Steamed whole fish fish is a very popular dish in China and all over Southeast Asia. The Cantonese style of steaming fish is popular in this region as well. This traditional method of preparing fish preserves its natural flavor while also adding other flavors that complement it wonderfully.
This is a perfect dish for those who are trying to eat healthier, but don't want to sacrifice great tasting food. Steaming the fish adds no additional fat, making it an very healthy method of cooking. We'll only add a little bit of oil at the end.
Don't be put off by the fact that the fish still has its head! Cooking the fish whole adds huge amounts of wonderful flavor to the dish in the same way that meat cooked on the bone is more flavorful. If you absolutely cannot handle looking at the fish's head, go ahead and remove it. Trust me, just leave the head on! Without the head, it really isn't the same dish.
This delicious method of preparation is simple, yet elegant. Once you experience its wonderful, moist, flaky texture, and great flavor, you'll be sure to make it again!
Step 1: Gather Ingredients
- One whole fish, cleaned and scaled (preferably 2 lbs or less.)
- I used Porgy, but any fish will do. Sea Bass, Flounder, Tilapia, and Red Snapper work particularly well.
- 4 Stalks spring onions
- One 2" long knob of ginger
- A few leaves of cilantro
- 3-5 Tablespoons rice wine (substitute with dry sherry)
- 1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce or sweet soy sauce
- (use 2 teaspoons light soy sauce if these aren't available)
- 2 Tablespoons high-temperature cooking oil (such as peanut or canola)
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar (omit if using sweet soy sauce)
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- Chopped lemongrass
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- Thinly sliced fresh red chili
Step 2: Prepare the Fish
Give the fish a quick rinse inside and out with some cold water. Make two scores on each side of the cleaned, scaled fish.
Pat it dry with a paper towel inside and out.
Step 3: Make the Bed
Take 2 of the spring onion stalks and cut them into 1 1/2" to 2" long sections.
Peel the ginger and cut 3/4 of it into thick strips.
On a plate large enough to fit the fish, make a "bed" with the spring onion sections and the chopped ginger.
If using lemongrass, add chopped pieces of it onto the bed.
Step 4: Steam
Lay the fish on the bed of ginger and spring onion.
Pour the 2-4 tablespoons of rice wine over the fish.
If you want to add fish sauce, add it at this point.
In a wok or large, deep pan, place a steamer rack, wok ring, inverted bowl, etc. in the bottom as a support for the plate. Fill the bottom of the wok or pan with enough water for steaming. Bring to a boil.
Once the water is boiling, place the plate with the fish in to wok. Cover and steam for around 12 minutes per lb, adding 2 minutes for each additional half pound. ( For example, you would steam a 2 lb fish for about 14 minutes)
Use a fork to check it. If it flakes easily, it is done.
While you wait, you can complete steps 5, 6, and 7.
Step 5: Sliver Spring Onions
While the fish steams, julienne the remaining 2 stalks of spring onions.
Make them as thin as you possibly can!
Step 6: Sliver the Ginger
Thinly julienne the remaining piece ginger. Make as thin as you possibly can.
Step 7: Prepare the Sauce
Combine the tablespoon of soy sauce, teaspoon of sesame oil,half teaspoon of sugar and remaining tablespoon of rice wine in a microwave safe bowl.
Microwave for 10 to 15 seconds. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
Step 8: Transfer
When the fish is done and flaky, transfer it to the serving plate that you will serve it in.
Discard the liquid and the bed of ginger, spring onions, and lemongrass left on steaming plate. The herbs are almost flavorless now, and the liquid may taste very fishy.
Pour the sauce you made previously over the fish.
Step 9: Dress It Up
We're going to tidy up the fish a little bit. This will enhance its natural flavor, as well as making it photogenic.
Spread the slivered spring onion, cilantro leaves, sliced chili, and thinly sliced ginger over the fish. You can use as much or as little as you like.
In a small pan, heat up the two tablespoons of cooking oil with the slivered ginger. When the ginger becomes browned in spots and is aromatic, remove it and set it aside. If using a wok, just push it up the side
Heat the oil in the pan until it is smoking hot.
Step 10: Sizzle!
Add the fried ginger slivers back to the now smoking oil.
Pour the smoking hot oil with the ginger over the steamed fish. It should make a nice sizzling noise.
Step 11: Enjoy!
The fish is ready to eat!
Serve it along with steamed white rice and steamed or stir fried vegetables. Asian greens such as yu choy sum, bok choy, gai lan (Chinese Broccoli) and kangkong / ong choy / rau muống ( Water Spinach) pair wonderfully with fish.
If you've eaten whole fish before, you already know what to do. For those who haven't, it's pretty straightforward. Just use a serving spoon to take pieces of the fish to your plate. You then separate the bones from the meat. If you have good fine motor skills, just separate the larger bones, then sort out the smaller bones in your mouth, and spit them out onto your plate as you eat. (This may gross some people out. Keep in mind who you're eating with!)
When one side of the fish is done, all you have to do is remove the backbone, then eat the rest of the fish.
Be sure not to waste any any of the tasty meat! There is very good meat on the head. The fish's eyes are delicious as well. It's one of the best parts!