Chinese Salted Fish Meat Patty (咸鱼蒸肉饼)
April 15, 2023  Print
Salted fish is definitely an acquired taste. Some people love it; others can’t stand it. Many countries and cultures have their own unique version of salted fish. Before modern food preservation methods, people who lived by the sea developed ways to preserve fish. Salting, pickling, fermenting, or some combination are all ways our smart ancestors developed to preserve fish.
Today’s recipe, Steamed Salted Fish Meat Patty, is made using Cantonese salted fish. I happened to stop by a large Chinese grocery store the other day where I picked up a bag of salted fish. I don’t live very close to a Chinatown or another Asian hub, so every time I go to a large Asian grocery store I always try to buy something that my local (smaller) Asian store does not normally stock. Since my kids have never had Chinese salted fish, it’s probably time to introduce them to it. At least from my experience, the earlier you get exposed to certain foods, the more likely you are to accept, get used to, or even like it. This is especially true for foods that are acquired tastes.
Cantonese salted fish is immensely popular in the province of Guang Dong and some other parts of Southern China. It’s one of those dishes considered “下饭菜“ Xia Fan Cai (literally means “down the rice dishes”) because it’s very easy to consume a large amount of rice when you eat salted fish. Many older generations of Cantonese would eat salted fish on a daily basis, paring it with white rice or congee. As a result, there are also many Cantonese dishes made with salted fish. It’s one of the homey dishes for Cantonese people since in the past salted fish was considered a food for poorer people.
The salted fish I got is the fermented salted fish (梅香咸鱼). There are two types of Cantonese salted fish, the fermented salted fish “梅香咸鱼” and the non-fermented salted fish, also known as the firm flesh salted fish “实肉咸鱼.“ Both are usually labeled in English as “Salted Fish.” So if you want to buy one specific type, you might need to be able to recognize the Chinese characters on the packaging. Both types of salted fish can be used to make most Cantonese salted fish recipes. Many Cantonese prefer fermented salted fish over the non-fermented type. I personally agree and think the fermented salted fish (梅香咸鱼) offers a more unique fragrance that’s lacking from the non-fermented salted fish. That said, if you’ve never had Cantonese salted fish, you might think both smell like rotten fish on the surface.
I was a bit skeptical when I first offered this Steamed Salted Fish Meat Patty to my kids. I wasn’t sure if they would accept the salted fish’s unique and acquired flavor. But to my surprise, they made no fuss and liked it right away. They loved adding the sauce (excess liquid) to their rice because it made the rice more flavorful. It was definitely easier to get my kids to like salted fish than, for example, bitter melon.
Here is another little interesting fact. The fermented salted fish (梅香咸鱼) has an nice looking Chinese name which literally means “plum blossom aroma salted fish.” It gets its name from its homonyms “霉香咸鱼,” which literally means “moldy aroma salted fish” because of the fermentation process. So most manufactures use a much more pleasant looking name 梅香 (plum blossom aroma) instead.
Gluten Free, Low Carb
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 2 to 4 people
- 1/2 medium to large fish or 1 small salted fish (about 20g)1
- 1/2 lb (~225g) ground pork belly (I use the Kitchen-Aid meat grinder attachment) 2
- 1 1-inch long piece of ginger
- 1 green onion
- 1 teaspoon Chinese Shaoxing wine
- pinch ground white pepper or freshly-ground white pepper
- 1/4 cup (~60ml) water or low sodium stock
- Peel and mince the ginger. Cut the green onion into long thin slices. In a medium mixing bowl, add the ground pork belly, minced ginger, 1 teaspoon of Chinese Shaoxing wine, and 1 pinch of ground white pepper, mixing well. Slowly add 1/4 cup water or low sodium stock to the ground pork belly, mixing either clockwise or counterclockwise until the liquid is fully absorbed. Note that you can also do this after chopping the salted fish in step 3 (as I’ve done here).
- Rinse the salted fish to remove any surface dirt. Pat dry with a paper towel. Remove the salted fish’s head and any bones. Chop the salted fish into tiny pieces. (Alternatively, if your salted fish has many small bones, pan fry both sides under medium heat so the bones become crispy and brittle. Then wait for the salted fish to cool and chop the fish into tiny pieces.) Add the chopped salted fish pieces into the meat and mix thoroughly.
- Heat a steamer or a large pot with a steamer rack under medium-high heat. While waiting for the water to boil, transfer the mixed salted fish meat pie into a shallow medium plate or a wide bowl. Spread the meat pie into a large patty with the back of a spoon, about 0.4 inch (or 1cm) thick. Sprinkle the thinly-sliced green onions on top.
- When the water boils, add the salted fish meat pie to the steamer and steam for 10 minutes. Then turn off the heat and carefully remove the lid. Wait for 1 minute to cool slightly before transferring the dish out. Enjoy right away with rice or white porridge/congee/jook/juk.
- You can use either fermented salted fish (Mei Xiang Xian Yu 梅香咸鱼) or non-fermented salted fish (实肉咸鱼). Usually they are both labeled in English as “Salted Fish. ”
- It’s important that the ground pork has plenty of fat. Pork belly works well for this recipe. You can also use pork butt and shoulder. Just make sure there is plenty of fat in the meat. I like to grind my own meat with the Kitchen-Aid meat grinder attachment using the largest grind holes.
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