I'd rather be a horse than a rat. But deep down I secretly envy my as yet unborn grandchild. If all goes well in April, he or she will be a dragon. Now who wouldn't want that?
As you may know, tomorrow (Saturday) marks the Chinese New Year. I discover I was born in the Year of the Horse. There are twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac. Legend has it that when a particular god (who, it appears, prefers to remain anonymous) was about to leave earth for the final time, he summoned all the animals to bid him farewell. Only 12 turned up, and each was honoured by having a year named after it, based on the order of their arrival.
What is not legend is that Chinese everywhere will be celebrating with sumptuous and elaborate feasts. Many of the dishes will have symbolic meanings. Dumplings, for example, represent purses. You could make today's dish rather more easily using fillets wrapped in foil, but serving the whole beast, head and tail attached, symbolises wealth. It also makes advising on cooking time tricky, but we'll come to that.
1 whole seabass, gutted and scaled and fins removed, but with skin, head and tail left on (ask your fishmonger to do this for you); 5cm piece of root ginger, peeled and cut into very fine juliennes; about 4 spring onions, white and green parts separated, then finely shredded; 4tbsp dark soy sauce; 4tbsp sesame oil; 4 cloves of garlic, finely sliced; salt.
If you don't have a fish kettle or steamer or don't have one large enough, you can improvise with a heavy roasting tin and a rack, plus foil to act as a lid. You'll need barely a centimetre of boiling water, making sure it doesn't touch the fish.
Rinse the fish and pat it dry. About 10 minutes before cooking time, season it lightly, inside and out, with salt. Scatter over the ginger and the white parts of the spring onion, putting some inside the cavity.
Now to the tricky bit, cooking time. Obviously this will depend on the size of your fish. In the heading to Rick Stein's recipe for a 1.5kg bass it says Cooking Time 10 minutes, whereas the recipe states, steam for 15 - 20 minutes until cooked through. Fillets on the other hand will need only about 9 minutes, so Rick, as you would expect, probably has it right. So what advice can I give you? When you bring the fish to the table, you want the flesh to be coming off the bone easily but not dried out. If you have a food thermometer (something I find I'm using a lot these days - a great investment) you want it to read 63˚C. Failing that, you may have to open it up for yourself at the thickest part to check.
But here's another but. When you take the fish out, you'll be keeping it warm for a couple of minutes while you guddle about with the soy, sesame oil and garlic. It will, of course, carry on cooking so you might just want to take it out when it's a minute or two away from perfection.
Anyway, remove the fish to a warmed plate, reserving the steaming water. Put 5tsp of that water into a small pan and add the soy sauce. Bring to the boil and pour over the fish. In the same pan add the sesame oil and the garlic. Fry for a few seconds then pour that too over the fish. Garnish with the remaining spring onion and take to the table to wild applause.
Tom Cooks! is away next week. See you in a fortnight.