What a confusing title for today’s dishes! Neither of this was planned until yesterday, and only planned from what was in the fridge. It was very much a case of ‘what can I do with what’s there’ and ‘i wonder if any of this will be good for the blog’. To my pleasant surprise, I realized I can make TWO dishes today which will fall into the Ma’s and Pa’s cooking categories. They have rather confusing names though, so I better explain…
Stir-Fried Steam Aubergine
This is my mother’s dish which I’m semi certain she created out of thin air, very much a credit to her culinary skills and excellent taste. She first steams the aubergines whole (or in the modern day.. one can also use the microwave), and then she scrapes the aubergine from the skin, so that you kinda end up with long strands of softened aubergine. This is then teased apart with a fork into multiple strands. She then fries some chopped onions until browned, and then the prepared aubergine gets thrown in the wok, with whatever flavouring she choses, and stir-fried until slightly drier and all the flavours are incorporated. That’s it!
I’m not sure what the main flavouring for this is.. I’m sure it was different ones at different times. Occasionally it was oyster sauce, sometimes it was dark soy sauce. I’m thinking there might even have been one or two times when she used worcestershire sauce too. Haha.. not very Chinese right? But back in nineties Lea and Perrins did a massive TV ad campaign featuring housewives using worcestershire sauce in stir fries and how delicious it was… so the odd bottle or two did make an occasional appearance in my parents’ kitchen.
Teochew ‘Cantonese’ Steamed Fish
Another odd name!! What is it with odd names today? Haha. This dish sparked a discussion in the family whatsapp today. I mentioned I was going to blog about these two dishes tonight. I said that I knew the aubergine was from mum, but I didn’t recall who the fish originated from. My ma said, it’s pa’s. And Pa said yes, it is a Teochew dish called ‘Kong Fu Cheng’, which translates to ‘Cantonese Steam’. My ma then said ‘That is not Cantonese Fish!’.
Oh dear… so what shall I call it? It’s obviously my father’s memory of a dish eaten in his Teochew household, named after the Cantonese community. But my mum says that’s not Cantonese Fish. To make it more confusing.. my grandfather had a Hainanese cook who cooked for the household and business… so should this really be called Hainanese Cantonese Steamed Fish? Hmm what a mystery!
The whole discussion reminds me of Singaporean Noodles. Most ‘Dai Chow’ places in Malaysia have a dish called Singaporean Vermicelli. It’s so famous that it’s migrated over here and a lot of chinese takeaway places here also have Singaporean vermicelli on the menu. It’s gotten to the point where I can even buy it from Sainsbury’s. However I do have Singaporean friends who say that that dish does not exist in Singapore… Hmm…. odd huh? Oh well.. I think there might be similar stories about Malaysian Hainanese Chicken Rice.. or Penang Laksa… I mean.. was KFC invented in Kentucky or french fries in France?
Three ingredients. Fish, soy sauce, and pre-fried garlic. This is the same garlic condiment I mentioned in my short cut fried rice post. In mine tonight I’ve also added rehydrated shiitake mushrooms. Because I love them, and they go well with fish. The fish is basically steamed in a little soy sauce and water. After steaming, the garlic is added. Simple eh? But very delicious if you love garlic. Back in my parents’ place, whole fish, head and bones included would be used. It’d also normally be a much larger portion that what I’ve made here. And if my dad was cooking, it’d be strictly three ingredients… and maybe garnished with a sprig or two of coriander at the end. No added mushrooms (and other deviations) when he cooks! Haha. The fish I use here is the cheapest white fillet fish I can find. I alternate between better quality more expensive fish, and the cheapest frozen fish in the supermarket – for variety and to save on cost. I do prefer fresh whole fish of course, but the frozen fish one can buy here is of decent freshness too.. and to me it is better to have cheap fish than to not have fish at all.
To steam at home, I used a large deep pan with a trivet in it and then the dish with the fish over it. There is towel below the trivet to protect the non-stick surface of the pan. If I was making a larger serving and using my stainless steel wok as the pot instead, I wouldn’t add the towels. I’ve included a picture of the set up as I used it. If you haven’t got a trivet.. other things you can use is an overturned shallow dish, jar lids, or anything small and heat proof that will hold the dish up from the boiling water.
So.. thus concludes another blog post. The first one with my parents’ dishes, and two to boot!! Only simple ones this time, and not really heirloom family recipes, but credit where it’s due, and if it wasn’t for even these really simple dishes being really delicious.. I wouldn’t be the good cook I am today.