Monday, May 7, 2012

Spicy Black Bean Fish with Foraged Ramps Recipe

With the trees now fully leafed out, the ephemeral season of the ramp is drawing to a close. Heading out to our patch on Sunday, we found that several ramp leaves are already showing yellow discoloration at the edges. Within a week, maybe a little longer, every leaf in the patch will have wilted to brown and this delicacy can no longer be gathered. 

As with any negative in nature, it's balanced by a positive. Once the leaves reach this state, they do loose a little flavor, it's true; but they can be harvested in great abundance, with impunity. As always, I entreat you not to take the bulb, (how to ID and harvest ramps), but the leaves are soon to die anyway, so you can now freely take a leaf from all the plants. Ramps only use their leaves for photosynthesis for a few short weeks before they become choked out of light; during that time, the pant stores as much energy as it can in the bulb. Now is a great time to harvest an abundance of ramps and freeze them. 

With gathering set to high, it's the perfect time to make a dish which uses a lot of ramp leaves. This is actually my husband's recipe, and it is his wild interpretation of one of our favorite dishes at our favorite restaurant, Chengdu 23. This fish dish is drenched in spicy heat from the peppers, sweetness from the ramps, and the rich earthy-ness of fermented soy beans. The ramps dramatically change the character of the leek-based original, which lacks the sweet onion note of the wild version, but has a denser, more fibrous texture. To retain that element, feel free to use a mixture of both ramps and cultivated leeks.

2 lbs. firm, white fleshed fish (Basa is used here, but also halibut, swai, tilapia, etc)
1-2 lbs ramp leaves, or a mixture of ramp leaves and culitvated leeks.*
3-5 long hot peppers, depending on your heat preferences
5 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp. fermented black bean paste *
Soy sauce
Oil for frying
Hot cooked rice, for serving 
  • 1lbs of ramp leaves is a LOT, see pic
  • black bean paste has nothing to do with canned black beans. It is made from fermented soy beans, and can be found in Asian markets, or online. It requires refrigeration once opened, but will keep for a long time.
  1. Trim any yellow from ramp leaves, roughly chop, and rinse them thoroughly. (If using leeks as well, roughly chop the white and light green sections and clean them as well).  Drain on towels or in a large colander.
  2. Mince the garlic and slice the peppers into thick rings, discarding the seeds if you prefer less heat.
  3. Start the rice according to package directions
  4. Heat about 3/4 of an inch of oil in a non-stick fry pan or wok. Rinse the fish and cut into chunks about 2 inches long by 1 inch wide.
  5. Mix about 3 tbsp of cornstarch with 3 tbsp of soy sauce to make a slurry. Dredge the fish in the slurry and toss to coat. Set aside to marinate for at least 10 minutes, longer to increase the flavor.
  6. Working in batches that do not allow fish chunks to touch, fry fish until cooked through and golden brown. Each batch will take about 6 minutes, flipping the chunks once mid-way through. Drain on paper towels, and repeat until all fish is cooked.
  7. Reserve some of the frying oil, and add it to a large, flat-bottomed pan. (Here we used a 5 qt saute pan. If you don't have something that large, you may need to work in batches.) Heat the oil.
  8. Add the sliced hot peppers (and leeks, if using) to the oil. Cook until just slightly underdone, about 3 minutes. Add the chopped ramps, mix thoroughly, and cook until ramps are done, about 1 minute more. Reduce heat to low.
  9. Push the greens aside and mound the black bean paste on a bare area of the pan. Also mound up the garlic. 
  10. Working quickly, after the black beans have melted and the garlic has become fragrant, mix together black bean, garlic and veggies. Add a tablespoon or two of soy sauce, to reach the desired consistency. Stir fry together for about a minute, then mix in fish chunks. Continue to quickly, but gently (don't break up the fish), mix ingredients and flavors until heated through and through (about 3 minutes).
  11. Spoon over hot cooked rice and enjoy!

Serves 4 
Total time: about 40 minutes

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