As regular TFD readers have probably noticed, I have yet to offer practically any fish recipes that arean’t preserved or smoked. Sadly, this is because I’m really not a big fish eater. 🙁 Thankfully however, I am a huge sushi maven and do enjoy recipes such as this one that simply enhance the natural flavor of the fish without overpowering it.
The Cantonese have steaming fish down to an art-form, and I find this to be a most succesful recipe for my palate – it will reaffirm why you enjoy fresh fish. No Chinese New Year feast is complete without a steamed fish as the centerpiece – in Chinese, the word for “fish” and the word for “prosperity” sound the same.
The superb blog “Rasa Malaysia” offers these tips for perfect steamed fish, I agree with all of them!
Secret Techniques for Restaurant-style Chinese Steamed Fish
Fresh fish; preferably alive and swimming in a tank.
8-10 minutes steaming time. 8 minutes for a smaller fish or 10 minutes for a bigger fish. Use your best judgment, and don’t forget to set your kitchen alarm.
Discard the fishy and cloudy fish “water” after steaming. Contrary to common belief, it doesn’t add flavors to a steamed fish dish. If anything, it will leave a bitterness from the fish guts if the fish was not cleaned properly and a strong fishy taste.
Rock sugar. Wonder why the soy sauce is so good that you can just eat plain steamed rice with the soy sauce mixture? Rock sugar is the secret.
Use oil. Heat up some oil in your wok and pour it over the fish before adding the soy sauce. It gives your steamed fish that perfect sheen before you top it with the soy sauce mixture.
I enjoy this recipe made with fresh snapper, fresh rock cod, fresh flounder or Chilean sea bass steaks – you should only use white-fleshed, mild fish in this dish.
Note that if serving guests, it is traditional to offer them the choicest meat on the fish – which is the cheek, two small morsels that have the best taste and texture on the whole fish – try it and see. If you are for some reason grossed out (and why is beyond me) invite me over and I’ll eat them!
My version of this recipe adds a few new touches to the classic version: I add a few chopped fermented black beans and a bit of sesame oil. To my palate, they improve the recipe, but feel free to omit these if you’re a purist.
I also follow the sometimes forgotten but critical rule of pouring sizzling hot oil over the fish to crisp the skin and evoke all the flavor and aroma from the aromatics.
Battle on – The Generalissimo
1 spanking-fresh snapper (TFD preference), rock cod, flounder or Chilean sea bass steak – about 1 ½ to 2 pounds, scaled, cleaned and gutted but with head and tail left on (obviously a moot point if you’re using a sea bass steak…)
2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
2 tablespoons finely shredded fresh ginger
2 or 3 cloves fresh garlic, thinly sliced
1 ½ tablespoons Chinese fermented black beans, washed several times to remove salt and chopped) (optional though strongly recommended)
1 red fresno or green jalapeno chili, ribs and seeds removed, shredded fine (Optional)
2 scallions, shredded fine
Several sprigs of fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil (optional but recommended – if not using, replace with peanut oil)
For the sauce:
4 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons shaoxing wine or rice wine
2 tablespoons water
¼ teaspoon sesame oil
3 dashes white pepper powder
2 tablespoons Chinese rock sugar (grind into powder form) or to taste
Several sprigs of fresh coriander for garnish
Shredded scallion for garnish
1. Rinse and dry the fish with paper towels.
2. Place the fish on an oblong heatproof serving platter – if necessary, you may need to cut the end of the tail off to have the fish fit in the steamer. Pour the rice wine over the fish.
3. Sprinkle on ½ the ginger, ½ the scallions, ½ the garlic, and ½ the cilantro. Be sure and tuck some greenery and seasonings into the body of the fish, unless its a flounder (in which case there’s no cavity – it’s flat!).
4. Bring at least 2 inches of water to a boil in a steamer large enough to accommodate the serving platter (a large roasting pan with cover can be used). Place the platter with the fish on a rack in the steamer. Cover and steam for about 10 minutes or so.
5. Remove the fish from the steamer, discard steaming liquid that has accumulated on the tray with the fish and any steamed aromatics.
Several minutes before the fish is ready, heat a small skillet until hot and add the oils. Garnish the fish with the remaining scallions, garlic, ginger and coriander plus the hot pepper and chopped black beans.
When the oils are near smoking, pour it over the fish and garnishes. Stand back as you pour, since the hot oil may splatter.
Put the skillet back onto the stove, add the soy sauce mixture and stir well. As soon as the sauce bubbles up and boils, pour the soy sauce over the fish.
Serve immediately with white rice and be sure and partake of the sauce with the fish meat and rice both.