If there is a dish that can aptly be branded “appetizing”, it will definitely be THIS dish. It is oily, spicy, smells heavenly, it is flavoursome and salty, full of umami-essence and upon tasting it, your food intake will double! The Chinese word for appetizing is kai wei 开胃, which means “stomach opening”. This dish does indeed open up one’s stomach, especially on days when one is feeling blue or anorexic.
The origins of this dish is very hazy, it is most likely my family tradition. I hesitate to place it under Sichuanese cuisine, just because of the use of Zha Cai 榨菜 – Sichuan pickled mustard, which is like a Sichuanese version of the Korean kimchi. But since my family is Hokkien, I cannot really place it under Min cuisine because like the rest of Southeastern China, Fujian people do not eat chilli and spicy food. I still remember my paternal grandmother treating Zha Cai as a foreign ingredient, with caution and distrust. But since using fish bones to make broth is a Min specialty, I shall treat it as a pseudo Min dish.
I bought my fish bones for only 1.50 euros per kilo from the open market! That’s because Belgians do not know how to cook with fish bones and they tend to buy ready-prepared fish fillets, which have lost all its flavour once slaughtered. The fish bones I got were collar bones of cod, with a lot of flesh on. If you can get the central spinal bone, that is even better! The collagen inside each section of the bones replaces those you lose through old age. Sucking on fish bones is an age-old tradition for seafaring Min people, and it is known to combat rheumatism and painful knees.
Use only large white-fleshed fish like cod, not tuna or salmon.
- 500g fish bones
- 2 cloves garlic, shelled and roughly bruised
- 300g Zha Cai 榨菜, sliced
- 5cm ginger, sliced
- 1l water
- 200ml vegetable oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Garnishing: coriander leaves (optional)
- Formal ingredient: silken tofu (optional)
Servings: 2 persons
- Wash and dry your fish bones. Marinate lightly with salt and pepper.
- Heat up your wok with oil on high heat and fry your fish bones. Fry it on all sides until it is all brown. One minute before taking them out, drop in your ginger.
- Once the smell of the ginger is released, drain the fish and the ginger of the oil and place them together with your garlic and Zha Cai in a large pot with water.
- Bring to boil and let it simmer for 20 minutes.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Garnish with coriander leaves and serve in soup bowls.
Alternative (Formal) presentation:
This dish is a home dish that one eats at home in private, because one does not serve cheap fish bones to guests however much collagen they need.
- In formal occasions drain the soup of the ingredients so that only the liquid is left.
- Bring it to boil in a pot.
- Place nicely-cut cubes of silken tofu in each serving bowl. Pour the soup into each bowl, garnish with coriander and serve.