March 5, 2012

Steamed Fish with Salted Fish 生死戀

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This dish has the most interesting Chinese name, 生死戀, which is the same as the title of the 1955 movie  Love is a Many-Splendored Thing starring William Holden and Jennifer Jones.  It is a most interesting movie to check out if you are interested in old Hong Kong.  You can see for yourself how different and beautiful Hong Kong used to be.

Anyways, the literal translation of 生死戀, is "life, death and love", referring, I'm assuming in the case of this fish dish, to the "live" (or recently alive) fish on the bottom, the "dead" (salt/sun baked preserved) fish on top and the "love" is their consummation of flavors in this delectable dish.  So I thought it was really cool that this dish and the glamorous Hollywood movie have the same exact name.  What a quinky-dink!  I wonder which came first?

Hong Kong 1950's

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Just look at William Holden and Jennifer Jones having a lovely Chinese dinner at the Floating Restaurant in Aberdeen against the background of those sparkily Hong Kong night lights across the starry water.  Who would have thought that Hong Kong could be so romantic?  The story in this movie is one of sudden tempestuous love and equally sudden tragedy.  Ah, life, death and love!!!  

The Chinese, on the other hand, naturally reserve their most glorious proclamations for their wonderful food and thus it is that we are introducing 生死戀 to you today.

The fish that we used in this dish was a fresh water fish.  However, you may use any kind of fish that is suitable for steaming, fresh or salt water.  Oily fish would probably not be so good for steaming.  Rather choose fish with a more delicate taste and texture.  

The addition of the salted fish adds a depth of flavor to this Cantonese classic.  The usually delectably simple and fresh steamed fish flavor is altered by the salted fish's more aggressive stance on flavor: a sea saltiness and a sharp pungency that comes with the fermentation that takes places with preserved food goods.  Yummy, yumm, yumm!  Don't you just love fish?
Steamed Fish with Salted Fish Recipe

Prep time: 5 mins   Cook time: 10 mins


  • 1 fillet of carp, approx. 5" by 6" (we used bighead carp 大頭魚)
  • 2 pieces chinese salted fish**
  • 4 slices ginger
  • 1 tbsp ginger slivers
  • 2 pieces spring onion, white part, each 4" long
  • 1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce for steamed fish (basically slightly sweetened soy sauce which you can also make by melting a bit of rock sugar in your regular soy sauce)
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil


Prepare bamboo steamer.  Wash fish lightly.  Place the spring onion pieces onto your steaming plate and place the fish on top so that the fish is slightly lifted off the surface.  Place the salted fish uniformly on top of the fish.  Stick the gingers slices on top and below the fillet.

Place the fish into the boiling steamer (be careful of the steam!) and close the lid.  Steam for 10 minutes. 

Remove fish from steamer.  Pour out all but 2 tbsp of fish juices.  Add ginger slivers evenly over fish and then top with spring onion slivers.  

Heat peanut oil to very hot in your smallest sauce pan, then carefully pour boiling oil evenly over the fish.  It will sizzle like crazy so stand away and you might want to keep your exhaust fan on too.  The hot oil cooks the spring onions and ginger slivers just enough to release their perfume into the dish.  

Add soy sauce to the dish, but don't pour on top of the fish, just around it.  Serve hot and enjoy "Life, Death and Love".



  1. Hello Hong Kong Cookery, I tried clicking on the link for the recipe for pork patty and salted fish, but it directs me to the recipe for steam fish and salted fish. Is the pork patty recipe still available? It is reminiscent of my childhood foods! Thank you.

    1. Hey Shirley - Yes the link to salted fish pork patty recipe is Let me know where the broken link is so I can fix it. Thanks! ~ellen

    2. Oops! I think you meant the steamed pork patty with salted fish which is here : Hope that's the right one! ~ellen