A Chinese fish soup, cooked in East London

I know, I know. I hastily called this blog East London Local I’ve been putting up more recipes and book reviews than anything else. Well, it’s cold outside, so I’m reading and cooking a lot these days. But I will be out soon.

In the meantime, however, I’ll be eating this Chinese Fish Soup. It’s surprisingly filling and warming, yet doesn’t leave you feeling poleaxed like lots of ‘comfort food’.

I had a strange experience buying the fish. I was in Waitrose – I don’t normally shop there, but I was at the Barbican to see Avatar and popped in – and the woman at the fish counter refused to cut me a 450g piece from a cod fillet, saying ‘it will only leave a little piece and I won’t be able to sell it.’

It was a fish-fillet standoff, and it ended with me just walking away and buying a pack of fish out of the fridge and her, hopefully, reflecting on the fact that if you fish-fillet standoff your customers you won’t end up with little unsold pieces, but you might end up with large ones. Honestly. More disappointed than angry.

For those who want to just get out of the house, I’ve put a couple of suggestions at the end of the recipe. Otherwise, here it is:

Chinese Fish Soup

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 tsp sesame oil

570ml of water or stock

150ml Chinese rice wine (available from Asian supermarkets, or you can use dry sherry)

Some chopped veggies – carrots are good, or spinach, or bok choy

450g fish fillets

1 tbsp finely chopped fresh root gingerr

1 tsp chilli bean sauce (also from Asian supermarkets)

2 tsp soy sauce

fresh coriander, optional.

1. Cut the fish fillets into 5cm pieces and mix with the pepper and sesame oil.

2. Bring the water (or stock) and rice wine to the boil in a wok or saucepan, boil for 1 minute and then lower the heat until the liquid is just simmering. Add the veggies and fish and simmer for 3-5 minutes. Add the ginger, chilli bean sauce and soy sauce. Let simmer for a minute or until the fish is just cooked through.

3. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve at once.

And for those who are out and about, braving the cold, I would like to mention a couple of ‘pop up’ places I’ve been told about:

An apparently haunted antiquarian bookshop down the back of Cargo called Black Dog Books – I tried to go the other day but it was closed, but I will try again soon. It’s just beyond the beer garden at Cargo in Rivington Street.

And the Claptonian Arts Club – a new underground restaurant serving Swedish brunch on Sundays. The menu sounds absolutely lovely – kind of healthy, with salad and meatballs and stuff, but finishing with chocolate cake. Their January one is booked up but a new date will be announced in February.

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