Cooking by Steam

Cooking by Steam is another fundamental method much used in China with great effect but, surprisingly, almost unknown elsewhere, is cooking by steam, called jeng. The closest counterpart in American cuisine is boiling. Both methods use water rather than oil to transmit the heat, but there the resemblance ends. If, for instance, you boil a piece of fish, part of its taste is bound to be lost in the water; besides, you cannot use other ingredients to enhance the taste of the fish (they will only add taste to the soup). But in steaming, 100 per cent of the taste is preserved within the fish, and you may add flavor with other ingredients. The Chinese are very fond, of fish cooked this way, and cannot understand the* Westerner who stubbornly insists, “I don’t like fish.” If you try this simple recipe, perhaps you will be converted, too.

1 fish (about 2 pounds, whole or cut, fresh, or frozen and thawed)
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sherry
2 scallions or green onions, chopped fine
6 slices green ginger
5 dried mushrooms, soaked to soften,
then shredded Salt
2 slices cooked pork or lean ham (optional)

For stove-top steaming, use a traditional bamboo steamer, Chinese style, or a large covered pot. Cover bottom with about 2 inches of water, and insert a stand with a platter on it, or use an inverted dish high enough to keep the platter above the boiling water.

Brush the fish with the liquid ingredients and distribute the remaining ingredients on top of it. When the water boils, place the fish on the platter, which is now very hot. Cover and let steam at high heat until a test-straw touches the bone and comes up clean.

Remove and serve the fish immediately in the same platter, which, if not presentable, may be put on a more decorative one. The whole idea is to get the fish cooked by an overwhelming heat in a minimum of time, so as to preserve in full its freshness and delicacy of flavor. If the water were not boiling when the fish was put in, this would be equivalent to leaving it in a warm place prior to cooking. The interval, though short, has the effect of dulling the delicate fresh flavor. For the same reason even the platter holding the fish must be preheated in the steam-a hint that may well be regarded as a “secret.” And removing it when about 99 per cent done, to continue cooking on its hot plate until served, is the final step to perfection.