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Cantonese steamed minced pork with salted fish

In Hong Kong last week I tried this for the first time and loved it. I don't know the Cantonese name: it was a steamed patty of minced pork, topped with crumbled salted fish, ginger, and scallion, with juices. I gather this is sometimes steamed separately and served with a side of rice and sometimes steamed atop the rice.

Is this an unusual or common dish, and where is a good rendition in the Bay Area, preferably SF, and preferably SF Chinatown? Is this the kind of dish that Utopia Cafe on Waverly does especially well?

If I wanted to make this at home, what is the salted fish called (or written) and where and how would I find it?


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  1. It is called "haam yue" or "salted fish" in Cantonese. You can find different types of salted fish in Chinese grocery stores wrapped in clear cellophane bags. For example, sunset super has a bunch next to the preserved meat deli case near the vegetables. The fish is made from a variety of species--with widely varying levels of saltiness and different texture. Getting a brand you like can be tricky (or maybe my mother is really picky). To start with, I recommend starting with a larger, more expensive fish. You may need to scale the fish (this is really messy) and soak it before cooking to make it less salty. My mother usually scales the fish, cuts it into reasonable portions, and puts it in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator, where it will keep forever.

    One warning: because the fish is allowed to ferment before drying, it has the dubious distinction of being the only dried fish that is linked to causing a rare cancer. So you probably shouldn't eat tons of it or feed it to kids, in a "do as I say and not as I do" kind of way.


    1. Yes, pretty common. Didn't care for it much growing up, but now I like it and chicken w/ salted fish fried rice.

      1 Reply
      1. re: kc72

        Funny, as a kid I loved that stuff. When I was really little I'd watch my mom make it (minced with a cleaver) and think to myself, oh boy and couldn't wait until dinner. Now I smell it and I gag, it's the salt fish. Can't stand it, probably haven't eaten it since I was 16.

        Funniest thing I ever heard was over dinner at a Chinese restaurant and my sister's Italian (national) friends said they have a very similar dish in Italy, minced pork, salt fish, etc.

      2. Cantonese: Harm-Yu-Jing-Yuk-Baan

        Harm = Salty
        Yu = Fish
        Jing = Steam
        Yuk = Meat
        Baan = Cake

        1. This is a fairly common dish in Cantonese restaurants. Sometimes it's done as a separate dish, sometimes it's done with rice cooked in clay pots (in fact, just had that last night). I am thinking Great Eastern would have it. Don't know how good they make it. Salted fish is available in all Chinese markets. The trick is to get the pork in the right consistency. If it's machine ground pork from the grocery store it won't be a the same.

          1. During the SF Chinatown lunch series a few years ago, this was a standard order at nearly all the places we tried. Won a lot of converts! At the time, it was even available as a single-serving lunch plate at Capital. I've also had a good version, albeit leanish, at Hong Kong Menu. My favorite is at R&G Lounge, believe it or not, because of the high quality of the fermented fish used there and the texture of the meat. You will need to allow some time for this dish to be steamed to order, so plan accordingly.

            My ancestors were in the salted fish business in Monterey, so it is perhaps a little bit of an embarassment to confess that I used jarred at home. I like the slabs of mackerel packed in oil that you can buy at the Chinese grocers.

            For the best texture of the pork, use the double cleaver method to chop the meat by hand. And I include a very fine mince of fresh water chestnuts.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Melanie Wong

              I second Capital in Chinatown. They have the fish version as well as the salted duck egg and the mei cai tsai versions.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Don't forget to put the pickled vegetables on top!

                1. re: chocolatetartguy

                  Is that standard or your special touch? I don't recall pickled vegetables in the versions I tried in Hong Kong.

                  1. re: david kaplan

                    My mother usually prepared the pork cake without the salt fish and she topped it with the pickled vegetables. Not sure if she ever did both. I think she used to steam the salt fish on top of the rice and serve them together. I think she picked it up from her mother who was born in Canton province.

                    btw fresh water chestnuts make all the difference in the pork cake.

              2. It's a very common and easy dish to do at home. But I never liked the salted fish part...my mom makes a version with dry squid. My mom and brother use a food processor to ground the pork.

                1. Yeah this is a very common dish in Hong Kong.

                  What is not so common over here, but easily available over there, are the various different preps of the steamed pork patty dishes. Of the ones that do or do not contain salted fish, some stuff the pork patty with chopped chestnuts, other themes may include dried squid (pronounced To Yau), and some just straight out only include mui choy (preserved mustard greens) also known as mei tsai or mei gan tsai in Mandarin. And apparently there are versions that include only mushroom, ciltantro, and lotus root.

                  R&G Lounge offers the best (and maybe most pricey) version in SF Chinatown, as Melanie has said, for not just the quality of the salted fish, but also the prep and taste.

                  Low quality salted fish looks like hard blocks and taste of nothing but salt. A good salted fish should be like a cured herring kind of texture, salted all the way through, but supple enough to still taste the texture of the meat.

                  In Hong Kong, the de facto prep of the steamed patty is called "Derk Yuk Beng" with "derk" being an action I'm not sure how to describe. But bottom line, once the pork is mixed in with ingredients and marination (before cooking) the chef should be using his bare hands to do the mixing that involves a pressing and squeezing action. It is not enough to just use ground pork, a hammer and call it a day.

                  Here are some tips as described by a Hong Kong media personality writer:

                  For Kin's Kitchen (HK) the chef adds diced chestnuts, dried orange peel, a certain kind of salted fish, and uses his bare hands to do the mixing. Marination includes light or young soy sauce (how do you translated Sahng Chow?), sesame oil, and steam for about 10 minutes.

                  The ideal cut of pork to use is something called Mui Tau (Melanie or Yimster or PeterL and others, what does this translate to in English?). You want to use a ratio of 1:3 (with 1 being fatty pork). Use knifework to cut up the pork, and do not use a machine to grind up the meat as you will lose the consistency and texture (the reason being that the fatty meat once in goes through the grinder will heat up and thus the oils will melt). For the nit picky, it is recommended to refrigerate the meat mix prior to cooking. Dice the fatty pork, but don't squeeze and mix with your hands. I guess what the writer is suggesting is that prep the lean and fatty cuts separately, pre-treat, before you do a final mix.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: K K

                    Only $4.95 at Dragon City on Taraval St in SF. The salted duck egg version is only $3.95.

                  2. This is true cantonese comfort food. Others have mentioned R&G Lounge. In addition to the traditional steamed version, they also do a fried version which is out of this world.

                    1. You can also have the pork patty with other items, like lop cheung (chinese sausage), dried mushrooms (reconstituted), or this preserved turnip thing that has a nice little spicy kick to it.

                      2 Replies
                        1. re: kc72

                          Thanks - soon as I read it - I said yep! :)

                      1. One of the best places to get haam yue yok beng use to be Sun Kwong, at Jackson and Hyde. Old school, mom and pop, hole-in-the-wall and they did it a couple of ways...one with the patty mixed with egg and one a straight ahead version. I remember my Grandmother liked this places back in the day (20 years ago) and haam yue was on the short list of things to order. Yelp reviews still mention the haam yue as a go-to dish.

                        Sun Kwong
                        1400 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: ML8000

                          Link: Sun Kwong Restaurant

                          edit: okay the link thing doesn't work...POS.

                          Sun Kwong - 1400 Jackson St San Francisco, CA

                        2. Yes, this is a very traditional homey dish. My mom made it all the time. Funny to hear everyone say they didn't like it because of the salty fish. I dislike this dish due to the minced pork patty not the salty fish---which is something I love.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: PegS

                            We used to steam a chunk of salty fish with bones and skin on top of the pork, so people could have the fish without the pork getting in the way.

                          2. Here's a photo of the traditional Chinese characters from a menu.

                            Another dish to try is a claypot with chicken, tofu, and salted fish.