Did you know that many Filipino New Year customs are based on Chinese superstitions? Eating round fruits, making noise to drive away bad spirits, eating noodles for long life, paying off debts… These are all rooted in Chinese New Year practices. Here’s another: The Chinese believe that serving whole fish will bring luck.
The significance of fish in Chinese culture have several facets.
First, the Chinese word for fish, yu, sounds like the word for riches (abundance).
Second, the fish must be served whole with the head and tail intact as it represents family togetherness and unity.
Third, if serving a whole fish in a gathering, reserve the head for the most important guest. On the table, make sure that the fish head is pointing toward that guest too.
Of course, not everyone is into superstition. I know I’m not. But I do love whole fish and I especially love the head and belly. If modern life has made you forget how delicious whole fish is, or if you’ve never tried having your fish this way, let me inspire you with the following recipes:
Steamed fish with oyster sauce – There are even different options for steaming whole fish. In this recipe, the fish was enclosed in an aluminum foil tent and cooked in the oven.
Braised tilapia – Prepare the sauce, score the fish, put sauce and fish in a wide shallow pan and add ginger. And you have braised tilapia! So easy and so delicious!
Steamed whole fish with black bean sauce – This steamed whole fish with black bean sauce cooks in 30 minutes. Smoking hot sesame seed oil is poured over the fish before serving.
Sweet and sour fish – This sweet and sour fish recipe includes instructions for making the best sauce sweet-sour syrup without starch.
Fried whole fish with mango-kalamansi-honey sauce – When we were in Baguio in March, I discovered mango jam at the Good Shepherd convent. This is how I used the last three tablespoonfuls of the delicious mango jam.
Whole fish poached in olive oil with lemon-butter sauce – Poaching in olive oil means slow cooking the fish at low temperature and allowing it to soak up olive oil which is supposed to be healthy. I mean, we drizzle the stuff all over our salad; why not let the fish bath in it?
Whole fish braised in lemongrass and ginger sauce – The fish is twice cooked. First, it is deep fried to give it texture. Next, it is braised in the spice sauce just long enough to allow the fish flesh to soak up the flavors.
Filipino escabeche (fish with pickled vegetables) – In the Philippines, we have our escabeche too, part of our Spanish colonial legacy, which consists of fried whole fish served with pickled vegetables.
Crispy Fried Fish With Chili Pineapple Sauce – To cook this crispy fried fish with chili pineapple sauce, I used homemade sweet chili sauce, fish sauce, and pineapple juice for a delicate fruity flavor.
Chinese-style Fried Fish With Black Beans and Chili Sauce – Cooked with a mixture of store-bought sauces and odds and ends from the fridge, this Chinese-style fried dish with black beans and chili sauce is superb!
Want more inspiration? See the full fish and seafood recipe archive.