To braise means to cook in a little sauce that gets absorbed by the seafood or meat turning it highly flavorful. In Asia, the sauce in which fish, chicken or meat is braised is always supplemented with herbs, spices and aromatics. So, basically, you put some sauce in the pan, you add the herbs, spices and aromatics, you add the fish, chicken or meat, you cover the pan and leave everything to simmer.
It’s so simple, one wonders why not many people take advantage of the braising method of cooking. Take this tilapia dish, for instance, all I had to do was prepare the sauce, score the fish, put sauce and fish in a wide shallow pan and add ginger. Then, I went back to reading my book for 30 minutes. After that, I transferred the fish to a platter, poured some sauce over it and added some greens and chopped chilis. And it was delicious.
One thing I must emphasize though is never to underestimate the importance of the garnish in this dish. The greens and chopped chilis do make the otherwise drab looking tilapia festive and cheery but they do more than make the fish look pretty. You have to enjoy the fish together with the greens and the chopped chilis. You just have to.
- Score the fish diagonally on both sides — twice on each side if the fish is rather large.
- In a pan that can hold the fish, mix together the rice vinegar, honey and fish sauce. If your pan is large and the sauce is less than 1/4-inch deep, add a little water. Bring to the boil then add the fish and sliced ginger. Cover and cook over very low heat for 20 to 30 minutes. Do not be tempted to remove the cover and peek while the fish cooks. The fish is meant to cook in the little sauce and its own juices and you really don’t want any of it evaporating needlessly.
- When the fish is done, use a large spatula to transfer it to a serving platter. Pour the remaining sauce over, discarding the ginger. Scatter the onion leaves and cilantro over the fish, sprinkle with red chilis and serve at once.