Steamed Perch with Scallions and Black Beans




Perch usually live in coastal waters but in early spring they venture into freshwater estuary areas to forage for food and lay eggs. Perch grow fast into large and fleshy fish, and are, therefore, much sought after by fishermen, particularly along Shanghai’s Huangpu River where they are considered a delicacy.

Songjiang District of Shanghai City was once renowned for its perch, the Trachidermus fasciatus species, meaning four-gilled perch. In fact, Trachidermus fasciatus, together with Taihu Lake whitebait, Yellow River carp, and Yangtze River reeve shad, is one of China’s Four Famous Fish. Yexiu Bridge Hotel in Songjiang is celebrated for its four-gilled perch dishes. Tourists flock there to taste exquisite dishes including steamed perch with scallions and black beans, braised perch in brown sauce, perch consommé and perch meatballs.

The poet Fan Chengda of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) once lauded the tender and delicate meat of Huangpu River’s acclaimed perch. In fact, this kind of perch has been the subject of literary works for thousands of years because of its tasty reputation. It is said that as far back as the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316), a government official named Zhang Han from Songjiang who served in the capital city Luoyang was so homesick for four-gilled perch that he gave up his high-ranking post to return home where he could eat the flavorsome fish whenever he wanted.


To Cook:

1. Pick a perch with a greenish-blue body, bright scales, scarlet gills and no shedding of scales. Its eyes should be clear and with no scars. If you press the body lightly with your fingers, it should spring back, which indicates that the fish is fresh.

2. Shred the ginger and scallions.

3. Score the fish in several places. Drizzle with half a ladle of black bean sauce, a handful of the shredded scallions and ginger, salt and pepper, and marinate for five minutes.

4. Place the fish on a bed of pickled ginger and scallions. Sprinkle some more ginger and scallions on top and add half a ladle of lard oil.

5. Steam over a pot of boiling water for eight minutes.

6. Without removing the lid, cook for a further five minutes.

7. Warm some oil in a pan and when hot pour over the fish.

8. Add the remaining shredded ginger and some sweet red pepper to the fish and serve.