Here's a dish that if your mom hasn't cooked before, she can't be Chinese. Correction: Cantonese Chinese, or Chinese from this region. I know my Hub didn't eat this as a child but he loves this dish.
This humble home dish is so tasty and appetizing that all you need is a big bowl of plain rice and a simple soup, such as a winter melon soup, to leave you a very contented person. Two things however threaten this dish with extinction--the bad news about preserved food and salted fish being a stinky humble food that smells bad. But tastes great. I hardly buy salted fish, given all those tales about how people spray fish salting in the sun with insecticide to keep flies away. I am however very lucky to be bestowed with a big salted mui hiong (prized salted fish that's salted to a point where the flesh is soft and moist) by Peter, who knows his source of Sandakan salted fish. I prize this gift and eat it very sparingly.
Stories abound of students living in apartments overseas and police being summoned by neighbors after the stink of the fish aroused the neighbors' fury and disgust. If you think salted fish is bad, it is nothing compared to preserved prawns paste, a Malaysian staple called belacan. Once in a while I catch a whiff of that and my brain quickly process the information: if it's belacan, take a deep breath appreciatively and if it's somebody's rotting feet, stop breathing. Sometimes, I get confused.
If you dare cook this in an apartment, please do not fry the salted fish. Just steam it along with the pork and pray the smell doesn't seep out under your door. Most people don't fry the salted fish so that it sort of melts into the pork. I prefer to fry the salted fish precisely for the opposite effect: so that it doesn't melt into but just flavors the pork and I can choose to eat the pork or the fish with my rice.
I'm not sure if this is an acquired taste dish. Mui hiong salted fish is very savory sweet, behind all that saltiness. I know a Spanish friend who loves salted fish and pork. Must be the balcalhau she's missing. Those of you who know this dish will be drooling. It's impossible not to, it's that good.
Steamed Salted Fish & Pork (serves 4-6)
5 x 7 cm mui hiong salted fish (or more, up to you)
1/2 T very fine ginger strips
dash of white pepper
pinch of fine sugar
1 t sesame oil
1 T cornflour
1 t light soy sauce
1/4 t salt
1 egg (optional)
1/3 to 1/2 cup water
*Use shoulder pork with 10% fat on at least. You can either chop the pork until fine (the traditional way) or cut into thin slices (for this, a fatter cut would be best). The chopped pork is good with congee but the slices are very good with rice although old folks may prefer the chopped pork.
1. Cut the salted fish into 3/4 cm strips and fry with the ginger, or you can leave it unfried. It's good either way.
2. Mix all the seasoning ingredients with the pork. Egg is not usually added but I do that for a smoother taste especially since lean pork is preferred these days. I also like to add more water so that there'll be more gravy for the rice.
3. Pat the pork into a shallow heat-proof dish, top with the salted fish slices and steam at high heat for 20 to 25 minutes.
4. Serve hot with plain boiled rice.