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Off the Fork: Celebrating the Chinese New Year

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO The two-week celebration of the Chinese New Year  combines the gluttony of Christmas with the family dynamics of Thanksgiving, spiced with the fireworks of the Fourth of July.
CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO
The two-week celebration of the Chinese New Year combines the gluttony of Christmas with the family dynamics of Thanksgiving, spiced with the fireworks of the Fourth of July.

Today, Thursday, February 19, is the first day of the Chinese New Year. The New Year is either the Year of the Ram, the Goat or the Sheep, depending on who you ask. This confusing situation is caused by the fact that it’s the “yang” year, a Mandarin word that means hoofed ruminant.

No one is calling it the year of the Hoofed Ruminant. I’m going with the Goat.

You’ve heard of Whole Foods? During the Chinese New Year holiday, it is customary to eat whole foods, as in an entire chicken, all parts of a pig, an intact duck. If you have a rule about “no feet on the table,” go with something without feet, like this fish, steamed with fragrant ginger, scallions and fermented black beans.

The best way to make this dish is to use a bamboo steamer basket, set over a wokful of boiling water. If you don’t have a wok, any lidded metal steamer that will hold your fish on a plate above boiling water will work.

Don’t forget a side dish of rice to sop up the wonderful broth.

Fish Steamed with Black Beans, Ginger and Scallions

(Serves 4)

2-pound fish: striped bass, blackfish, tilefish or any mild, flaky fish that will fit in your steamer. The fish should be cleaned, with the head left on.

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons sherry

2 teaspoons peanut oil

Pinch of salt

Pinch of white pepper

1 tablespoon fermented black beans, rinsed and lightly mashed  (or substitute black bean paste, which is available at the IGA)

1 tablespoon garlic, smashed and coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons minced ginger

5 scallions, root ends and most of the green parts trimmed off, and cut into ½ inch pieces

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1. Make sure all scales and gills have been removed from the fish, rinse and dry it. Place the fish in a dish that is deep enough to hold the broth and small enough to fit inside your steamer.

2. Mix the rice vinegar, soy sauce, sherry, peanut oil, salt and pepper together in a small bowl and pour it over the fish. Turn the fish in the liquid to coat all sides.

3. Mix the mashed black beans, the garlic and the ginger together in a small bowl and sprinkle half the mixture in the cavity and the other half on the sides of the fish.

4. Put 1/3 of the chopped scallions under the fish, 1/3 in the cavity, and sprinkle the rest on top.

5. Heat plenty of water to boiling in your steamer, or wok, place the fish in the steamer over the water, cover and steam the fish for 20 to 30 minutes. Do not allow the water to actually touch the bottom of the dish, but don’t let it boil away either. Keep an eye on the water level and top it off with more boiling water as needed.

6. Test the fish for doneness with a table knife poked into the flesh near the spine at the thickest part of the fish. When the fish is done, the knife will go in easily.

7. Slide the fish onto a serving platter, pour the broth over it and sprinkle the sesame oil and cilantro on top.