Sea Bream with Chilli, Ginger & Spring Onions

Super simple supper that never goes wrong.  This is a very forgiving way to cook fish, and better on the bone than off. I prefer to ‘steam’ in the oven by making a parcel rather than steaming on the hob.  This way the fish juices mingle with the other ingredients instead of dripping away and being lost to a saucepan of simmering water. The result is a gloriously moist and succulent fish, and a delicious liquor for pouring over your fish and rice.

You’ll be able to tell that the fish is cooked enough when the skin lifts away easily and the flesh comes away from the bone cleanly.

Whole Sea Bream
5-6 Spring Onions
1 or 2 Red chillis, finely sliced
1 inch piece of Ginger
2-3 tbsp of Shaoxing Rice Wine
1 tbsp light Soy Sauce
1 tsp Sesame Oil
Rapeseed Oil (or other neutral oil)

Trim the tail and any fins from the whole sea bream (de-scale if not already done). Score the skin on each side of the fish several times about 1 cm deep to allow more of the marinade to permeate whilst cooking.

Take a large piece of foil or baking parchment, it needs to be large enough to make a parcel for the fish to steam in.  Place the fish on top, take 2 of the spring onions and place in the cavity of the fish along with a few thin slices of ginger.

Fold up the edges of the foil a little (to stop the marinade from pouring out), and pour the rice wine, soy and sesame over the fish. Create a sealed parcel by folding over the foil and crimping the edges – use 2 layers of foil if its a bit thin.  You want to leave enough room for the fish to ‘steam’ in the marinade and juices so don’t make the parcel too tight.  Bake at about 180ºC for 12-15 minutes, depending on the size of the fish.  You’ll know the fish is cooked through when it slides away from the central bone easily.

Whilst the fish is cooking, shred the chilli, ginger and spring onions. Remove the fish from the oven and allow to rest. Meanwhile heat a little oil in a frying pan on a moderate heat.  Add the ginger, fry for 30 seconds, then the chilli, fry for 30 seconds, then the spring onions and fry for 30 seconds.  You want the spring onions to soften a little but retain their vibrant green colour so careful not to overcook.  Open the fish parcel (breathe in the fragrant aromas!) and transfer the fish to a serving plate.  Pour over the cooking liquor, and top with the fried chilli, ginger and spring onions.

I like to eat this with plain steamed rice and a leafy chinese green such as Morning Glory or Kai Lan.


Holy Grail Chili Oil

Once upon a time, I was AFRAID of chili.

Like many kids, I used to bite my nails. Unlike many kids, my parents were sadomasochistic. Instead of popping down to the nearest chemist and buying some “Stop ‘n’ Grow”, mine would dunk my fingertips in cayenne pepper or hot chili powder. A rather crude and abusive way of getting me to kick the bad habit I think, and solely responsible for my aversion to anything even mildly hot or spicy until my mid teens. Years later, I’ve forgiven my parents for their ‘tough-love’ – my nails look normal, and more importantly my tastes buds have developed and I now love anything with a bit of a fiery kick.

I can’t remember what turned me or at which moment I became a chili fan, but it’s something I can’t get enough these days.  It’s not the pure heat I crave (although I have been known to challenge colleagues over Mad Dog 357), I prefer something with more depth, or flavour layers.

This addictive holy grail of condiments can be used on just about anything – it packs a lot of fire but also has an intense depth of flavour from the dried scallops, salted fried dace and black beans.  It’s really a hybrid between XO Sauce and a more traditional Chili Oil, and suits western food as well as the more obvious asian dishes, from dim sum, noodles and rice to pork chops and even poached eggs (hangover breakfast!).

It’s surprisingly quick to make and lasts a long time.  A typical XO sauce normally calls for dried shrimp, I didn’t have any so used 1/2 a tin of Salted Fried Dace with Black Beans (Dau Si Laing Yiu) – you can get hold of this in any chinese supermarket.

Small handful of birds eye chili

10 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 inch ginger, finely chopped
Small handful of dried scallops
1/2 tin Dau Si Laing Yiu – Fried Salted Dace with Black Beans
Rapeseed oil – approx 150ml
Steam the dried scallops in a bamboo steamer for 10 minutes then blitz in a food processor till you have fine shreds.
Blitz the birds eye chilis till you have a coarse mix.
Take 1/2 tin of Salted Fried Dace with Black Bean and finely chop.
Add a couple of tablespoons of a neutral oil to a pan and set on a low heat.  Add the garlic, ginger, scallops and salted dace with black beans and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop it from catching. The mix will turn a deep brown colour. 
Take off the heat and stir in the dried chili. Transfer to a sterilised jar. Heat approx 150ml of neutral oil in a pan till its hot but not smoking.  Then pour into the jar over the chili mix.  Give it a thorough stir, then seal and allow to mingle for at least a few days before using. 
Add a teaspoon or two during cooking or drizzle generously at the end.