When I was in high school, my favourite night of the week was Thursday. It had nothing to do with the shows on television that night (although I have to admit I was a fan of both the critically-acclaimed Cheers and the much-maligned Young Riders). Nor was it because the following day was Friday, which of course meant the start of the weekend — and (by the time I was a senior) also meant an incredibly relaxing day, having arranged my schedule so I had no more than a couple of hours of actual class time. There was no regular extra-curricular activity that got me revved up. Nor was there any other kind of after-school special that got my juices flowing. The reason why Thursday night was my favourite was because Thursday was duck night.
Every Thursday, almost without fail, my sainted mother would go to Chinatown and bring home a delicious, Cantonese roasted duck. It was and still is one of my favourite foods, the kind of thing I could not only eat weekly without ever getting bored of it but actually look forward to tasting week after week. Of course, man cannot live on duck alone. To eat along with the duck, mom would whip up one of a number of equally delectable dishes. Of these, there were three or four that she would make most often, their return appearances usually based on the volume and number of “yums”, “mmmmmmmms” and “wows” she heard at our table. Of these dishes, my own personal favourite was a simple dish whose origins I’ve never discovered.
Come to think of it, my mother never even gave this dish, a steamed roll of fish paste and egg, drizzled with a thick, sticky, savory and slightly sweet sauce, a name. Or at least, if it had one, I never knew what it was. Over the years, whenever I’ve asked my mother where she learned how to make this, she’d simply wave me off, saying it was something she picked up and liked making because she knew we (our whole family) liked it and, just as importantly, it was really easy to make.
I’ve always liked that this dish had strong yet clean flavours. Since it was steamed, it was also relatively healthy and acted as a good counterfoil to the much oilier duck that we were devouring alongside it.
Over the years, I’ve mentioned this dish to my darling wife S dozens of times but until this week had never made it for her. To do it properly, I served it with half a Cantonese roasted duck. It was Thursday night all over again.
Steamed fish and egg rolls
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon mirin
1/2 teaspoon salt
400g fish paste
1 red chilli
4-5 spring onions
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon dark, thick, sweet soy sauce
2 teaspoons corn starch/flour
Deseed and finely chop the red chilli. Wash and clean the spring onions. Then finely chop them, discarding about 1/3 of the green tips. Stir the spring onions and chilli into the fish paste.
Beat the eggs and add 1 teaspoon mirin and the 1/2 teaspoon salt. Heat a large non-stick pan and fry half of the egg mixture, making a large, round, flat and thin omelet. Slide the omelet out onto a plate or tray. Then use the remaining half of the egg mixture to fry another thin omelet.
Taste your fish paste. Depending on how savoury it is (ideally, try and buy paste that isn’t too salty), spread a slightly thicker or thinner layer on the two omelets. Roll each one carefully into a long and compact tube. Transfer these to a steamer and steam for 12-15 minutes.
While the rolls are steaming, make your sauce. Boil the chicken stock and 1 tablespoon of mirin, reducing it by about one-third. Pour 2-3 tablespoons of the stock into a bowl and mix the cornstarch into it. When dissolved, pour this mixture back into the stock. Then add the 1 teaspoon of the dark, sweet and thick soy. Stir and simmer for a bit to thicken the sauce. You want the sauce to be thick. Season to taste with more mirin or soy.
When the rolls are ready, transfer them to a cutting board and cut them into thick slices. Plate these and drizzle the sauce over them.