Apr 13, 2021 • 36M

XO Soused - whole fish and fish heads

Andrew Wong and Mukta Das
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A fortnightly chat about techniques and dishes from a professional Chinese kitchen, their history and their cultural setting
Episode details

Cooking and presenting a whole fish - from nostril to tailfin - is a classic approach in Chinese gastronomy. Meanwhile, in Western kitchens filleting is the usual practice. What difference does it make to the taste and texture of the fish to cook it on the bone and with the head? How does the collagen from the bone keep the flesh moist? What techniques make the best of this and how many ways to cook whole fish demand preparation as opposed to the a la minute methods of western cookery?

Has whole fish always been prized? How obsessive were Chinese chefs about cutting fish in the correct way? How important were fish heads in the history of Chinese cuisine, and how has the market for dried fish heads, lips and maw generated enormous wealth for some in Hong Kong? What special knife skills, and techniques for deep-frying, are required to recreate the visually amazing plates of whole fish in Chinese cuisine?

A collage of two images taken of the cover and inside page of a booklet about salted fish industry in Hong Kong. The cover features a whole salted fish. The inside page features a picture of boxes of salted fish and Chinese character text.
Photos of my copy of a beautifully designed booklet by the Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage in Hong Kong, telling the story of Hong Kong’s salted fish industry. The industry was (and still is) important for Hong Kong food culture, but was also a crucial part of the maritime silk road. The dried seafood market street in Hong Kong still sells premium products from mainland China to Singapore and beyond, although the neighbourhood is vulnerable as a result of touted urban redevelopment plans.

Intro and outro music: 遊子 [wanderer] by mafmadmaf.com

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