Chinese Winter Sun Dried Fish 臘鯪魚
Dear readers...it's been a hard year, hasn't it? Well there's a new year ahead of us and here's hoping (fingers very seriously crossed) that the coming year is better, much better. Aristotle Onassis said "It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light." Well said, sir.As with everyone else all around the world, we've been staying mostly inside our homes for a while now. I've noticed that limitations, at first seemingly restrictive, can in the end actually push you to exercise your mind in interesting and less used pathways. Thus we present our slash of light in the darkness, an experiment born out of a bit of boredom (umm...still at home...) and a bit of necessity (umm...still must stay at home...) Out of this time of 'limitations' comes my 老公's very successful attempt at Chinese Winter Sun Dried Fish 臘鯪魚: fresh fish, lightly salted, marinated and then hung dried in the winter sun, resulting in a preserved fish that tastes fresh but intensified, slightly salty yet still sea sweet with a chewy texture similar to very soft jerky. This whole procedure, done in our tiny kitchen and hung to dry in our common stairwell is a simple yet strong reaffirmation back to our roots as humans with just the sun to preserve our precious food. Sneak peek: this is the final dish that we made with our lovely sun dried fish: Chen Pi Steamed Chinese Sun Dried Fish 陳皮蒸臘鯪魚. The dried fish is sliced into bite sized pieces and steamed with Chen Pi 陳皮, also known as dried tangerine peel or mandarin peel (check out how to make your own Chen Pi here). Isn't it just gorgeous? Taste wise and visually these two are a match made in food heaven. The aged citrusy notes of the Chen Pi dried tangerine peel enhance and complement the intense sun dried fish meat. If you're a fish lover this is a real treat, a new version of the same fish, the taste more concentrated but still fresh and salty sweet with a wonderfully chewy texture. We found that we would finish nibbling the first yummilicious piece and then just one more and then just please one more... Dace fish illustration from 'Annals of the Carnegie Museum" 1919This preparation, if done with the freshwater Dace fish 鯪魚, is a classic Shunde 順德 dish. Shunde 順德 is a city in the Guangdong 廣東 province and is the hometown of my 老公 as well as being famed for its ingredients first refined cuisine and super talented chefs. The Dace fish is a favorite fish of this cuisine, loved for its sweet and flavorful flesh but 'ware of the bones, this tasty little fish has got a lot.I think that other fish would work just as well for this drying method. My 老公 says that all fresh water fish will work, but I think that salt water fish would be okay to preserve this way as well. Oily fish I'm not so sure about however. I think that one would require some experimentation.The one vital thing to note about this preparation is that this sun drying should be done in cold sunny dry weather. In other words, winter. The cold dry weather of winter preserves the meat long enough for the sun to work its drying magic. If this is done in hot humid weather it's a recipe for disaster. Start with very fresh fish. The final product will definitely reflect the original freshness. We found our fresh dace fish at the wet market; asked our usual fish vendor to hold back a few big dace fish for us. Make sure the fish is scaled, gutted and washed, and all the blood and blood vessels cleaned away. Dry the fish thoroughly, then score the fish along the middle all the way to the bone (you can see the slashes in photo above) and also slash on two sides along the top fin (photo three below will show more clearly). This slashing is to open up the meatier parts of the fish to allow in air and heat for the drying. Now it's time to lightly salt the fish, the first step of preservation. How long the fish is salted will affect the final saltiness of the dried fish so if the first time you make this it's too salty then next time reduce the time of salting to your preference. After salting the fish is rinsed and then prepared for hanging. We used an a length of twine tied tight around the tail to hang the fish Use toothpicks cut to appropriate lengths to prop open the fish meat along the slashes. This is to allow for better air and sun penetration for drying.The de-gutted belly is also propped open to allow for better drying. A super duper cool cleaning tip for fish (which I only recently learned), is to look for and remove the blood vessel along the spine (we're looking right at the spine inside the gut in this photo) that all fishes have. The fishmonger usually misses this bit when they de-gut because it really sticks to the spine, but its removal is important to keep fishy smells at bay. Even if the fish is super fresh any blood left inside to cook is going to smell a bit fishy. In this photo we're looking down at the top fin of the fish and there are slashes to the bone alo
After salting the fish is rinsed and then prepared for hanging. We used an a length of twine tied tight around the tail to hang the fish Use toothpicks cut to appropriate lengths to prop open the fish meat along the slashes. This is to allow for better air and sun penetration for drying.