Yesterday, we went to a friend’s wedding and it was the dreamiest wedding I’ve ever gone to. The theme, Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, meant a garden wedding and a reception area filled with overhanging ferns and centerpieces made with wildflowers. But this isn’t really about the wedding. This is about the wedding gift we gave the couple and what it inspired.
Gift-giving is such an involved affair. For me, at least. I don’t choose gifts to impress. Neither do I choose anything so generic. So, when Speedy asked me what idea I had for the wedding gift, I said, “A cookbook — preferably, something basic or something about cooking for two.” Speedy chose the cookbook and a great choice it was — basic recipes and variations.
Two days before the wedding, Speedy asked that I cook sweet and sour fish, and I added slices of mango on top instead of the usual julienned carrot and bell peppers. As I was cropping the photo (above) later, with the concept of the wedding gift cookbook in mind, I realized just how many versions of sweet and sour fish there are in the archive. And I have to admit that the concept of the cookbook that we gave to the newlyweds was genius. One of the best ways to build an ever-growing repertoire of dishes for home cooking is to start with basic recipes and then create derivatives.
So, there’s basic fish with sweet and sour sauce. What possible variations can there be? First, the fish can be whole, steaks or fillets (see “What’s the difference between fish steak and fish fillet?”). Second, the sour component of the sauce can be vinegar (including mustard sauce which is vinegar-based), citrus juice or even tamarind pulp. Third, the sweetening agent can be plain sugar, shaved palm sugar or honey. Fourth, the toppings and garnishes can be julienned vegetables, fruits and a myriad of herbs, and the combination can be different each time. Fifth, there is the optional heat element. Given all that, the variations for sweet and sour fish can be endless.
Some versions of the basic fish with sweet and sour sauce in the archive:
Filipino escabeche (fish with pickled vegetables)
Tilapia with lemon sauce and chili
Sweet and spicy fish and tofu
Tilapia fritters with honey lemon sauce
Fried labahita (surgeonfish) with chili–pineapple sauce
Fried talakitok (trevally) with 1-minute sweet and sour sauce
Fish fingers with honey-mustard sauce
Pressure-cooked sweet and sour bisugo (Threadfin bream)
Herbed cream dory with spicy lemon and orange sauce