Steamed pomfret is a must-have during Chinese New Year at my maternal grandparents’ place. Everyone would be gathered around the dining table. As we are digging into the poached chicken, braised duck, stir-fry leek, pork stomach soup etc, my grandfather would ask us to make space on the already-full dining table for a plate of steamed pomfret. Scoop a piece of the hot, piping fish with a bit of the savoury, salty and sour soup, the fish would be finished in no time. My mom will also sometimes buy pomfret (much cheaper during non-Chinese New Year period) to steam when there are fresh pomfret in the wet market.
I don’t usually steam a whole fish by myself as there’s only X and I and it’s a struggle to finish a whole fish. But the kind and thoughtful folks at Catch of the Day SG sent me a small white pomfret and weighing 200-300 grams, it’s the perfect size for 2 people!
Pomfret is an easy fish to eat – the flesh is delicate yet firm and there are fewer bones. (Or rather, the bones don’t get in the way as much when compared to other types of fish). There are four common varieties of pomfret that available in Singapore:
- Chinese Silver Pomfret (斗鲳; dou chang)
- Silver/White Pomfret (银鲳; yin chang / 白鲳; bai chang)
- Black Pomfret (黑鲳; hei chang)
- Golden Pomfret (金鲳; jin chang)
(Dr Leslie Tay has a really informative write-up with photos of the different types of pomfret here)
Both the Chinese silver pomfret and white pomfret are usually steamed. For the black pomfret, my mom will usually fry it with ginger slices, then drizzle a little dark soy sauce on top before serving. I’m not so familiar with the golden pomfret, will see if my mom has any recipe for it heh.
Salted Swatou Mustard Cabbage (咸菜)
Since young, I only knew of this vegetable as 咸菜 (xian cai), and the literal translation of this is “salted vegetable”. This yellowish pickled vegetable used for this steamed pomfret dish is known as pickled swatow mustard cabbage (or swatow mustard green; 大芥菜; da jie cai). Don’t confuse this with preserved mustard green (梅菜; mei cai). The world of preserved/pickled vegetables is huge so I won’t dwell too deeply into it as I’m not an expert at all.
Supermarkets usually pack the salted vegetable in a huge packet. Hence, I like buying the salted vegetable from the wet market instead as I can just buy a small piece. I soak whatever leftover salted vegetable in a container of water and stick it in the back of the fridge. It should pretty much last almost forever.
Freshly bought salted vegetable may be unpalatable salty. Soak in hot water for a few minutes to remove excess salt. Taste the salted vegetable. If it’s still too salty, you can soak longer or change the water. Note that the flavour and salt will be released into the dish later on, so you want the salted vegetable to still be salt but not too overly salty. (Am I even making sense?)
Steaming the Perfect (?) Fish
I’ll be honest: I have not mastered the art of steaming fish. There are too many variable factors – whole or fillet; thick or thin; big or small; high heat or medium heat… I’ll probably need to steam a lifetime of fish before I can come up with a proper post on “how long to steam fish for”. Hence the timings provided is just a gauge of what worked for me. If you are new to steaming, I would suggest getting a steamer with a glass lid so that you can peek at the fish as it cooks. It definitely helps for me to prevent over-steaming the fish.
Lastly, make sure all of your other dishes are ready (or will be ready in 5 miutes) before steaming the pomfret so the steamed pomfret can be served piping hot at the dining table.
|1) Rinse and pat-dry pomfret thoroughly with paper towels. Score both sides of the fish with a knife. Season both sides lightly with salt.||2) Sprinkle ginger slices on a heat-proof shallow plate.|
|3) Place the pomfret on top of the ginger.||4) Arrange shiitake mushrooms, tomato and salted vegetable around the pomfret. Sprinkle the remaining ginger over the pomfret.|
|5) Squeeze the pickled plum over the pomfret.||6) Pour in about 60ml (1/4-cup) water or until there's a shallow pool of water beneath the fish. This will be the "soup" later on.|
Mom's Teochew Steamed Pomfret
- 2 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 300 grams white pomfret cleaned (see Note 1)
- 1 thumb ginger peeled and sliced
- 1 leaf salted vegetable sliced (see Note 2)
- 1/2 tomato sliced
- 1 Chinese pickled plum
- Coriander to garnish
- Soak shiitake mushrooms in hot water and set aside for at least 30 minutes until softened. Cut and discard the stems. Slice the mushroom caps into strips and set aside.
- Rinse and pat-dry pomfret thoroughly with paper towels. Score both sides of the fish with a knife. Season both sides lightly with salt.
- In a heat-proof shallow plate, sprinkle half of the ginger. Place the pomfret on top of the ginger and arrange shiitake mushrooms, tomato and salted vegetable around the pomfret. Sprinkle the remaining ginger over the pomfret. Squeeze the pickled plum over the pomfret.
- Pour in about 60ml (1/4-cup) water or until there's a shallow pool of water beneath the fish. This will be the "soup" later on.
- Bring water to boil in a steamer pot. Steam the fish on high heat for 5 to 6 minutes until the fish is cooked through. Garnish with coriander and serve immediately.
- By cleaned, it means for the fish to be scaled and gutted. Do get your trusted local fishmonger to clean it for you.
- If your salted vegetable is freshly bought, it may be unpalatable salty. Soak in hot water for a few minutes to remove excess salt. Taste the salted vegetable. If it's too salty, you can soak longer or change the water. Note that the flavour and salt will be released into the dish later on, so you want the salted vegetable to still be salt but not too overly salty.