Samui Wining & Dining
Finger Snapping Good

What’s the story behind the simple red snapper, that can be cooked and enjoyed in so many different ways?

 

20In the Atlantic Ocean, a red snapper is falling ill. Around his languishing body, his 19 loyal wives are dancing ritualistically, with their big marble eyes beaming the deepest worry. The women watch as the man eventually sighs his last salute with his fins giving up, as if a waning flag in. His body descends helplessly through the unforgiving ocean before finally making a thud on the sandy bottom, where the disturbed silt obscures the shimmer of his beautiful tangerine body. This poignant scene is watched by the loving wives as they weep and mourn. But a hushed bereavement is not enough to contain their love: the wives’ mild sorrow is graduating into a Sicilian widow’s anger, and the women begin to swim in a madding fashion, sending erratic ripples across the ocean. The red snapper household is now without leadership and direction. What does the future hold for the poor, purposeless wives now?

    As tomorrow looks bleaker and bleaker, the ailing glow of life suddenly takes a dramatic turn: the expired man’s strongest wife suddenly begins a process of metamorphosis. She turns into a man and paddles to the apex of the pack. She – now a fully functioning he – takes the role of his former love in which (s)he now conducts the swimming rhythm of the family and sows seeds for continuation of their legacy.

   There is no myth in this story. It is a fact that red snappers lead a fulfilling polygamous existence. To top it off, gender is also an arbitrary concept for the species. A female fish can turn into a male when circumstance calls for it. The females are immensely sensitive to the presence of a man, and when the male leader dies or disappears, the feminine body begins an amazing transformation by sending pulses of male hormones through the veins, culminating in a natural sex change - a process which still baffles scientists today. Frankly, the taxing responsibility of procreation is far better shared among the sexes anyway.

      The red snapper does not live an exclusively in the Atlantic Ocean either. Although the fish is mainly found along the southern Atlantic coast of the United States, the species can also be found near the Pacific Ocean on the precipice of the Yellow, East and South China Seas. Curiously, in July this year, over 10,000 mature red snappers were found in the Port of Jimiya in Qingdao in China. This density of red snappers found in relatively shallow waters is unprecedented, inasmuch as the fish tend to migrate vertically downwards as they expand horizontally in length. In the beginning, red snapper fries can tolerate each others’ presence much better than their adult selves; but throughout their lifetime, the fish ceaselessly disperse conically downwards from 30ft to over 200ft below sea level. Red snappers as old as 50 years old are often found hanging in packs of 10 to 20, dwelling at great depths near the rocky bottom.

       Back in Qingdao, China, the unusual gathering of fish was in fact – you guessed it – unnatural. It all began with a borrowed Buddhist ritual which is believed to bring luck and good fortune for Chinese families; and the practice in question involves the freeing of captured animals. In July 2012, 10 Chinese businessmen burnt incense and chimed a few religious chants before they released a whopping 10,000 red snappers bought from the United States. Ironically, local villagers got wind of the ceremony and flocked to the area to take advantage of, ahem, some free ingredients for dinner.

      Well, the Chinese certainly love their fresh seafood, and the red snapper is one of their favourites. One of the Chinese’s ingenious ways of treating the ocean meat is by steaming it. The fish is first scaled and gutted, with ginger and spring onion inserted in the cavity to add aroma. The snapper is then placed on a large plate, on top of two chopsticks (to avoid the meat from directly touching the boiling water). Once the water begins to vaporise in a large wok, the fish is steamed for two to five minutes (size dependent) with the lid on. In another pan, ground peanut oil is heated until it fumes, before a mixture of water, cane sugar and soy sauce is added to the pan. The cooked sauce is then poured over the cooked fish, which is topped by a generous layer of chopped spring onion and thin strips of ginger. The resulting melt-in-the-mouth meat? Sensational.

      Just as you think the red snapper can’t be served any more simply, someone on the other side of the East China Sea thinks otherwise. In Japan, the fresh fish is often served as sashimi – raw – on a beautiful rounded ceramic plate. Firstly scaled and gutted to the highest standard of hygiene, the fish is sliced into little transparent strips of heaven by the sashimi chef’s sharpest possible knife. The sashimi is then delicately arranged like a blossoming flower on the aforementioned plate for the eager diners, who will then dip the delicacy in Ponzu sauce before ferrying the aromatic fish to their mouths. The Ponzu sauce, a thin and slightly yellow liquid which tastes mildly citrous, is made by simmering in a hot pan mirin (a Japanese rice wine), rice vinegar, kelp, katsuobushi flakes (dried bonito flakes) and seaweed.

      It is true that not everyone can appreciate the unadulterated state of food. And if you are one of those who can’t stand raw simplicity, you will enjoy the beauty of this recipe. You will need butter, salt, pepper, Worcester sauce and a spot of green bell pepper. Firstly, prepare the fish as you would any pre-packaged seafood (that is to douche it in coarse sea salt and massage it under running water) before patting dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper accordingly and leave to marinate for 15 minutes. Rub the fillet generously with salted butter and a splash of Worcester sauce, before placing the fish topped with diced green pepper in a preheated oven at 200 degrees Celsius for 12 minutes (or until the meat turns white). Sprinkle the finished dish with crumbled parmesan cheese for an added kick. Delicious.

 

Kawai Wong


 


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