Chinese Steamed Fish

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Chinese Steamed Fish

(Photo Attributed to Author: Kent Wang)

Chinese Steamed Fish Recipe-


1 pound (minimum) whole fish (sea bass and snapper are very good for Chinese Steamed Fish dishes)

First Phase-
  • 4 green onions, the stalks chopped into 3″ segments
  • Fresh ginger root, a 3″ long piece, peeled and chopped into 1/8” thick rounds
  • 1 small bunch of fresh coriander (cilantro)
  • 1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons Shao Xing cooking wine
  • salt and pepper
Second Phase-
  • 2 tablespoons rough chopped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons dark, mushroom flavored soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt + 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 fresh red hot sival chili pepper – thinly sliced
Third Phase-
  • 2 green onion stalks, chopped into 3″ segments
  • 2″ length of fresh ginger root, peeled and finely sliced into the thinnest strips you can manage—ideally they should be so thin they are translucent
  • 3 tbsp. rough chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil

Note: You will need a large pot or wok for steaming, and a shallow pan to hold the fish. Ideally you would want to use a fancy steamer with a steamer insert, but if you don’t have that equipment you can improvise. Grab a shallow bowl and turn it upside down to use for a stand. Three or four inverted shot glasses would also do the trick. Get creative, the point is, you want your fish held up and off the bottom of the wok or pot during the steaming. Some wok kits come with a steamer tray insert, if you are fortunate enough to have that, by all means use it, it’s perfect for the job.

First Phase-
  1. Thoroughly clean your fish, and pat it dry. Liberally season it inside and out with salt and pepper. Using half of First Phase ingredients, stuff the fish’s cavity
  2. Now take the other half of the First Phase ingredients, and place them it in a very shallow pan, creating a “bed” for the fish. On top of the bed, place the fish. Should your fish be too long for the pan, you can half it, and lay the two halves side by side on the pan. Now pour the Shao Xing wine all over the fish evenly.
  3. Fill the bottom of the wok or pot with about 2″ of water, put the lid on, and bring the water to a boil. Once it is at a good boil, take the lid off and wipe dry the inside of it. You don’t want the accumulated condensation dripping down on your fish during steaming—it will dilute the flavor. place your panned fish pan inside the wok or pot, making sure it is held up off the bottom with the upside down bowl (or whatever prop you are using).
  4. Steam the fish on medium heat. Avoid high heat and furiously boiling water—it will tear apart the tender flesh, and the finished dish will not have as an appealing look as when you take the time to delicately steam the fish over medium heat and mildly boiling water. Steaming time depends on how much your fish weighs. For a whole 1 pound fish, about 12 minutes. For every additional ½ pound of weight, add 2 more minutes.
  5. After the prescribed steaming time has passed, check and see if your fish is done. Do this by poking a chopstick at the flesh near the top fin. It is done if the flesh flakes easily near the top fin; if not, just steam it for one or two additional minutes. Make sure also that the steaming water isn’t all evaporated out.
Second Phase-
  1. Start preparing the aromatics that will garnish your fish for serving a few minutes before the steaming process is done. Using a microwave-safe bowl, place all the Second Phase ingredients in it, and microwave for 30 seconds, then set them aside, covered, to keep them hot.
  2. As soon as the fish is done steaming, carefully lift it out and place on a nice serving platter. All the fish juices and cooked scallions, ginger and cilantro can be discarded.
  3. Now pour the fresh hot Second Phase ingredients over fish.

Third Phase-

  1. You’re almost done. Take a separate wok or pan, add in the cooking oil and heat it up until it is smoking—literally—hot.
  2. Toss in the scallions and ginger, and fry for just 10 seconds. They will sizzle and pop—that’s what you want, and it is a joy to watch, hear and smell.
  3. Quickly spread the sizzle-popped herbs and hot cooking oil over the steamed fish. You will be delighted to hear more sizzling as the hot herbs and oil scald and bond with the fish flesh. Lastly, sprinkle some rough chopped fresh cilantro over the fish.

And that’s it – your Chinese Steamed Fish is ready to serve!