This dish, a riff on an ancient Chinese method for cooking fish in which the flavor of steamed whole fish is turbocharged by a drizzling of smoking-hot, skin-crisping oil, is great at home, but even better on the beach after a muscular day of surfcasting. All you need, besides a campfire, is a wok with a lid, a heatproof plate, an oven mitt, and a few packable garnishes. Any whole fish will do, so long as it’ll fit inside the wok.
Wok-Steamed Striped Bass with Quick-Preserved Lemons
– 2 lemons*
– 1/2 Tbsp. kosher salt
– 1 Tbsp. sugar
– 1 whole striped bass or other whole fish, gutted
– 2 Tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil
– 1 bunch scallions, trimmed and sliced lengthwise
*Supermarket lemons, unless they’re labeled organic, are probably waxed. To remove the unappetizing wax, blanch them in boiling water for about 30 seconds and then wipe them with a clean towel to remove the wax.
1: Make the quick-preserved lemons: Slice the lemons, discarding any seeds, and toss them (along with any juice) with the salt and sugar in a lidded jar or bowl. Let the lemons sit at room temperature for about three hours; every now and then giving the jar a good shake, then refrigerate until ready to use. (The lemons will last up to a week in the fridge.)
2: Place the fish on a heatproof plate and insert several slices of the preserved lemon in its belly.
3: Place a wok over high heat. (If you’re doing this on a campfire, just place the wok in the hottest part of the fire.) To make a steaming platform, make a grid with four chopsticks or other sticks, or, alternately, build a platform out of crumpled-up aluminum foil; the idea is to elevate the plate to keep it above the water. Add enough water (seawater, if you’re camp-cooking) to almost touch the platform. When the water boils, carefully lower the plate onto the platform and cover the wok. Steam the fish for 6 to 10 minutes, depending on size and thickness. (Check the fish after 6 minutes by poking it with a knife; it will flake easily when done.)
4: Carefully remove the plate from the wok and set aside, using the wok cover to keep it warm. Empty the wok completely, then return it to the heat. When the wok is hot, add the oil to it. When the oil is heating, sprinkle the scallions over the fish. If you have any preserved lemon slices left, top the fish with a few of those, too.
5: Now the fun part. When the oil is smoking (you want it to be dangerously hot), drizzle it onto the fish and enjoy the wild crackling. Serve immediately.