During a week of unseasonably warm weather and a fair amount of rain, it’s hard to motivate myself to take care of the myriad chores set before me.
However, with the semester well on its way, I now have the time to reflect on the various dinners and special events in which the culinary students will partake as we prepare for spring and ultimately summer.
Ah, summer. My favorite time of year, for obvious reasons if you have ever been an educator. My favorite professor at Loyola College was Jonathan Petropoulus, a history guru who made his mark in the recovery and restoration of stolen art, cataloging the crimes of the Third Reich as they stole art from countless victims under their oppressive reign.
One day I was speaking with Dr. P after class, having questions about an assignment. He asked me what I thought I wanted to do after college, and even back then I mentioned that education seemed interesting to me, but that I wasn’t sure if it was the right fit. I then asked him what his favorite parts of being a professor were. His answer? Short and sweet.
“The three best reasons for going into education are June, July and August.”
I was sold. And while it would take me many years to finally get to where I am, it was always in the back of my mind. Of course, I would always refer to the adage of “If you can’t do, teach. If you can’t teach, consult!”
Luckily, I can “do,” I do consult and of course teaching is my bread and butter, literally, as we make fresh butter and scratch rolls and breads in the culinary lab, sharing our skillsets with future culinarians as they begin their journey into the foray of restaurant life.
This week in Asian Cuisine, we covered Southern China, or the Cantonese Province to be more precise. One of the dishes is always my favorite, which is a steamed whole fish drizzled with a crackling hot oil, spiked with ginger, garlic and scallions. These three flavors meet with a dab of soy sauce on the platter to make an incredibly simple, yet tasty sauce.
Putting one of our youngest students to the task, I saw intimidation turn to confidence as the dish went into its final throes. The fragrance that the fish gives off as you pour the hot oil and butter mixture over the aromatics fills the entire kitchen, similar I guess to the effect that a sizzling fajita has on a dining room. In many cultures, high heat is used to release the fragrances and tastes of volatile oils in spices and seasonings, and it is no different with this dish.
What I find most appealing about this dish is that it is as warming and welcoming in these chilly, damp days, as it would be on a warm summer evening. At the end of the day, the vegetables and light rice with which you could pair the steamed fish will add any sort of flare that you desire, making it perfect for any time of year.
Summer can’t get here soon enough, but so far the semester has gone exceedingly well. I guess as I get older I’m starting to appreciate the journey much more than any destination that I perceive I could reach; profound words from a guy who once wrote a food article on his dog pooping in the front yard; truth-be-told an integral part of my second book.
Either way, it’s time to motivate and get the day going, rain or no.
Cantonese Steamed Fish
1-1 1/2 pound Snapper or other white fish, whole, gutted, head-on
scallions and leeks for a steam bed
1/2 fresh lemon, sliced
3 slices, fresh ginger
1/4 cup Whole butter
2 Tbsp. Sesame oil
1/4 cup sliced scallions
2 Tbsp. Minced garlic
2 Tbsp. Minced fresh ginger
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1.Set up a steamer (at home, a fish poacher with a raised rack will work well) and place the leeks and scallions on the bottom
- Make sure that the fish is scaled, gutted and cleaned and place the lemon and ginger slices in the belly cavity
- Place the fish on top of the onions and steam at a high steam for about ten minutes or so (this will vary on the pan you are using, the BTUs in your range, etc.). Shoot for an internal temperature of the flesh of 145F or higher
- While you are setting up, clarify your butter by melting and separating the milk solids and whey. This is critical, as you will have to get this smoking hot for the finish of the dish. Any residual byproducts will only scorch and affect the flavor of the finished plate
- While the fish is steaming, heat the clarified butter and sesame oil until it is smoking hot
- When the fish is steamed, remove carefully and place it on the final serving plate
- Pour the soy sauce around the plate, and sprinkle the top of the fish with the scallions, minced garlic and minced ginger
- Carefully drizzle the hot oil/butter on the fish, ensuring that it is hot enough to “crackle” as you pour it on the flesh and aromatics
- Serve with rice or any light vegetable dishes that would accompany steamed fish well