Steamed Whole Fish with Ginger and Black Bean Sauce

Happy Lunar New Year! I celebrated my Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese heritage with a customary whole steamed fish whose head and tail was kept intact, even when served. While dining, the dish is presented with the head of the fish directed at the guest of honor. The flesh is removed and served at the table without disturbing he head or tail. At the end of the meal, you are left with an impressive fish skeleton. It’s almost like a cartoon, where a character puts a whole fish in the mouth, head first, then and pulls out only the bones.

This dish is ridiculously easy to cook and done in 8-10 minutes depending on the size of the fish. Steaming also allows for a margin for error. You are almost guaranteed a moist and flaky fish even if you overcook it. I unintentionally tested this out. I do recommend not overcooking the fish.

This is a Chinese style recipe. The Thai style uses fish sauce in place of soy sauce, lime juice and palm sugar instead of rice wine, adds lemongrass, and of course, a generous amount of Thai bird chili peppers. Although there are a few different ways to prepare the Chinese style, there are typically only 3 basic ingredients (other than the fish itself): fresh ginger, scallion (green onion) and a salty sweetish sauce made of either fermented black bean paste, soy sauce with sugar, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce or some other similar sauce that is salty and slightly sweet.

I selected a combination of light soy sauce and fermented black bean paste as the base for my sauce. Since the black bean paste I used was already sweetened with brown sugar and pineapple juice, I did not add any additional sugar. As we all know, sugar is not good for us and unless it is imperative to what I’m cooking, I avoid adding it. To add a bit more tang, I included a Thai bird chili pepper with the seeds removed for a gentle heat along with white pepper, garlic and rice wine.

Some recipes do not include pouring hot oil over the fish as the final step. I included this step because the hot oil infuses the fish with the flavors of the herbs and spices laid on top of the fish. Some recipes have a larger quantity of sauce poured over the fish. My version offers a smaller amount of sauce poured around the fish. This way, you can enjoy the delicate flavor of the fish with some sauce on the side to compliment it. For me the star of this dish is the delicate fish, infused with ginger, scallions, coriander (cilantro) and a hint of Thai bird chili pepper. The co-star is the black bean sauce.

NOTES:
Any mild whole white fish can be used. A flatter fish steams better. For this recipe, I found a nice barramundi, also called Asian sea bass. Take a moment to inspect the fish before you purchase it. Fresh fish should not smell too fishy. Also, the skin, should be shiny, the flesh should be firm, the gills should be red and the eyes should appear clear. Ask your fish monger to scale and gut the fish.

** Fermented black bean paste is made of dried soybeans that have been fermented with salt and spices such as chili peppers and/or wine and possibly ginger. The brand I used is made with ginger, pineapple juice and tamari. You could use just the fermented black beans, (called Douchi) and take a few additional, but simple steps to rinse the beans, then make your own paste by mashing them with garlic, spices and a little brown sugar or pineapple juice.

*** Chinese rice wine or Shaoxing is not the same as rice wine vinegar so be careful when reading the label. The Japanese rice wine is called mirin and is sweeter. 

Serving size: 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound whole mild white fish*, scaled and gutted, (barramundi, striped bass, flounder, red snapper or branzino), scaled and gutted. (If using a larger whole fish, score** both sides of the fish.)
  • 3 inch nub of ginger, 1/3 julienned and 2/3 cut into large  ¼ inch thick slices (you do not need to remove the skin off of the piece that is julienned)
  • 5 stalks of scallion (green onion), 1/3 julienned and 2/3 cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 – 2 fresh Thai bird chili pepper, julienned (this can be omitted or the seeds can be removed for a milder taste)
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fermented black bean paste
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine (Shaoxing)*** or pale dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon good quality low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons waterhandful of coriander (cilantro) leaves, plucked from the stems
  • couple pinches of Kosher salt or sea salt
  • couple pinches of white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Directions:

  1. Rinse the fish well, both inside and out. If the fish is large (e.g., 2 pounds or more), score it at an angle all the way to the bone on both sides. Remember to score it in the opposite direction on the other side. This will help a larger size fish cook faster and more evenly.
  2. Season with Kosher salt or sea salt and white pepper on both sides and inside of the cavity.
  3. Smash a couple 2-inch stalks of scallions with the side of a knife to release it’s flavor. Place the smash scallions along with a couple large slices of ginger in the cavity of the fish.
  4. Place the remaining 2-inch stalks of scallions and remaining large slices of ginger on the bottom of a steamer basket/insert.
  5. Lay the fish on top of the scallions and ginger. This is important to do if you are steaming the fish on a plate because the ginger helps to elevate the fish, allowing the steam to reach the bottom side of the fish.
  6. Arrange the julienned ginger on top of the fish. Steam for 8-10 minutes for a 1 – 1/2 pound fish.
  7. Increase to 15-18 minutes for a large size fish. The fish is done when the flesh is no longer opaque, is flaky and lifts easily off the bone.
  8. While the fish steams, whisk together minced garlic, black bean paste, rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil and water. Over medium heat, simmer in a small sauce pan with a lid on for 3-4 minutes then reduce the heat to low to keep it warm.
  9. Carefully remove the fish from the steamer basket and onto a serving plate. If using a plate, discard any liquid. It will not contribute good flavor and may even be bitter.
  10. Remove and discard the large pieces of ginger and scallion on the bottom side of the fish and inside the cavity but keep the julienned ginger on top of the fish.
  11. Top the fish with julienned scallions, Thai bird chili pepper and cilantro. Heat vegetable oil until hot and smoking. Pour the black bean sauce around the fish. If you prefer, pour the sauce directly over the fish. Some chefs recommend pouring the sauce around the fish so the sauce does not overwhelm the delicate flavor of the fish.Pour the hot oil over the fish. The hot oil will infused the fish further with the flavors from the scallions, coriander and Thai bird chili pepper.
  12. Smash a couple 2-inch stalks of scallions with the side of a knife to release it’s oil. Place the smash scallions along with a couple large slices of ginger in the cavity of the fish.
  13. Place the remaining 2-inch stalks of scallions and remaining large slices of ginger on the bottom of a steamer basket. Lay the fish on top of the scallions and ginger. This is important to do if you are steaming the fish on a plate because the ginger helps to elevate the fish, allowing the steam to reach the bottom side of the fish.
  14. Arrange the julienned ginger on top of the fish.
  15. Steam for 8-10 minutes for a 1 – 1/2 pound fish. Increase to 15-18 minutes for a large size fish. The fish is done when the flesh is no longer opaque, is flaky and lifts easily off the bone.
  16. While the fish steams, whisk together minced garlic, black bean paste, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil and water. Over medium-low heat, simmer in a small sauce pan with a lid for a couple minutes then reduce the heat to low to keep it warm.
  17. Carefully remove the fish from the steamer basket and onto a serving plate. If using a plate, discard any liquid. Remove and discard the large pieces of ginger and scallion on the bottom side of the fish and inside the cavity but keep the julienned ginger on top of the fish.
  18. Top the fish with julienned scallions, Thai bird chili pepper and cilantro.
  19. Heat vegetable oil until hot and smoking.
  20. Pour the black bean sauce around the fish. If you prefer, pour the sauce directly over the fish. Some chefs recommend pouring the sauce around the fish so the sauce does not overwhelm the delicate flavor of the fish.
  21. Pour the hot oil over the fish. The hot oil will infused the fish further with the flavors from the scallions, cilantro and Thai bird chili pepper.
No need to scrape the skin off of the ginger for the larger slices. Those will be discarded after the fish is steamed, along with the larger cuts of scallions.
Placing the larger cutes of ginger and scallion under the fish is important when the fish is steamed on a plate. Elevating the fish allows the steam to circulate under the fish.

This guy just fits into the steamer basket. I initially placed the larger cuts of ginger on the top of the fish and then discarded it. Instead, place the julienned ginger on top and don’t discard it. Only discard the large pieces of ginger and scallion placed on the bottom and inside the cavity. The julienne ginger will serve as a nice garnish and tender for consumption.
Coriander (cilantro) is optional. Some people do not like the taste of it. This is genetic.
There’s tender cheeks left here. It may arguably be the best part. Shhh … don’t tell anyone.
Add some dumplings and rice with a side of vegetables. The result is an elegant, easy to prepare and healthy dinner, any time, not just on Lunar New Year.

Mango Salsa

Mangoes are one of my favorite fruits. I’ve been patiently waiting for mangoes to be in season. There are six different types of mangoes and each are in season during different months during the year:

  • Ataulfo
  • Francis
  • Haden
  • Keitt
  • Kent
  • Tommy Atkins

Right now, the Kent mangos are in season (January through March) and the season has just started for Ataulfo mangoes (March through July).

Mangoes are rich in vitamins C and A, potassium and fiber, and also contain a small amount of vitamin B-6, magnesium, iron and calcium. Mangoes contain the nutrient, beta-carotene and the antioxidant zeaxanthin, which filters out harmful blue light rays and is thought to protect against macular degeneration of the eye.

This sweet fruit is versatile; it can be enjoyed in desserts and in savory dishes. The key to enjoying a mango is knowing when it’s ripe. Those who are patient and allow the mango to sit on the counter at room temperature for 2 – 4 days to ripen are rewarded with tender, juicy and sweet flesh. Those who prematurely bite into an unripe mango may find it unpleasantly stringy and sour.

Here are some tips on how to pick a good mango: http://www.wikihow.com/Pick-a-Good-Mango

Now that you’ve picked a good mango, here’s how to cut it: http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_cut_a_mango/

Serving size: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 large ripe mango, peeled, pitted and diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup English cucumber, diced
  • 1 small Jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely copped
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped (optional)
  • Kosher salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

In a bowl, combine only half of the Jalapeno pepper with all of the ingredients. Taste and add more of the Jalapeno pepper based on taste. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Serve with chips or as a condiment over Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa or Vegetarian Tofu Tacos with Mango Salsa.

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Vegetarian Tofu Tacos with Mango Salsa

Crispy, full of flavor and a fun meal to eat, you will not miss the fish in this Vegetarian Tofu Tacos with Mango Salsa.

Coating the tofu with panko bread crumbs then pan frying them in oil yields a crunchy exterior and a tender interior. Layer the tofu with Mango Salsa and Purple Cabbage and Carrot Slaw which can be prepared in advance.

Serving size: 4 (2-3 tacos per person)

Ingredients:

Pan Fried Tofu

  • 1 package firm or extra firm tofu
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Vegetable oil
  • Flour or corn tortilla

Purple Cabbage and Carrot Slaw

  • 2 cups of finely shredded purple or red cabbage
  • 1 cup of shredded carrots
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

Directions:

Prepare the Mango Salsa.  This can be prepared the day before.

Prepare the Purple Cabbage and Carrot Slaw by whisking together the lime juice, vegetable oil, salt and sugar. Toss in the cabbage and shredded carrots. Set aside.

Place the tofu in a sieve and pour boiling hot water over it. This will help draw out moisture. Dry out tofu by placing them in between paper towels and sandwiched in between two plates.   Weigh the plate down with a 28 ounce can or something of similar weight for at least 15 minutes.

In a shallow dish, combine the panko bread crumbs with cayenne pepper. Place the corn starch and lightly beaten egg, each in its own separate shallow dish.

After the moisture is drawn out of the tofu, cut the tofu into 4 x 1 inch pieces then season with salt and pepper.

Coat the tofu with the corn starch, then dip it in the egg and then coat it with the panko bread crumbs.

Over medium high heat, heat enough vegetable oil to coat a non-stick frying pan. Test the oil temperature by dropping in a piece of the panko bread crumbs. The oil should bubble around the bread crumbs and start turning it brown. If the oil smokes, the pan is too hot.

Fry the tofu until golden brown on each side. Drain on a paper towel.

Warm the tortilla in a hot pan for a couple minutes on each side until warm. Assemble the taco by placing some slaw in the middle of the tortilla. Next add a couple pieces of the tofu and top with the Mango Salsa. Serve with a couple extra slices of lime, hot sauce and a side of my Sweet Potato, Bean and Corn Hash.

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Asian Pasta Salad

My Asian Pasta Salad is one of my go-to recipes when I need a dish that can be prepared in advance and left sitting at room temperature for a few hours without refrigeration. I make this dish for picnics, to bring to work for lunch and most recently at this weekend’s Super Bowl party.

This recipe includes one of my favorite vegetables, the sugar snap pea. Developed in 1979, the sugar snap pea is a relatively new food, and a hybrid of green peas and snow peas. They are sweet, crunchy, easy to chew, and a good source of fiber, iron, potassium and vitamin C.

Serving size: 6

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces whole wheat angel hair or spaghetti noodles, cooked (optional gluten-free pasta)
  • 2 medium carrots, shredded
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 3 cups sugar snap peas
  • 5 scallion (green onion) stalks, green and white parts finely diced
  • ¼ cup light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon hot chili oil (add more if you like it spicier)
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar (can substitute with white vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons black sesame seeds (optional)
  • 3 cups of grilled chicken (optional)

Cook the pasta noodles in salted boiling water, stirring frequently during the first couple of minutes, then occasionally to ensure the noodles do not stick together. Cook it until it is “al dente”. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process. Place in large mixing bowl.

Add carrots, peppers and sugar snap peas to the pasta bowl. Reserve a tablespoon of scallions to use for garnish later and add the rest of the scallions to the pasta bowl.

In a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, chili oil, vinegar, grated ginger, canola oil and sesame oil. Reserve 1 teaspoon of sesame seeds to use for garnish later and add the rest to the soy sauce dressing.

Add the dressing to the pasta bowl and toss thoroughly to ensure all the pasta and vegetables are coated with the dressing. Sometimes it’s easier to use clean hands to toss the pasta. The pasta can be served immediately, however I like to cover it and let it sit in the refrigerator for a couple hours to give the pasta a chance to absorb the dressing. Toss the pasta after removing it from the refrigerator. Sprinkle with reserved scallions and sesame seeds before serving.

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Spicy Dark Chocolate, Pretzel & Caramel Surprise Cookie (aka “The Ultimate Tailgating Cookie”)

Warning.  These adult cookies are a bit naughty.  These not-so-kid-friendly treats have a spicy afternote, deep dark chocolate richness, salty crunch and sweet surprise that prefer to be chased by a cold beer over a glass of milk.

The decadent cookies were inspired by Sports Illustrated writer, Peter Bukowski, who had me thinking, what cookie would pair well with beer at a football tailgate?  I immediately enlisted Tracy, one of my best childhood pals, cookie queen and fellow Ironman triathlete, to help create the cookie.  Not only is Tracy a great cook; she also enjoys beer. While most of my recipes are healthy, this Hungry Athlete believes that it’s ok to indulge a little, every now and then.  I’ll be serving these cookies to a bunch of ultra runners this Super Bowl Sunday.  They’ll be burning a lot of calories prior to the game, so let’s indulge.

NOTE:  The caramel candy filling is optional.  I love caramel however I personally can only eat one of anything caramel.  To satisfy those who love to gobble up lots of caramel, I fill only half the batch with the Dove caramels.  For the best results, place the Dove caramels in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.  Plain caramel candies hardened up too much at room temperature.

Serving size: 16-18 cookies

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup ultrafine or superfine baking sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup thick medium sized pretzels (I used Snyder Old Thyme), rough chopped to the size of two chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 package Dove caramel candies (optional), placed in freezer for 30 min

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350F and place the Dove chocolates in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

In a saucepan over low to medium heat, melt the butter.  Whisk in cocoa until smooth, then whisk in instant espresso and cayenne pepper.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and set it aside.

In a medium size bowl, sift the flour, baking soda and Kosher salt together.  Set it aside.

Using an electric mixer, on medium speed, with a whisk attachment, mix the egg and both sugars together.  Scrape the side of the bowl while mixing to ensure everything is well combined.  Add vanilla extract and continue mixing for another minute. Add the cocoa mixture and mix on medium speed until combined.  Then add the flour mixture and mix again until just combined.

With a spatula or wooden spoon, mix in chocolate chips and pretzel pieces by hand.  It might be easier to just use your fingers but don’t over mix.  There may be loose pieces of pretzels in the bowl.  You can redistribute those when forming the cookies.

Using your hands, shape the dough into 2 1/2 inch wide round cookies.  The dough will not spread much when baking. If you are incorporating caramel, wrap the dough around the caramel candy until it’s completely covered.  I try to cover up the pretzels so it’s a nice salty and crunchy surprise when biting into the cookie. It’s ok if some of the pretzel pieces are poking through. Place the formed cookie dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 8-9 minutes.   Since you won’t be able to gauge the doneness of the cookies by observing how brown it is, I recommend test baking a couple cookies to determine the best baking time. Allow the cookies to cool slightly or completely.  Cookies will cool to a crisp on the outside and stay tender on the inside.  The caramel will remain soft at room temperature.

If you enjoy these cookies, stay tuned! Tracy and I are working on more cookies with beer.

Use the larger size pretzels and and rough chop about double the size of two chocolate chips.
Use the larger size pretzels and and rough chop about double the size of two chocolate chips.

On the left, with a caramel candy; on the right, without a caramel candy.
On the left, with a caramel candy; on the right, without a caramel candy.

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