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Striped Bass Poached in Spicy Soy Sauce

Mark Bittman/The New York Times

Click here to see his video.


A note from HOF: We have made several variations of this recipe. We like to add about ½ teaspoon of ginger, chopped; 1 garlic clove chopped; and a good drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Be sure to taste the poaching liquid. Depending on the brand of soy sauce you are using, you may want to add more water or sugar to balance the flavors. 

A note from Mark Bittman: Poaching—cooking in simmering liquid—is a fairly forgiving way to cook fish, since it’s not likely to dry out. (It also virtually eliminates the likelihood of anything sticking to the bottom of the pan, which is often in the back of your mind when you sauté.) I love using this method with striped bass, which has the added bonus of being a local fish, but you can use any firm white fillets or steaks. It’s also a great way to cook mackerel or bluefish, other locals.

As the fish cooks, the soy sauce turns it a beautiful golden brown, almost verging on mahogany. Since the skillet is uncovered, the liquid reduces, intensifying in flavor and becoming thicker and thicker. In the end you want to be left with a kind of glaze that coats the fish and serves as a sauce for the rice that you should definitely eat with it. Use a minimal amount of liquid; if you start out with too much, the fish will cook through before the liquid reduces.

One unexpected treat in this recipe, which appeared in a Minimalist column in 1999, is the scallions. They drink up all the flavor of the poaching liquid and become tender, but they still hold on to a slight crunch. A whole skillet of those served over rice would almost make you not miss the fish.

⅓ to ½ cup good soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 dried or fresh chili, optional
15 scallions, trimmed cut into 2-inch lengths, or 2-3 spring onions, or 1 large onion peeled and sliced.
1½ pounds striped bass fillet, about 1 inch thick.

Combine the soy sauce, ½ cup water, sugar, and chili in a skillet just large enough to hold the fish. Turn the heat to medium high and bring to a boil.

Add the fish, flesh side down. If necessary, add a little more water, so that the liquid comes almost all the way up the sides of the fish. Add the scallions and adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles but not furiously. Cook 8 to 10 minutes, turning as the liquid thickens, to coat the fish with a brown glaze. Serve with white rice, spooning the sauce over all and garnishing with the scallions.

Yield 4 servings
Time 20 minutes

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