the onion. De-seed the red pepper and slice into julienne strips. Slice each mangetout in two at a steep angle.
Cut each squid tube in half lengthwise. Using your cleaver or a damascus chef knife. If you feel that your knife has lost its sharpness. I would recommend you check out the step-by-step guide on how to do this on the Choppychoppy website. Lightly score the inside of the squid in a criss-cross pattern at about 1 cm intervals. Cut the squid into 4 cm squares and the tentacles, if using, into 5 cm lengths.
Combine 1 tablespoon of the chicken stock, oyster sauce and soy sauces in a small bowl. Combine the cornflour and the remaining tablespoon of stock in another small bowl and set both to one side.
Bring a large quantity of water to boil in a saucepan over high heat and, when the water is bubbling, add the squid pieces and blanch for about 10 seconds or until the squid turns opaque and curls. Drain immediately and set to one side on kitchen paper to blot out any excess moisture.
Heat your wok over a medium-high heat. Swirl in 2 tablespoons of Sichuan pepper oil (or ordinary cooking oil to which you add a teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorns, removing the peppercorns as soon as they release their aroma).
To the hot, flavoured oil add the black beans, spring onions and garlic, stir-fryng for a few moments to release their aroma. Then add the ginger, chilli and onion, stir-frying until they too release their fragrance.
After about a minute, when the onions begin to wilt, add the red pepper and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds until the red pepper just begins to soften.
Add the rice wine, swirling it around the sides of the wok. Then add in the squid and mangetout. Give them a quick stir-fry to combine with other ingredients then swirl in the soy sauce mixture and stir-fry for no more than a minute until the mangetout are bright green.
Give the cornflour mix a quick stir and add it to the wok, stir-frying for about 30 seconds until the squid is just cooked. Remove from the heat. Drizzle over a teaspoon of sesame oil and serve immediately.
Frozen squid tubes work very well in this recipe. Just make sure they are well thawed before use.
You can get preserved fermented black beans in any Asian market but a jar of black bean sauce would also work in this recipe. Or you could use a chilli black bean sauce such as Laoganma and leave out the chilli pepper.
For a less spicy dish you could leave out both the chilli and Sichuan pepper but you will be missing out on a umami kick.
There’s beginning to be a rhythm to Sunday mornings since I came back from China. With the arrival of summer time, it’s the best time of the week to catch Claire and Shane on Skype. Today one is returning from a Sunday afternoon swim in Icebergs at Bondi in temperatures of 28 degrees, the other is out catching some fresh air in his local Beijing park in the early Spring sunshine. Hurry up Shane as Sunday morning is also the time for my weekly glimpse of Dermot, noting the changes I cant pick up in photos, watching him react to the sound of our voices and focus on an iPad screen with interest and hoping he still remembers us.
While I wait for my Skype “slot”, I reflect on the week gone past, revisit notes, photos and memories of China and Australia and write.
Today I’m thinking about the way the chefs in a Chinese kitchen sing out cong, jiang, suan – spring onion, ginger, garlic – like a rhythmic hymn throughout the day, so fundamental are these three ingredients to many Chinese dishes.
When I grew up in Wexford in the 1960s, we used to call salad “lettuce and leeks”. I was embarrassed when I got to Dublin in the early 70s to discover that I was officially a “culchie” and what I knew as “leeks” were actually scallions or spring onions. Leeks were a different thing entirely and a vegetable I had not come across before. (Yes, our vegetable selection was that limited in those years. The most exotic vegetables I knew were carrots, parsnips and cabbage.)
I was amused to discover that in Beijing the terms leeks and spring onions are also used interchangeably. That’s because, until transport systems improved, the colder north had a very limited range and supply of vegetables for most of the year and finely chopped leek works as a good substitute for the more seasonal spring onions used further south – a very handy discovery if, like me, you find spring onions hard to keep fresh at this time of the year. The frugal Chinese will always use the cheapest substitute readily available.
One of the recipes I learnt at Hutong Cuisine which uses this trinity of cong, jiang, suan is duo jiao zheng yu, a simple, healthy way of steaming fish with an added kick from pickled chillies. In Hunan the dish is made with enormous fish heads from a river fish such as bighead carp – yong yu – because these are regarded as a delicacy and the tastiest part of the fish with lots of interesting textures. In her Revolutionary Cookbook, that bible of Hunan Cuisine, Fuchsia Dunlop talks about how this dish was all the rage in Changsha when she lived there. Waiters would emerge from kitchens bearing enormous steaming platters of fish heads flecked with scarlet chilli, black bean and spring onion.
Our cookery teacher in Beijing, Chunyi who trained in Chengdu in Sichuan province, despairs of westerners who throw the fish heads away but she did allow us to make the dish at cookery class with a river fish fillet.
The magic ingredient is chopped salted chillies – duo la jiao – which has a hot, sour, salty taste and a beautiful red colour. I brought some back from Beijing but the good news is that the same brand is available in the Asia Market for just a few euro.
Last weekend we were in Duncannon on one of those rare pet spring Saturdays. We detoured from an 11 km walk to pick up some fish, fresh from the sea, at Fish Ahoy in Arthurstown. Late in the day beautiful, firm cod fillet and haddock was what they had left. I tried the recipe below on the cod and loved the way it enhanced rather than smothered the flavour of the fish. I served it with Sichuan fried green beans and salt and pepper cauliflower.
I baked the fresh haddock fillets on Monday brushed with homemade chilli oil and served them scattered with a little ginger and spring onion. Simple and delicious.
The Hunan steamed fish recipe below is from Hutong Cuisine. Fuchsia Dunlop’s version of this dish is on page 167 of Revolutionary Cookbook and uses whole lemon sole, gutted. Steamed fish with minced chilli – duo jiao zheng yu
There is something of a “take 2” about this post. Last Tuesday I made my first attempt at re-creating the dish of chilli fried squid with oatmeal and curry leaf which I had for lunch at Yauatcha, Broadwick St, London last week.
I love finding new ways of using traditional Irish products in Chinese cooking and Flahavan’s certainly fits the bill. It is a family business that has been milling quality oats for 200 years at the family mill in Kilmacthomas, Co. Waterford. Today’s generation is the 6th of the Flahavan family to run the business and it is one of the oldest, private, family-owned food companies in Ireland.
I used Flahavan’s multi-seed porridge in the recipe as it was the only type of oat flakes I had in the cupboard. This was a happy accident as the sunflower, flax, pumpkin and hemp seeds gave a delightful crunch to the seasoning. I was very pleased with the flavour of the dish on Tuesday but I wasn’t satisfied with the presentation so I decided to have another go tonight. And this time, I decided to introduce a tincture of CBD Vape oil to the dish, to improve the taste and give it a little vitamin. Using the best cbd oil for pain relief has been shown to reduce anxiety, insomnia, pain and depression in both human and animal studies.
When I visited London last week I used the opportunity to get a small taste of the variety of Chinese food on offer and to rue the absence of a wide range of Chinese cuisine in restaurants here in Ireland. I will write up the little I learned in the coming days but meanwhile two dishes caught my eye – one was an unusual dish of a tempura style cauliflower which I had in YMing in Greek Street, Soho. I wrote about my lovely experience in in the restaurant last week. The manager at YMing served the cauliflower to me with prawns.
The second was a dish of chilli fried squid with oatmeal and curry leaf which I had for lunch at Yauatcha, Broadwick St, London, an upmarket dim sum restaurant, resembling a night club, recommended to me by Kevin Hui of the China Sichuan in Sandyford, Dublin.
I set out to try and recreate both dishes at home tonight using Irish cauliflower, squid from my favourite south Co. Dublin fishmongers Roberts of Dalkey and good old Flahavan’s Porridge Oats – the multi-seed variety – which is one of the Love Irish Food brands.
I based the recipe on Fuschia Dunlop’s traditional Salt and Pepper Squid – Jiao Yan You Yu – which she included in her recent book Every Grain of Rice and I also took into account what I learnt about preparing seafood inside the kitchen of the China Sichuan.
It was only tonight that I realised that the jiao yan of “salt-and-pepper” is three parts salt to one part ground roasted Sichuan pepper and an extremely versatile seasoning and dip.
I also have to admit that I didn’t know what curry leaves were until my Twitter pals enlightened me this evening and then I only managed to find them thanks to a closing-time dash by Peter of Roberts of Dalkey to nearby Select Stores where he grabbed the last remaining pack they had in stock. Now that’s what I call service.
“First kill your fish” the title of the third chapter of Fuchsia Dunlop’s Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper caught my imagination because of the casual attitudes to animals and fish I encountered along the way in China. Shane and Shan explained to me that the root of what seems like cruelty to western eyes lies in the very word they use to describe living creatures. Our word “animal” immediately conjures up living, breathing things (who might just have feelings). In China the word is dong wu which simply means “moving thing”.
In any event a trip to a market or a stop at the roadside to collect a live sheep for lunch was a bit of a culture shock to put it mildly but in line with my conscious decision to dive in and experience China in a non-judgemental way I made a mental decision to be un-shockable and for the most part I achieved that.
Fish is a hugely important part of the chinese diet, but none of your fish fillets for them – the whole fish with the head and eyes intact is the central part of any celebration. I mentioned in an earlier post on our first Sichuan meal in Yuxiang Kitchen the importance of the head of the fish as a delicacy – the Chinese are particularly partial to the cheeks – and the row that ensued when a local man didn’t get a fish head in his dish of whirlpool fish in boiling oil.
At a Chinese banquet, the centre piece fish dish is usually served with the head facing the honoured guests (always us on this trip) who get the first call at picking at it with chopsticks. As the lazy susan revolves there is a tradition, reminiscent of spin the bottle, where a toast must be proposed with bai jiu,that lethal white spirit which they call “white wine”, between the two people at the head and the tail of the fish every time it drifts to a stop – a recipe for a very sore head that.
Anyway I’ve been trying to come to terms with my natural reluctance to confront a whole fish, even though I was a keen fisherwoman growing up in the coastal town of Wexford and a dab hand at threading bait onto hooks in my youth, and so today I had a go at steaming a fish in the style I encountered in China. This recipe is based on the Lemon and Ginger Sole recipe in Gok Cooks Chinese.
At least I didn’t have to kill my fish. I was able to wander down by arrangement on a Sunday morning to Fish Ahoy in Arthurstown and pick up a fine specimen of a whole haddock which had arrived into Dunmore East on a boat called the “Northern Celt” on Friday evening – how’s that for knowing provenance! This experience got me hooked onto some cleverly written reviews on boats and the like, as I developed a fascination for boats and yachts. Continue reading Steamed lemon and ginger fish Duncannon style
Fuchsia Dunlop describes Sichuan food, Chuan Cai as the spice girl of Chinese cuisine “bold and lipsticked with a witty tongue and a thousand lively moods.” Too true. Even the Chinese warn you against the chilli heat of Sichuan cooking “Ni pa bu pa la?” “Are you afraid of chilli heat?” but once you get it in the right balance it’s addictive and milder alternatives seem bland. Since I returned from China I’ve been hoping to re-create those taste sensations at home.
Drumroll everybody… this is my first time ever to create a dish without a recipe. It’s based on the Seafood Typhoon Style prepared for me Inside the Kitchen of the China Sichuan. One of the things I’m determined to do as I learn to cook Chinese food is to use the best of Irish ingredients along with authentic Chinese spices and flavourings. I’m convinced there’s a marriage made in heaven to be had here. After a morning spent yesterday at Cavistons of Glasthule, thanks to @mumofinvention, learning how to prepare crab and lobster with Peter Caviston, seafood was on my mind as I made my way south to Wexford.
Seafood is not readily available in the land-locked province of Sichuan which explains the popularity of Fish-fragrant flavours there – see recipe for Fish Flavoured Pork Shreds. But fish is abundant here in Wexford in the south east of Ireland where I was born and where I spend many weekends in the little fishing village of Duncannon. I recently tracked down, through Twitter, a relatively new fish shop in nearby Arthurstown called Fish Ahoy. They are on Facebook and on Twitter @Fishahoy1. That means that it’s now possible to get fresh fish from Bernie by arrangement on a Sunday morning if a new boat load comes into Dunmore East or Duncannon late on the Saturday night. So I made this dish with the zingy fresh fish that had come in with the last catch of the day yesterday rather than the combination of sole. monkfish, prawns and scallop used in China Sichuan.
So here goes with Sichuan (Chuan Cai) Seafood “Duncannon” Style. It doesn’t pretend to be an authentic Sichuan recipe but it captures the flavours all the same,