This is an old Teochew recipe, using a fish that is not always found in the market.
It is the grey mullet, or “oh her” in Teochew, which is traditionally steamed and eaten with a piquant tau cheo or salted soya bean dip.
What is unusual is that this mullet is served chilled after being cooked with its scales on. I do this too with sea bass, which I roast with its scales on, to protect its delicate flesh; I do the same with ikan terubok or shad, that other hard-to- find and richly flavoured fish.
I like cooking fish with its scales on. Apart from the convenience, the scales protect the fish during the cooking. You need not worry about it being dried out – the scales act like a foil wrap, leaving the flesh within moist and sweet.
Mullet is flavourful, whichever way you cook it. I buy it whenever I see it in the market and I merely steam it. At the end of cooking, I just peel off the skin, together with the scales, leaving behind soft and silky flesh.
It is always served with a sour dip to offset the fish’s rich flavour, a change from the usual fried fish.
We do need many ways of cooking fish, for it is a food that we should eat several times a week.
Despite the simple treatment, the flesh of the mullet is extremely rich and tasty, full of omega-3 fatty acids.
If you are lucky enough to get a fish with globules of fat in its stomach cavity, rejoice, for it is both tasty and healthy. Like avocado and nuts, fish fat is healthy.
The tau cheo dip makes a perfect match. Comprising salted soya beans, lime juice, shredded ginger and sharp red chillies, it balances out the strong earthy flavour of the fish. I like the dip so much that I also use it to top plain steamed lady’s fingers.
In this recipe, I also offer a green chilli, lime and garlic dip that is excellent with fish, steamed or roasted. Inspired by the Thais who serve a steamed fish with the same chilli and lime flavours, I leave the dip uncooked to get the full strength of the garlicky and lime flavours.
Put the sliced ingredients together and mix just before eating to get a balance of sweet sour and salty flavours, perfect for fish.
Get Sylvia Tan’s Teochew Steamed Mullet recipe here.
Sylvia Tan is a freelance writer and cookbook author. Her most recent recipes can be found in two cookbooks, Eat To Live and Taste.
Text: Sylvia Tan/The Straits Times
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