A lot of people think that once they’ve tried dimsum, their experience is complete. But, no. There are over 2,000 dimsum dishes served globally and no singular restaurant or teahouse serves all of them. And among those that serve dimsum, new dishes are added occasionally. A few weeks back, for instance, my husband and I had lunch at Causeway Seafood Restaurant and we chanced upon a dimsum item that we had never seen there before — steamed fish head salted black beans.
It’s hard to explain our reaction upon seeing the chopped fish head, bones and all, in the steamer basket. We were intrigued, excited and apprehensive all at the same time. We’ve always boiled our fish head to make soup dishes. And that means submerging the fish head in water with every imaginable aromatic. Will steaming enable the fish meat to absorb seasonings and spices? Of course, we ordered it if only to satisfy our curiosity.
Our apprehension was uncalled for and our excitement turned to approval after a few mouthfuls. The steamed fish head was sublime. As far as I could tell, the ingredients were very basic — salted (fermented) black beans ginger, garlic, chili and sesame seed oil.
This is my version. I used a whole head of talakitok (trevally); you can opt for some other fish so long as the head is large enough to contain a substantial amount of gelatinous skin which is what really makes this dish delicious.
Place the fish head pieces in a large bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix with your hands, working the seasonings and spices into the fish flesh. Cover and allow to marinate in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Arrange the fish pieces in 2 to 3 shallow heatproof bowls. Top with leeks. Sprinkle with salt, if you like. Steam over briskly boiling water for 20 to 30 minutes.
Serve hot by itself or with rice.