Fish paste, which is made by seafood vendors from carp and/or whatever other types of fresh fish are left over from the day before, is a useful, versatile ingredient. I never use it as is; I always flavour it with other ingredients before shaping the paste into balls and poaching them in congee, soup or Thai green curry, or using it as a stuffing for vegetables.
Dried scallop congee with fish paste
People tend to have strong preferences about congee. My grandmother made it thick and hearty, but I now prefer the thinner, lighter versions you get in Hong Kong. It’s easy to adjust the consistency: if it’s too thick, stir in more water; too thin, cook it longer. I like mixing long grain and short grain rices (not glutinous rice, but the type used for Japanese and Korean cuisines), which makes the congee smoother. Yau ja gwai, often called Chinese doughnuts or crullers, come in pairs; you need one or two pairs for this dish.
50 grams short grain rice
70 grams long grain rice (such as jasmine)
About 1.5 litres water
30 grams dried scallops
15 gram piece of peeled ginger
2-3 spring onions
Fine sea salt
For the fish balls and condiments:
300 grams fish paste
10 grams spring onions, plus extra for the garnish
5 grams fresh coriander leaves, plus extra for the garnish
4-6 leaves iceberg lettuce
Finely julienned peeled ginger
Finely ground white pepper
1-2 yau ja gwai
1 Put the short grain and long grain rice in a medium-sized pan and rinse with several changes of water. Drain off most of the water, then add 1.5 litres of fresh water. Briefly rinse the dried scallops then add them to the pan. Cut the ginger into two pieces. Put the ginger and the spring onions into the pan. Bring the water to the boil then lower the heat, cover partially with the lid and simmer for about 90 minutes, stirring frequently.
2 While the congee is cooking, season the fish paste. Finely mince 10 grams of spring onions, and roughly chop five grams of fresh coriander, then mix them into the fish paste.
3 When the congee has cooked for 90 minutes, stir in more water, if it’s too thick, then let it simmer for about 15 more minutes. When it’s the correct consistency, season to taste with salt. Remove the ginger and spring onions from the congee, but leave in the dried scallops (which should be in fine shreds at this point).
4 Scoop heaped teaspoonfuls of the fish paste mixture into the congee and let them poach over a low flame for about 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Slice the lettuce leaves into 1cm-wide strips, add them to the congee then stir until they’re wilted.
5 Cut the yau ja gwai into pieces about 5mm thick. Ladle the congee into bowls then let each diner top their portion with chopped spring onion, coriander leaves, julienned ginger, white pepper and the yau ja gwai.
Fish paste-stuffed bell peppers and chillies
250 grams fish paste
1 segment chun pei (dried tangerine peel)
2-3 spring onions
A small handful of fresh coriander
¼ tsp finely ground white pepper
2-3 red or green bell peppers, or as needed
10 long, slender red, orange or green banana chillies, or as needed
Plain (all-purpose) flour, for dredging
Cooking oil, for frying
1 Soak the chun pei in warm water until soft, then squeeze it dry. Finely mince the chun pei and spring onions, and roughly chop the coriander. Mix the chun pei, spring onion, coriander and white pepper with the fish paste.
2 Use a paring knife to cut out and discard the stem of the bell peppers. Halve the peppers, then cut each half into six pieces. Spoon some of the fish paste over each piece, packing it in tightly and mounding it slightly.
3 Cut a slit down the length of each chilli and use a small spoon to scrape out the seeds. Pack the fish paste into the chilli.
4 Pour oil into a skillet to the depth of about 2cm and heat to 175 degrees Celsius. While the oil is heating, spoon some flour into a shallow bowl. Dip the fish-paste side of the vegetables into the flour and shake off the excess. Place the vegetables, fish-paste-side down, into the hot oil.
Cook the pieces in batches; do not crowd the pan, and turn the vegetables over as needed. Cook for several minutes, or until done, then drain the pieces, fish-paste-side down, on paper towels. Eat them hot. If needed, they can be reheated in a 180 degree oven for a few minutes.