Steamed fish (清蒸魚) is a symbol of auspiciousness according to Chinese tables, and it is one of the most emblematic dishes of Chinese New Year.
What dishes are served for the Chinese New Year?
During the Chinese New Year celebrations, a number of dishes are consumed based on what they represent.
They are first and foremost supposed to bring luck. These “lucky” preparations are thus served throughout this period, i.e. for 16 days, and more especially on New Year’s Eve. Among all the dishes served on Chinese New Year’s Eve, you will find spring rolls, summer rolls, jiaozi, or today’s steamed fish.
The symbolic behind these dishes is sometimes based on their pronunciation but also on their appearance.
For example, in Chinese, “fish” (鱼 yú / you) is pronounced “you”, exactly like abundance (余 yú).
Chinese people always like to have a surplus at the end of the year. They think first and foremost that if they managed to save something at the end of the year, it is that they can do more the following year.
Not only do all the dishes served during the holiday period matter tremendously, but the way they are served and eaten is just as important.
The Chinese have several rules that can not be ignored!
The symbolic behind the Chinese steamed fish
For example, when it comes to the fish:
– First, the reason why a whole fish is prepared, is to symbolize unity. This is the same reason why whole chickens are also a staple of Chinese New Year tables.
– It should be placed in the center of the table, but beware, no just arbitrarily! It is very important that the head of the fish always be in front of the oldest person or in front of the distinguished guests, mostly as a sign of respect.
– The head and tail of the fish should not be eaten before the beginning of the year, thus expressing the hope of starting or ending the year with savings.
– Guests can only start eating once the person facing the head of the fish begins to eat.
– The fish must not be moved. In addition, the two people positioned in front of the head and tail of the fish will have to toast together, a symbolic gesture that is supposed to bring luck.
– If one fish is prepared for two meals, if the upper part of the fish is eaten on New Year’s Eve and the rest on New Year’s Day, it expresses hopes of abundance from one year to the next.
All these customs must be observed in a lively atmosphere of laughter, joy, and good humor. The mood for the coming year is supposed to be the image of that of the New Year celebrations.
What fish to choose for the Chinese New Year
The choice of fish is also as important and symbolic. Here are the fish most commonly used in China for this recipe:
– the crucian carp: the first character of the word (鲫鱼 jìyú \jee-yoo\) is pronounced like the character for the word “good luck” 吉 (jí /jee/). Consuming this species of fish for New Year is therefore considered a lucky charm for the following year.
– Catfish: the Chinese word for catfish (鲫鱼 niányú /nyen-yoo/) is pronounced like the word “annual abundance” (年余 nián yú) So consuming catfish during this period would bring abundance for the new year.
– Chinese mud carp or dace: the first character of the word for mud carp (鲤鱼 lǐyú /lee-yoo/) is pronounced like the character of the word “gift” (礼 lǐ /lee/). Indeed, the Chinese think that eating mud carp during the New Year announces a good omen.
How to prepare Chinese New Year fish
Chinese New Year fish can be steamed, boiled or braised. I chose to prepare it steamed.
Fermented black beans or salted black soybeans (Chinese: 豆豉 豆豉), are also called douchi (Chinese: 豆豉). They consist of a preparation of salted and fermented black soybeans.
The method of preparation makes the beans soft and dry. For the preparation of this condiment, it is also possible to use ordinary soybean (white soybean), but the result will be more brown than black. The product made from white soy is called mianchi (Chinese: 麪豉, miànchǐ). This condiment gives this dish a taste that is obviously salty but also acrid, spicy, somewhat bitter and sweet.
Garlic, ginger, scallions, and sesame oil also give a unique delicious taste to this recipe.
Mike and I prepared this recipe together. We opted for a sea bream for this succulent dish shared with family and friends! I worked the head of the bream, he worked the tail and to keep the tradition alive, we obviously toasted in the kitchen… well it was Mike who drank mostly… how unusual!
“Nien nien vous yu” to all of you! It’s just a very famous Chinese saying that means “Every year brings you more than you could wish for”!
- 3 tablespoons douchi (salted black soybeans)
- 1 whole white fish of 4 to 5 lb (sea bream, sea bass, or red snapper), gutted
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger , finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon garlic , chopped
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- ¼ teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 scallions
- 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger , cut into thin sticks
- ½ bunch cilantro
Pour the douchi into a bowl and cover with warm water. Soak the douchi for about 2 minutes to remove excess salt. Rinse and drain.
Score the fish 3 times on each side.
In a bowl, combine chopped ginger, douchi, garlic, salt, sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil.
Cover the inside and the outside of the fish with this mixture. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.
Cut the white part of the scallions in 2-inch sections and spread them over the fish.
Cut the green part of the scallions into thin strips lengthwise and dip them in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes until they curl up. Drain.
Place the fish in a steam basket and steam for 10 to 15 minutes depending on size of fish.
Heat the vegetable oil in a saucepan until light smoke appears. Immediately remove pan from heat and add the fresh ginger sticks. Mix for about ten seconds to release the flavor.
Place the cilantro on the fish and immediately pour the oil on it.
Garnish with the green parts of the scallions and serve immediately.