I regret learning about the Italian-American Feast Of The Seven Fishes so late in my life. Imagine a seafood feast for Christmas Eve with family where you fry like a gazillion rings of squid or shrimp and serve that mini crackling golden mountain alongside some wine and garlic-heavy pasta vongole or clams/mussels with spaghetti. That sounds like something I’d totally be up for Christmas or not. Next year, I’m going to hang up the roast, the spuds and all to bring home some fresh catch, probably fire up the barbie, and get some clams nice and smokey on the grill.
Since New Year’s Eve is up next and we’re all probably bursting at the seams now with fruitcake and good glogg, a whole fish seems the perfect way to end a rather harrowing year. I’ve always been very fond of Chinese fish, roasted, grilled or steamed and this recipe is proof of how good something so simple can be. One important ingredient in this recipe is Shao Hsing wine, and I strongly suggest you go out and invest in a bottle of this. It doesn’t cost much and adds so much more in terms of that authentic flavour to your Chinese food.
The recipe is quite simple. You pan-fry some good fish for a few minutes on each side and pour over the mixture of rice wine and soy, then finish with herbs. That’s it. In this case I used bream fish, also locally referred to as red snapper or rose snapper/ Rani fish, and it tasted spectacular.
Pan-Fried Bream/Rani Fish With Rice Wine and Soy
Bream fish is quite popular in the markets at the moment, often called red snapper, and a super riff on the regular pan-fried variety is to have it doused in a Chinese-style liquor of Shao Hsing and Soy. Simple and delicious.
Rani Fish 1 kilo, ask your fishmonger to properly scale the fish
Salt for rubbing over the fish
White pepper for rubbing over the fish
Vegetable oil 1/4 cup for shallow-frying
Ginger 2 tsp, freshly grated
Garlic 6 cloves, thinly sliced
Red bird’s eye chillies 2-3
Shao Hsing Wine 1 cup
Soy sauce 1/4 cup (I used Kikkoman)
Sugar 1 tbsp
Basil leaves 1 fistful, divided into half
Chilli condiment like Laoganma spicy chilli crisp, to serve
Wash the fish and make two to three slits on each side. Generously season the fish with salt and white pepper on both sides and set aside while the pan heats.
In a frying pan that can fit the fish completely, heat the vegetable oil over a medium-high heat till it is quite hot. Add the fish in carefully and let the fish cook on each side for 3-5 minutes undisturbed on each side depending on the size of the fish. Use two spatulas to carefully turn the fish over. When the fish is cooked on both sides, put them on a serving platter.
Reduce the heat to low and in the same frying pan, add in the ginger, garlic, chillies and turn the heat up slightly to saute everything for a minute. Quickly splash in the rice wine, the sugar and the soy sauce and increase the heat to high and bring everything up to a boil. Reduce the sauce for a minute or two, check for salt and adjust with more soy sauce if necessary.
Add in half of the basil leaves and take it off the flame. The residual heat is enough for the basil to release its flavours. Pour this over the fish and finish with more basil leaves. Serve with rice and some kind of chilli condiment.