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Asian cookery, with an emphasis on the traditional, underappreciated, or misunderstood elements thereof.

Seriously Asian: Fish Paste

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[Photographs: Chichi Wang]

Fish paste probably won't ever reach meat paste levels of popularity in Chinese and Vietnamese cookery—they rely too heavily on it for charcuterie and dumplings—but the pulverized fish and shrimp still plays a fairly prominent role. While the appeal of ground meat is universal, not everyone takes to the texture of seafood once it's been pounded into a paste: light and fluffy with a bouncy/chewy mouthfeel.

During dim sum, you'll most likely see fish or shrimp paste stuffed into eggplant. The pairing is a winner: the meaty eggplant provides a base for the delicate paste. The paste is also a common topping for noodles in Southern China, especially the Wenzhou region, which pairs slivers of steamed fish paste with pickled mustard greens for a soothing noodle soup dish.

In stir-fries, fish paste is delicious shaped into rounded balls, which soak up whatever flavors are in the wok: soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar. Parboiled and simmered in such a manner, the texture of fish paste is not unlike that of fish cakes, another favorite in Asian cuisines and a common addition to ramen and hot-pot.

Try to buy the highest-quality, most delicious seafood you can afford. It's worth learning how to make fish and shrimp paste, especially if you're using up the less-than-stellar seafood scraps on your kitchen counter. If you find yourself with an insipid-tasting piece of fish that's perfectly fresh, pulverizing the fish and adding plenty of fresh herbs and seasonings is a great way to perk up the protein.

To prepare, simply process the fish in your food processor (or, chop finely by hand if you don't mind taking time) and mix with your choice of seasonings and herbs. Cilantro, Thai basil and shiso are all tasty additions to the paste.

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