Ever been to traditional market on a hot and humid day, trying to pick out some dried salted fish? I have. Not the most cherished moment of daily grocery shopping. Trays and trays of dried salted seafood perfectly displayed on the counter, with some strange looking fishes and other sea creatures dangling on over your head. Each one of these items give up different level of pungent smelt that peaks up during hot and humid summer days. The shopping trip would almost be a torture for those who is not familiar with it.
You may be put off by the idea of its intense saltines and pungent aroma, but once you acquired the taste for fish sauce and shrimp paste, you will develop the taste for dried seafood. Like western luxury food items such as truffle and caviar, dried seafood is often act as flavor booster. A bit will go a long way.
Chinese and South East Asian love salting and sun-drying their seafood. It has very concentrated flavor and the aromas are so overwhelming, even for us who grew up eating it. Plenty supply of fish has prompted this practice, and the inexpensive nature of this source of protein has made dried fish humble dish for any families.
Our grandmother had a signature dish that is well loved by all her grandchildren. She steamed the fish with pieces of pork belly with shallots and chili. One big pot can feed the whole family when served with steamed rice or porridge. Dried salted fish that is used should be from big fish, such as barramundi (ikan asin kakap), instead of smaller fish like sardines, mackerel or anchovies. This way it would not fall apart from long period of cooking time.
Steamed Salted Fish with Pork
150 g pork belly
150 g salted fish, barramundi preferably
10 shallots (70 g)
1 clove garlic
5 red chili (20 g), sliced
1/3 cup thai bird's eye chili (30 gr), sliced
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp soy sauce
Soak the fish fillet in cold water for 10 minutes to remove the excess salt and slightly rub the surface to clean it up
Cut pork and fish into 0.5" cubes
In a heatproof bowl (non-metal, preferably), combine all ingredients
Steam over high heat for 1 hour
Serve with warm rice or plain rice porridge
Step by step shots