For its symbolism of abundance and prosperity, the fish dish remains a perennial favourite for Chinese New Year celebrations.
In Chinese cooking, it is believed that fish is best steamed for this is where diners are able to taste its freshness.
So how does such a seemingly simple but well-loved dish measure up to five-star standards?
Moist and sweet. Soft and smooth. The flesh should just lift off the bone. That’s the way a perfectly steamed fish has been described.
At Red Chinese Cuisine in Pullman Kuala Lumpur City Centre Hotel and Residences, this was how the Hong Kong-style Steamed Dragon Tiger Grouper in Premium Soy Sauce, one of the dishes offered in its Chinese New Year set menus, was presented.
Resting atop a shallow pool of soy sauce enriched with chicken stock and brandy, it was accompanied by steamed gingko nuts and diced Chinese mushrooms.
For a touch of luxury, diced sea cucumber was added.
“I wanted to add a ‘treasure’ element to this dish, hence the additional ingredients,” said Chinese chef David Poh.
He could not have chosen a better type of fish for this auspicious dish.
The dragon tiger grouper is known for its silky flesh and its fins and tail are known to have much flavour.
As usual, no Chinese New Year menu will be complete without yee sang.
This year, a passion fruit version takes centre stage with South African abalone and deep-fried softshell crabs.
Poh said the South African abalone was specifically chosen as he felt that it had a richer and creamier flavour.
As for the softshell crabs, extra care was given in the flour ratios used in the batter mixture to ensure that it would be enclosed in a crispy outer coat for a crunchy texture.
The South African abalone also makes an appearance in the Braised Winter Melon Soup with Seafood.
Chicken stock, utilising roasted bones for optimum flavour, formed the base for a slightly thickened, neutral-flavoured soup.
It was then embellished with fish maw, sea cucumber, dried scallops, crab meat and fish lips.
Instead of the traditional whole chicken, Poh offered a modern take to the celebratory poultry dish by presenting it as a roulade topped with a Szechuan-style sesame and peanut crumble.
Deboned, marinated with spices and hung up to dry overnight in a net, the entire chicken is showered in rice vinegar and lemon as a way of crisping the skin before baking.
“The vinegar and lemon act to draw water from the skin.
“To ensure flavour is preserved during the drying process, maltose sugar is rubbed in together,” he revealed.
As Poh’s signature dish, the highlight laid in the sesame and peanut topping crumble which flavours were likened to the rich nuttiness of a thick, well-concocted satay sauce.
Perfect as a dish by itself or as an hors d’oeuvre, it is best eaten hot.
Prawns are another must-have for Chinese New Year.
In Cantonese, they are called har, which sounds like laughter, and this is why prawns are essential on a Chinese festive menu.
Resting on a soft, fluffy bed of steamed egg white, the slow steamed tiger prawns had been butterfly cut, filled with Bentong ginger and chopped truffle.
The earthy and musky flavour of truffle complemented the prawns nicely.
For a satisfying end, there was Mock Abalone and Vegetables Wrapped in Lotus Leaf and Shanghainese style Fried Rice with Waxed Duck Meat Pickled Vegetables.
The highlights of these two dishes lay in their toppings.
The vegetables were topped with crispy dried scallops while chicken floss crowned the fried rice.
For dessert, an almond pudding with chopped peach gum came with two glutinous rice balls filled with black sesame paste.
The brown sugar syrup drizzled atop took on a honey-like flavour with the presence of osmanthus.
It was served with white steamed nian gao topped with generous sprinklings of white sesame, desiccated coconut and crushed peanuts.
Takeaway menus are available too. Items recommended are the poon choy (from RM388), seafood boat (RM288 per boat, serves up to six), hot and cold combination sets (from RM188) and herbal baked chicken (RM88 per bird).
Pastries such as Koi Fish-shaped White Chocolate, Chocolate Kumquat Cupcakes and biscuits are also available.
All prices quoted are subject to an additional 6% service tax.
RED CHINESE CUISINE,
Pullman Kuala Lumpur City Centre Hotel and Residences,
Jalan Conlay, Kuala Lumpur. (Tel: 03-2170 8888 ext 8200).
Business hours: Noon to 2.30pm, 6.30pm to 10.30pm.
Closed on Monday and public holidays.
This is the writer’s personal observation and not an endorsement by StarMetro.