Steamed lemon and ginger fish Duncannon style

“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.

A family dinner in our honour in Urumqi

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.
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Sichuan Seafood "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.

Sichuan mixed seafood “Duncannon style”

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.
Arriving in Duncannon yesterday evening

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.
Fish as fresh as it gets from Fish Ahoy

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,

Chuan Cai Seafood “Duncannon” Style
Now don’t be expecting very precise amounts of ingredients – I’m new at this lark after all – just play around to suit your personal taste. Continue reading Sichuan Seafood "Duncannon" Style