Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Fried Rabbitfish Porridge – A Simple Treat

I am Cantonese; my great-grandfather left Guangzhou, a city in southern China, to seek a better life. And now here I am fourth generations down the line. My clan and I have assimilated well in language, lifestyle, and outlook on life, wherever we may live these days. But when it comes to taste buds, I still slant towards Chinese…and, in particular, Cantonese food.

Those who know Cantonese food, know that there are a few staples we Cantonese cannot live without. One of them is soup; any kind of soup – boiled, double-boiled, and even quick-boiled – with ingredients picked and selected according to the season.

The other staples that regular appear on the Cantonese dining table are rice and congee. I have loved congee since childhood. In fact, I was told that my first “solid” food after weaning was fish congee. When it comes to congee, my family seems to have 101 recipes; and this is one of my favorites – rabbitfish congee.

Rabbitfish is a common fish in the market and also very affordable; except during Lunar New Year. Because at that time of year, the fish becomes filled with roe and the Teochew (another Chinese dialect group from Guangzhou) prize it above all other fish, and would willingly pay obscene amounts for it.

The rabbitfish I have encountered in Hong King are about 10cm in length and may be easily caught by weekend anglers from the shore; their counterparts in Singapore tend to be bigger at around 25cm. Rabbitfish could become bitter if the gall is accidentally ruptured during cleaning. Other than that, the meat of this fish is tasty whether steamed or fried.

I have introduced a method of preparing congee in an earlier post (http://gastronautdiary. blogspot.com/2011_12_10_archive.html). However, the method that I’m posting now is more traditional and seldom practiced, even in restaurants; and it produces congee with a texture and taste that is so much better, even when eaten plain.

So what do we look for in a plain bowl of congee? First, it should smell of rice. The Chinese call it ““ or literally “breath of rice”. This smell should be full bodied yet fresh. Next, the congee texture should be gluey without any lumpy grains. The rice and oil should be well emulsified, leaving no trace of oil visible in the congee. Finally, the color of the congee should be pale white and not cream.

 Fried Rabbitfish Congee

Rabbitfish                    1 kg or more
Rice                             100 g
Glutinous rice             12 g
Thai jasmine rice         12 g

Lard                             25 g

Salt                              2 tsp
Water                          2.75 litres
Ginger                         50 g, julienned
Salt                              1 tbsp
Soy sauce                    1 tbsp
Sesame oil                  ½  tbsp.
White pepper              a dash
Spring onion               garnish
Fried shallots               2 tbsp

  1. Mix all rice with lard, salt and water, and let it rest for 30 minutes.
  2. Add rice to boiling water, and let it boil vigorously for 1½ hours.
  3. Add fish and ginger, continue to boil over medium flame for another 30 minutes.
  4. Season it with salt.
  5. Add a dash of soy sauce, sesame oil, pepper, spring onion and fried shallots.

Fried RabbitFish
1.   Get the fishmonger to remove the guts, but if you have to do it yourself, try not to tear the gall or the belly meat will turn bitter.
2.   Apply salt to the fish and let it marinate for 15 minutes.
3.   Rinse the fish well and drain.
4.   Fry fish until both sides turn slightly brown.
5.   Remove bones and set the meat aside.

It is necessary to boil the congee under both high and medium flame as this will ensure that the rice and water emulsify well. Never simmer the congee; and do not add any water to it while it is cooking. However, if there is a need to add water, make sure it is boiling water.