The ludoon (known as jewfish in the USA) is the largest of the groupers. Found in deep waters, this giant brown fish can grow bigger than an adult human. The best parts of this giant fish are the head and the belly because those parts have lots of thick gelatinous collagen membranes which are smooth and tasty, with a slight bite. As I've said before, Chinese food isn't only about taste but also about 'mouth feel', how the food feels in your mouth, whether it's pleasurable or not.
Decades ago I had the best ludoon head stew in Sandakan, a town on the east coast of Sabah. That must've been the grandma of all ludoon because the skin was about 2 cm thick. I've never eaten a better ludoon since. The thing about the ludoon is that the bigger the fish, the more prized it is because the gelatinous stuff gets better and more. The flesh, if you bother to eat it (connoisseurs go for the head and stomach) is surprisingly tender and moist. Ludoon are hard to come by since restaurants get the first right of refusal, as they do with all seafood. I was lucky to stumble upon a seafood stall in Kepayan that had a medium-sized ludoon (about 1 meter long) for sale probably because it was too small for restaurants.
I bought two pieces of lutoon steaks for RM40 (RM35/USD12 per kg) but the price at restaurants is many times higher. One piece of the steak was more than enough for our family of four because it was mostly meat. I wasn't sure about cooking the head but next time I will because it's more fun--and tasty--to eat the head than the flesh.
This recipe was cloned after the popular 'stewed fish head & belly' dish in Dong Fung Restaurant, Inanam. Other than the great flavor and taste, Dong Fung's stewed fish pieces have a thick coating of potato flour (you can use tapioca/cassava flour too) that bulks up the fish (cunning) and also gives a slippery, gelatinous bite. I am pleased to say that my son Wey, who is very selective about his seafood, pronounced my attempt 'the same' in taste to the restaurant's. That fella can charm me to death sometimes.
Fish Pieces In Soy Sauce
500 gm steak* of a large fish
1 to 2 cups of potato flour/tapioca flour for coating
1 egg white
2 T cornflour
5 slices of fresh ginger
2 T dark soy sauce
1 T light soy sauce
1/2 T shaoxin wine (not too much so that it wouldn't overpower the other flavors)
1 T Chinese rice wine (to give a sweet taste)
a dash of Thai fish sauce
1 t of chicken stock powder
1 T brown soy bean paste or Korean miso paste
1 t sugar
2 T sesame oil
salt and white pepper
spring onions to garnish
*the bones are usually left on but you can use fillets too. For this recipe, the fish must not be too soft and fine and should not fall apart upon cooking
1. Chop the fish into large bite-sized pieces. 'Massage' the cornflour, egg white, a large pinch of salt and white pepper into the pieces of fish and leave for 1/2 hour.
2. Coat each piece of fish with the potato starch, pressing on as much flour as possible. Deep fry the coated fish until just cooked and leave until ready to cook.
3. Put about 2 T oil into a heated wok and add the ginger. Stir until fragrant, add the fried fish and the shao xin wine and stir well. Now add the rest of the ingredients except the sesame oil, wok at medium heat, and stir well without breaking the fish pieces up. Sprinkle about 1/4 cup of water over the fish and cover with a lid for a few seconds. When water dries up, add another 1/4 cup. This dish takes only a minute to cook.
4. Turn off the fire. It's hard to give the exact amount of seasoning so you need to taste and season according to your liking. Sprinkle the sesame oil over. If the liquid had dried out, add a spoonful of hot water or stock. This is a saucy but not soupy dish. The potato flour on the fish will thicken the sauce. Sprinkle the spring onions over and serve immediately. Goes with plain rice.
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