Monday, 8 June 2015

Cantonese Jamaican Steamed Fish – My version

Cantonese Jamaican Steamed Snapper
 After slavery was abolished in Jamaica, workers were needed to work on the sugar plantations and provide other services. The British introduced the system of indentured labour and imported workers from all parts of the British Empire, including Malaya, Hong Kong (British Canton), and India. These workers, coming from tropical and semi-tropical regions of the world, found many of the ingredients needed to cook their traditional dishes. However, they also had to find ways to incorporate others as substitutes for what was not available. This resulted in the fusion of culinary styles that we see in modern day Jamaican cuisine. The use of the Habanero Chili pepper gives it a unique Jamaican flavor. One such dish is Cantonese Steamed Fish that my childhood friend’s mother used to make regularly. Her style of cooking was Hakka but it is Cantonese influenced since the Hakka Chinese who came to Jamaica in the 19th century, came from Hong Kong. I have added a few other flavors to spice things up as the traditional dish is very simple, using few flavors, ginger, scallions, soy sauce and garlic. I have added shallots, lemongrass, and altered the cooking technique in addition to the steaming and hot oil sizzle at the end. The techniques I have added are to ensure more complete extraction of all the flavors from the herbs. Since fish does not take a long time to cook, this cooking technique ensures that the flavors are infused into the fish at all steps of the cooking process. 
1 ½ lb Red Snapper or other fish
1 stalk of lemongrass, use only inner, tender parts. Cut into strips
5 stalks green onions
1 red Habanero Chili pepper
1 thumb sized piece of ginger root cut in batons
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
3 tbsp cooking oil
1 tbsp sesame oil.

  1. Cut the herbs as shown in the photo.

    They are cut in large pieces, not minced as they only impart their flavor, and are not eaten
  2. Cut the green onions in half. The white parts will go at the base of the steamer to act as a platform on which the fish rests. Slice the green parts and put in a separate bowl.
  3. Make 1-2 slashes in the fish down to bone. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and sugar. Place in steamer on top of the green onion stems. Sprinkle the other ingredients (except the sliced green onions) on top of the fish, ensuring that the Habanero slices are at the very top. (See photo)
  4. Drizzle the Chinese cooking wine over the fish and put in steamer. Steam for 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. It is done when the meat flakes easily.
  5. Remove steaming dish from steamer. Remove as many of the herbs (except the Habanero slices) as you can without breaking the fish into pieces. Put these in the cooking oil/sesame oil mixture and gently sauté until they release their fragrance and flavor the oil. Discard the herbs but keep the oil.
  6. Drizzle the Soy sauce over the cooked fish. Sprinkle the sliced green onions over the fish. (See photo)
  7. Heat the oil in a wok until it starts to smoke, then pour the hot oil over the fish making sure that it sizzles the Habanero and sliced green onion leaves. Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.


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