Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chinese Steamed Fish

Well, based on my Google Analytics for the month, fish is pretty much the new black.  Or, it could just be Lent.  So, as Easter is coming up and you're rounding up the last of your Lenten specialties or you just want to try to eat healthier, I encourage to give this a try.

Asian-style steamed fish is one of my favorite things to order at Chinese restaurants.  I made this along with several other Chinese goodies as part of my Chinese New Year celebration.  Fish, or "yu", is symbolic of richness and abundance.  If you eat the fish for Chinese New Year, you will be prosperous.  And, the saying goes that you should leave a little bit on your plate to save for later...so that you have prosperity in the future, too!  I don't know about all the traditional/superstitious mumbo jumbo but prosperity sounds good to me :).

If you're going all out, you'd buy a very fresh piece of intact fish - skin, bones, and *gasp*...head!  In Chinese culture, it's the head (with the fish's clear glassy eyes) that lets you know that it's really fresh.  Heck, you might have even selected it from the tank yourself!  Since I live in Cincinnati and am personally a bit squeamish, I went with filets and it still tasted just like the restaurants to me.  And, less work because you don't have to pick out tiny bones or (if you're like me), discard the skin while you're eating it.  My mom eats the skin though.  And the meat in the head.  She'll fight you for it because she claims the cheek meat is the sweetest.  Don't worry Mom, it's all yours!

This preparation of fish is relatively healthy since it is steamed.  There is a moderate amount of oil used in the "sauce" but you can either reduce the amount used or just not spoon as much of the "sauce" on top of your fish serving when you go to eat it.  The flavor really comes from the ginger and scallions that flavor the oil in addition to the soy sauce.  Yum!

One Year Ago: Slow Cooker Carnitas
Two Years Ago: Cake Balls (Truffles)

Chinese Steamed Fish
Printer-Friendly Version

  • 1 pound whole fish (or fillets 1″ or thicker) yields the best results
  • 4 stalks, scallions – cut into 3″ lengths
  • 3″ piece of ginger – slice into “coins”
  • small bunch of cilantro
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine to pour on fish prior to steaming (or any cooking wine like dry sherry)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons rough chopped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt + 1/4 teaspoon white pepper (or black pepper if you don’t have white)
  • fresh chilli – thinly sliced (optional)
  • 2 stalks, scallions – cut into 3″ lengths
  • 2″ piece of ginger – finely julienned to the skinniest, thinnest strips you can possibly manage without a microscope
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
Equipment: shallow pan to hold fish and large pot or wok for steaming. If you don’t have a fancy steamer or steamer insert, take a shallow-ish bowl and invert to use as a stand. Or…3 shot glasses inverted.

  1. Clean and Stuff: Clean your fish, pat dry. Season generously inside and out with salt and pepper. Take half of (A) and stuff inside the fish. If you are using fillets, skip this.
  2. Make your bed: Take the other half of (A) and lay it in a shallow pan. If using fillets, just use all of (A) for the bed. Lay the fish on top of the bed. If fish is too long, cut in half. Pour 1 1/2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine on top of the fish. 
  3. Steam: Add 2″ of water to your large pot, cover and boil. When it is boiling, uncover and wipe the inside of the cover clean of any condensation (all this condensation will drip back down on your fish, diluting the flavor) Put your fish pan inside, propped up with a small inverted bowl. Steam the fish on medium (see below for cooking times).
  • Whole fish 1 lb: check at 12 minutes, add 2 minutes for every 1/2 lb
  • Fillets 1″ and thicker: check at 10 minutes, add 2 minutes for every 1/2″ more thickness
  • Fillets less than 1″: check at 7 minutes
  • Super thin fillets: check at 5 minutes
    1. Check to see if its done at the times indicated.  Poke your chopstick at the flesh near the top fin. If flesh flakes easily near the top fin, then its done. If flesh sticks together still, then add 1-2 more minutes to cooking time. For fillets, just gently poke at the flesh in the middle. Timing really depends on the thickness of your fish.  Also check to make sure you haven’t run out of steaming water.
    2. Aromatics: Towards the end of the steaming process, you’ll want to start preparing the aromatics that garnish the finished dish. Take a microwave-safe bowl, add (B) and microwave for 30 seconds. Set aside. When fish is done steaming, carefully lift the fish out onto a serving platter, discarding all of the cooked cilantro/ginger/scallions and the fish juice in the pan. Pour the hot (B) over fish.
    3. Now we’ll work with (C): In a separate pan or wok, heat up cooking oil until you see smoke. Add the ginger and scallions, fry for 10 seconds to “pop” the flavors. Pour this cooking oil + herbs over the fish. You’ll hear a very satisfying sizzle!
    Source: Steamy Kitchen


    What's Cookin Chicago said...

    This is one of my fave ways to prepare & enjoy fish! :)

    Christine @ Christine's Kitchen Chronicles said...

    @Joelen - Mmm I agree! My mom makes it often and I like ordering at restaurants but this was my first time trying to make it myself. I will be doing it again soon!

    stevchipmunk said...

    It's interesting -- and good! -- that you post a recipe for steamed fish that uses fish filets instead of whole fish (which scares most Westerners). But you should emphasize that one needs to use THICK fish filets; the thinner the filets used, the much less cooking time necessary.

    One other thing... would you not use the word "Asian" to describe things "East Asian" (i.e. those 4 countries that until the recent several hundred years shared the Chinese (or East Asian) common written language and so shared common culture: China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. The broad term, "Asia," includes a multitude of countries, including India, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Nepal -- none of which have cooking traditions anything close to the East Asian tradition. I know lots of people -- especially American East Asians -- confuse these terms, but, you know... we should be more precise, don'cha think?

    Christine @ Christine's Kitchen Chronicles said...

    Stevechipmunk - Indeed you are correct about the cooking time varying depending on the thickness of your fillets :).

    The funny thing about Asia is that is is SO diverse. At work we have a group called Asian Pacific Americans which encompasses not only the East Asian countries that you mention but also India, Nepal, etc. In fact, we also recently welcomed the Middle Eastern and African countries into the group, too! Turns out that though they had a separate group but had such low numbers that they wanted to have the scale of another minority group and felt ours was the closest to their values. Now we're just a big old tapestry of different cultures and people :).