21 October 2016
When buying fresh Chinese silver pomfret, make sure they have crystal clear eyes. Photos: HKEJ, Food We Just Love
When buying fresh Chinese silver pomfret, make sure they have crystal clear eyes. Photos: HKEJ, Food We Just Love

A brief introduction to local seasonal fish in autumn and winter

In this day and age, many food items that used to be seasonal are now available all year round.

Somehow marine creatures seem to have been spared from the tragic destiny.

Situated at the mouth of the Pearl River Delta and facing the South China Sea, Hong Kong has always been a fishing village. Fishermen have convenient ways of catching freshwater and marine fish at arm’s length, literally.

Most of the fishmongers in the local wet markets have long-term partnership with one or two fishermen. Some outlets are run by the fishermen themselves.

Business insiders and experienced buyers can tell where a fish was caught just by taking a look at it.

In the New Territories West, for example, most of the fishmongers at Yeung Uk Road Market in Tsuen Wan get their supplies from fishermen working in Zhujiang or Hong Kong waters in the west.

It is common to see lion head croakers and shrimps — creatures living on the borders of freshwater and saltwater — available in the market.

Lion head croaker (獅頭魚), fourfinger threadfin (馬友), Chinese silver pomfret (鷹鯧) and Japanese seabass (鱸魚) are reputable fishes in Hong Kong during autumn and winter.

Ask any fisherman, they would prefer small fish to bigger ones, as the former often tastes fresher. Lion head croakers belong to this category. Its meat is tender and sweet. It is best steamed with fermented soybean paste.

When it comes to fourfinger threadfin, the bigger the better. During autumn, you can find fishermen, both amateurs and professionals, trying to find fourfinger threadfin under the Tsing Ma Bridge.

Since the fish move in groups, a lucky fisherman can catch a dozen of them at one time.

Fourfinger threadfin is rich in fat and so it is best to pan-fry the fillet until it is brown, while the fish head can be stewed with bitter melon.

Normally, these two fish varieties are not sold in the market live. Still, they can hold their own against peers.

My personal favorite would be Chinese silver pomfret, and I make sure I buy the ones with crystal clear eyes. There are so many ways to prepare pomfret: deep-fried, steamed, smoked or pan-fried.

Once I learned from master abalone chef Lee Chiang Howe from Singapore how to prepare a dish of Chiuchow-style steamed Chinese silver pomfret using pickled plums, pickled mustard greens, tomatoes, Chinese mushrooms and fatty pork. It’s a sublime combination of flavors.

Lastly, let me talk about Japanese seabass. I don’t find them delicious at all, but they are good fellows for those who love fishing.

Every autumn and winter, I would head to Tuen Mun to catch Japanese seabass. I usually have no difficulty catching them with an average weight of four to six catty. I always let them go instead of taking them home for dinner.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 25.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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