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Stir-fried fish with asparagus and black beans cooked by Susan Jung. Photo: Jonathan Wong

How to make stir-fried fish fillets with asparagus and black bean sauce: an easy dish where you don’t have to worry about the bones

  • Ready in 30 minutes or less, the dish is best made with skin-on fish fillets to keep them from falling apart easily
  • A bonus recipe for steamed fish fillets with dried Chinese mushrooms and tangerine peel requires a bit of advance planning

When it comes to cooking fish, I prefer whole ones, because I love the different textures that you find in the various parts. But many people only like fish fillets because they don’t want to bother with the bones.

Stir-fried fish fillets with asparagus and black bean sauce

This is an easy dish that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less.

Use skin-on fish fillets for the dish, because if the skin is removed, the fish is far more likely to fall apart as it’s stir-fried. The fish fillets should be at least 1.5cm (⅔ in) at the thickest point. Buy asparagus spears that are about 1cm (⅓ in) in diameter.

250 grams (9 oz) skin-on fish fillets

10ml (2 tsp) rice wine

Fine sea salt, as necessary

10 grams (⅓ oz) fermented black beans

½ tsp granulated sugar

5ml (1 tsp) light soy sauce

¼ tsp finely ground white pepper

350 grams (12½ oz) green asparagus

2-3 thin slices peeled ginger

1-2 garlic cloves

2-3 spring onions

About 10ml cooking oil

5ml (1 tsp) sesame oil

The main ingredients for making stir-fried fish with asparagus and black beans. Photo: Jonathan Wong

1 Cut the fish into pieces about 1.5cm (⅔ in) wide and 3cm (1¼ in) long.

2 Put the fish in a bowl, add the rice wine and sprinkle with salt. Mix well, then set aside while preparing the other ingredients.

3 Briefly rinse the black beans with warm water, then drain them. Put them in a small bowl, then add the sugar, soy sauce, white pepper and 15ml (1 tbsp) of warm water. Mix well, then set aside to soak.

4 Place the asparagus spears flat on a cutting board and use a vegetable peeler to peel off the tough outer skin from the lower part of each stalk. Cut the spears into 2.5cm (1 in) pieces.

5 Bring a pot of lightly salted water to the boil, add the asparagus pieces and blanch for 15 seconds. Drain in a colander, rinse with cold water and drain again.

6 Cut the ginger slices into thin matchsticks. Slice the garlic cloves in half. Cut the spring onions into 2.5cm (1 in) pieces.

7 Heat a wok over a high flame. When the wok is hot, add the cooking oil. Swirl the wok until coated with the oil, then add the asparagus and sprinkle lightly with salt. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds.

8 Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry for about 15 seconds. Add the fish and the black bean sauce. Mix gently, then turn the flame to low.

Stir-fry the ingredients in the wok until the fish is cooked. Photo: Jonathan Wong

9 Cover the wok with the lid, then simmer the ingredients for 30 seconds. Gently stir the ingredients and if the mixture seems dry, add about 45ml (3 tbsp) of hot water.

10 Turn the flame to high and cook the ingredients, stirring gently, until the fish is cooked and the liquid lightly coats the ingredients. Turn off the flame.

11 Taste the sauce and correct the seasonings, if necessary.

12 Stir in the spring onion and sesame oil. Transfer the ingredients to a plate and serve immediately.

How to make sake-steamed clams with butter, leeks, seaweed and udon noodles

Steamed fish fillets with Chinese mushrooms and dried tangerine peel

This dish is easy to make, but you have to plan in advance because the mushrooms and tangerine peel take about three hours to fully hydrate. If it’s easier, put the dried ingredients in cold water and place them in the fridge in the morning, before you go to work, or start soaking them the night before, so they are hydrated when it’s time to make dinner.

When buying Chinese dried mushrooms, look for the ones with thick caps.

Chinese dried tangerine peel, known as chen pei in Cantonese, has a very intense flavour, and it gets more expensive the longer it has been aged. The peel from the whole fruit is usually cut into three sections that are joined at the base. You need only two sections for this recipe.

Choose fish fillets that are 2.5cm (1 in) thick and weigh 200 grams (7 oz) each.

4-6 dried Chinese mushrooms, depending on size

2 sections dried tangerine peel

4 skin-on fish fillets

10ml (2 tsp) rice wine

Fine sea salt

4-6 thin slices peeled ginger

45ml (3 tbsp) light soy sauce

10 grams (2½ tsp) granulated sugar

6-8 spring onions, depending on size, divided

A small handful of fresh coriander sprigs

45ml (3 tbsp) cooking oil

How to make Thai fishcakes, or tod mun pla

1 Briefly rinse the mushrooms and tangerine peel, then put them in a bowl and add cool water so the ingredients are bobbing around freely. Leave to soak until fully hydrated, about three hours.

2 Squeeze the water out of the mushrooms and tangerine peel. Remove and discard the mushroom stems, then cut the caps into thin pieces. Cut the tangerine peel and ginger into fine shreds.

3 Dry the fish fillets with paper towels, then rub the rice wine into the flesh of each piece. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

4 Cut two of the spring onions into 5cm lengths. Scatter these pieces in a wide, shallow dish that’s just large enough to fit the four fillets without touching.

5 Place the fillets skin-side down on the spring onion, then scatter the mushroom, tangerine peel and ginger over the pieces.

6 Place a rack with low feet in the base of a wok (or steamer) and add water to a depth of about 3cm (1¼ in). Bring the water to the boil over a high flame, then place the dish on the rack. Cover the wok with the lid, turn the flame to medium and steam for 10 minutes, or until the fish is done – it should be opaque, and when you insert a paring knife into the thickest part of a fillet, it should slide in easily, without resistance.

7 While the fish is steaming, cut the remaining spring onions lengthwise into fine shreds, then cut the shreds into 2.5cm (1 in) lengths. Add the sugar to the soy sauce and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Just before the fish is done, heat the oil until it’s very hot.

8 When the fish is cooked, use a wide metal spatula to carefully lift the fillets from the cooking dish, leaving behind the spring onion and cooking liquid. Place the fillets on a serving plate.

9 Quickly scatter the spring onion and coriander sprigs over the fish, then pour on the hot oil – it should sizzle and wilt the aromatics.

10 Pour the soy sauce/sugar mixture around the fish fillets and serve immediately.

Styling: Nellie Ming Lee; Kitchen: courtesy of Wolf at House of Madison

Like this recipe? Look for more in the SCMP Post Magazine, or on SCMP Cooking.