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Original Issue

Dr. Ray's Chinese fish dinner

For this scientist who spends a lot of time under water there is no better food than fish

Dr. Carleton Ray, assistant to the director of the New York Aquarium and co-author of The Under-water Guide to Marine Life, is a darkly handsome young man who loves to frolic with a walrus named Olaf (see above). When Dr. Ray and Olaf go for one of their regular swims together in the creature's oceanic tank, they play a submarine game of tag in which walrus chases man and gets fish as a prize.

At his own dinnertime Dr. Ray sees entirely eye to eye with Olaf about the delectability of fish. There is no better food, he believes, for people as well as walruses. "The fact," he says, "that fish gives you more of the things that are good for you is just an added bonus. There is so much flavor in fish that red meat seems pretty tasteless by comparison."

Not only does Dr. Ray feel strongly about the satisfactions of eating fish; he is extremely expert at cooking it. This is a happy thing for his bride of just this month, the former Patricia Courtleigh, who also prefers fish to meat and who plans to relinquish her place at the stove to husband Carleton absolutely any time he finds himself in a mood for culinary creation. "I'll just cook the mundane things," says Pat, "and let him do the fancy ones." The two are currently on a skin-diving honeymoon in Nassau, where the young scientist also is advancing his work as coordinator of a project to establish an underwater park in the Bahamas.

"I began fooling around with cooking as a youngster," explained Dr. Ray recently in his Aquarium office. "But I started to really learn just a few years ago when I began to visit the home of a Chinese friend here in New York. I spent a lot of time in that kitchen trying to figure out the thousand-year-old secrets of the Chinese cook, who spoke no English."

It is sometimes said in China that it is better that one should wait for the meal than that the meal should wait for one. Dr. Ray agrees. "The important thing about any good food," he said, "is to serve it when it is ready, not when it is overcooked or has become soggy. For me, fish is a great dish because it can be cooked quickly. When I have my Chinese-style fish dinner I can get things set up ahead of time so that the cooking itself takes only about 10 minutes. Guests hardly know I'm out of the room."

In the kitchen of his erstwhile bachelor apartment in Greenwich Village, Dr. Ray has often turned out the splendid preparation of black sea bass shown on the opposite page. Sometimes he substitutes striped bass, carp, red snapper or rockfish of the Pacific Coast in the same recipe, which is his own modification of a classic Chinese dish.


2 2-pound black sea bass
4 dried Chinese mushrooms
8 dried Chinese lichen
2 scallions
12 pods fresh snow peas
6 thin slices fresh or pickled ginger
4 water chestnuts, preferably fresh
4 tbsp. dark soy sauce
2 tbsp. cornstarch
4 tbsp. sherry
2 tbsp. plain white vinegar
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
light vegetable oil

Put mushrooms and lichen in a bowl; cover with hot water and soak for two hours. Cut the white part of the scallions in thin slices and the tenderest section of the green stems into small cylinders. Trim the ends from the pods of snow peas. Cut the ginger in ‚⅛-inch squares and the chestnuts in [1/16]-inch slices.

Make a sweet-and-sour sauce by combining soy sauce, cornstarch, sherry, vinegar, sugar and salt with 1½ cups of water.

Have the two fish scaled and gutted and fins chopped off, but leave on heads and tails. Slash fish to backbone with diagonal gashes¾ of an inch apart, on both sides.

Heat over a high fire enough oil to cover fish a bit more than half way in the pan. Brush fish with flour, then fry in hot oil one minute on each side. Turn down heat and give them three more minutes on each side (this direction is for 2-pound bass; larger fish will take longer). The outside should be crisp, while the inside is left tender and slightly moist. Take out the fish, put them in a warm place, and discard all but 2 tablespoons of oil.

Now drain the mushrooms and the lichen and put them in the pan in which the fish was cooked, along with the snow peas, chestnuts, ginger and scallions. Fry quickly over high heat, stirring constantly, for a minute or two; the vegetables should be just barely cooked. Add the sweet-and-sour mixture and cook until the sauce clears and thickens. Turn down the fire and place the cooked fish back into the pan, spooning the sauce over the fish for a minute or two. Serve immediately with dry-cooked white rice.


LOUISE DAHL-WOLFE/Chinese lacquer table from Gracie & Sons