On Buying Fish
This recipe works with lots of different types of fish, and my parents elaborate on their favorites during meal time, and also how they buy fish in a separate video.
In general, you should try to buy fish that’s in season, since it will generally be fresher and cheaper. It’s also important to at least be aware of how we can support sustainable methods and sources of fish.
While it might not always be feasible to shop in this way, as consumers, an easy way to do our part is by making sure we vote with our wallets.
Monterey Bay Aquarium in California runs a free website called “Seafood Watch” which has a ton of recommendations on how to choose and purchase seafood in ways that have the least environmental impact.
Whole Fish vs Fish Fillets
This same exact recipe and technique works with fish fillets (subtract 2-4 minutes in the steamer, depending on the cut and the type of fish).
However, if you're making this in line with a traditional Chinese celebration, make sure you get a whole fish.
Especially for Lunar New Year, it's important that the fish is not missing anything. Having a complete fish on the dinner / prayer table is considered "yùhn méih 完美", which means perfect, consummate.
My parents will also pan fry a whole fish and place it on the table where we bai sun (pray). They talk about it more in the video, but it's also important that this fish has scales. This fish is traditionally prepared on Lunar New Year's eve, and meant to be eaten after the New Year.
On Dried Mandarin Orange Peels
This is one of the ingredients my dad always uses for fish to help combat some of the sometimes off-putting "fishy" taste.
Also known as "chenpi", this is a fragrant ingredient in Chinese cooking and medicine, believed to regulate our chi.
My dad uses these for a lot of dishes outside of steamed spare ribs - soups, steamed fish, medicines, and etc. He has a huge stockpile that he's been building for over 15 years.
According to my dad, the district of Xinhui in China makes the best damn peels the world has ever seen. This is their biggest export and a large economic driver for the famous district.
If you like eating mandarin oranges, you can just save the peels and leave them outside to dry in the sun for 2-3 days. They should snap in half pretty easily when dry. Store them in a bag in cool, dry place.
On Ground Bean Sauce
For ground bean sauce, it might get confusing since there are a few different types of Asian bean sauces out there.
In Cantonese, we call it “mihn sih jeung 面豉酱” or "mòh yùhn sih 磨原豉", but most brands call it “Ground Bean Sauce” in English.
This sauce is made with ground up fermented yellow soybeans, and is packed with umami flavors.
Finding Asian Ingredients
Some of these ingredients are hard to find in a typical grocery store.
If you don't live near an Asian market, most or all of what my dad uses in this recipe can be found on Amazon:
I've also included some other Chinese kitchen essentials, used in many of my dad's other recipes.
These links are affiliate links, which means that if you use our links to purchase these ingredients, Amazon pays my family a small amount for the sale - at no extra cost to you. If you use these links, we really appreciate the support!
Alternatives to Oyster Sauce
If you're vegetarian or need to stay away from gluten, we have three alternatives for you!
Vegetarian Oyster Sauce
Since oyster sauce is made out of oyster extract, here are some alternatives that have a similar taste without using the actual oyster:
Gluten Free Oyster Sauce
Wok Mei has a gluten-free oyster sauce, but it still contains oyster extract, so it's not vegetarian friendly.
Vegetarian + Gluten Free Oyster Sauce
Unfortunately, we don't know of a vendor that sells an oyster sauce that caters to both dietary restrictions, so you'll need to DIY the sauce.
Mix equal parts gluten free soy sauce and gluten free hoisin sauce. This isn't exactly the same as oyster sauce, but it's pretty close.
Other Supplies + Tools
You'll need a good wok, which provides a ton of versatility for the classic Chinese cooking methods: steaming, stir frying, deep frying, and etc.
You'll need a steamer rack to steam your spare ribs in the wok. These are generally inexpensive, ranging from $2-6.
You might want a food scale. It's not absolutely necessary for this recipe, but helpful if you want to get your proportions right.
In our video, I mentioned that we have an industrial grade infrared thermometer. Ken, my soon-to-be brother-in-law, also an engineer, got one for me for Christmas because he kept watching me ask my dad how hot his wok gets. Thanks Ken!
If you want to nerd out like us, here's a link to get your own: https://amzn.to/3bSkebB