When our family feels like having fish, Chinese steamed pomfret is almost always first to come to mind. This is truly one of my favourite ways to prepare steamed fish, done in typical Teochew fashion – silver pomfret steamed with salted plums, fresh juicy tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, salted mustard greens, and silky-soft tofu, typically with a little lard (I use shallot oil to good effect). And if all that isn’t goodness enough, you’ll be absolutely amazed and dead-hooked on this dish’s tasty, lightly saltish-sourish, tangy, soupy broth – I guarantee you’ll be slurping away!
The Teochews are people who originated from the Chaozhou (Chinese: 潮州) region in the eastern Guangdong province of China. As with many immigrant Chinese at the time – the Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka, and Hainanese – the Teochews settled predominantly in South-East Asia, especially in Singapore, Hong Kong, Cambodia, and Thailand.
Teochew cuisine is widely regarded as a delicate cuisine, and is well-known for its seafood and vegetarian dishes. Unlike other Chinese cuisines, Teochew cooking is less heavy-handed, and relies predominantly on the freshness and quality of ingredients, for taste and flavour. As a lighter cuisine, it’s no surprise that food preparation revolves around poaching, steaming, braising, and stir-frying. If you want your family to go healthy, without sacrificing taste or flavour, try incorporating more Teochew dishes in your family meals. And why not start with this Singaporean favourite, Teochew steamed pomfret!
Steamed pomfret represents quintessential Teochew cooking. The unique, distinct flavour of the broth arising from the cooked juices of the fish, which retains the full-bodied taste and freshness of the fish, and the complementary addition of salted plums, brings out the soul of Teochew cuisine. There’s no other flavour quite like it.
While white or silver pomfret is always the fish of choice, you can substitute with other white-fleshed fish which have mildly sweet or neutral flavours. Red or white snapper would be an excellent option, as are sea bass or grouper. Do not use grey pomfret, though, which is more suited for fried dishes.
As a force of habit, I always try to reduce sodium content in the food I cook. Particularly with Teochew-style steamed pomfret, the salted plums and salted mustard greens are essential to the unique flavours of this dish, but are loaded with high-sodium content. You can try what I often do – soak the salted plums in water for a few minutes to allow the excess salt to leech out. You can do the same with the salted mustard greens, or place it in a small saucepan of water, bring to a gentle boil, and let boil for about 5 minutes to remove excess salt.
Try not to go overboard, though, as some saltiness is essential and is the only other seasoning, apart from the lard or shallot oil, that is used to flavour the juices from the cooked fish and tomatoes – use your sweeter, riper tomatoes, for a more balanced flavour.
Teochew steamed pomfret is best enjoyed when eaten with plain, cooked rice – every spoonful of this fish’s smooth, flaky, creamy flesh should be dunked in some of the delicious broth, and drizzled over with some light soy sauce, spiced up with sliced bird’s eye chilli. But you probably know that already, don’t you? Enjoy!