Chinese Steamed Fish Recipe

by katerina on October 20, 2011

A meal of Chinese steamed fish can be as common as an American spaghetti in some Cantonese households. A white fish is steamed, then topped with green onion, ginger, soy and hot oil. The first time I tried steamed fish was at a formal Chinese banquet, a whole rock cod was prepared and shared between 8 people. Serve yourself from between the pin bones and then spin the lazy Susan to the next person. Though the simplest of many memorable dishes, the steamed fish stuck with me because of it’s rich flavor.

Steamed Whole Tilapia

Now, as a former vegetarian I used to find a little fish face looking up at me from a dinner plate very daunting, that is until I started to appreciate the flavor that fish bones impart and the delicacy of fish necks and collars. By steaming fish on its hundreds of little bones the flesh will be extra moist and flavorful. By keeping the face and tail intact you can enjoy the fish with very little waste.

Steamed Snapper Fillets

This recipe has been tested two ways: first with a whole fish, and second by using fish fillets. If doing a large whole fish you will either need a very big steamer or to fashion something in a wok with a lid. In the above picture, I used a whole tilapia which is small enough to fit in a medium steamer. The recipe below is enough for two small fillets or one small fish, if doing a big fish then double the garnish and sauce.

Print Recipe

Chinese Steamed Fish

(serves 2)

1 small whole white fish (gutted) or 2 white fish fillets such as tilapia or snapper
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cooking wine (optional)
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon ginger
5 green onions, finely sliced and divided in half
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

If you are starting with a fillet…

Preheat oven to 425F. This can be done in a bamboo steamer similar to below, but it is easier en papillote. Get yourself a large piece of parchment paper and fold it in half. Pat the fish dry and remove any bones. Sprinkle all over with salt and place on in the center of one half of the parchment. Sprinkle the fish with the cooking wine. Working from one end of the parchment, fold it over and roll it up and along to form a sealed parchment bundle - en papillote. Place in a oven on a cookie sheet. Bake for 8-12 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish. Remove from the oven, open parchment and transfer gently to a plate including any juice. Top with half of the green onion.

If you want to steam it whole the more traditional way…

Pat the fish dry inside and out. Sprinkle all over with salt. Slash the sides of the fish just into the flesh a few times on each side. It will help with even cooking. Place the fish on a plate and into a bamboo steamer. Fill a wok with a few inches of water and bring to a simmer. Add the steamer on top and steam for 10 minutes. Watch the water so it doesn't evaporate and top up if necessary. Remove fish and pour off any liquid on the plate with the fish. Top with half of the green onion.

Now, either way, finish with sauce…

Add oil to a very small saucepan and turn on to high, when it starts to smoke add ginger and remaining green onions, cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Remove from heat and add sesame oil and soy sauce. Pour over fish.

Serve immediately.


Prep Time: 5 minutes | Cooking Time: 15 minutes | Total Time:20 minutes
Calories(approximate per serving): 300



{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Kiri W. October 20, 2011 at 7:53 am

That looks wonderful! Gorgeous pictures, too. I just recently spent 3 weeks in China and am trying to recreate the flavors at home, so thank you so very much for this recipe!

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katerina October 20, 2011 at 9:09 am

Kiri – cool! I hope it works out well for you.

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Belinda @zomppa October 20, 2011 at 2:00 pm

This is one of my favorite, favorite dishes. And the fish has to be fresh!

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Hyosun Ro October 21, 2011 at 6:23 pm

What a beautifully cooked fish! It looks delicious. Thanks for sharing the wonderful recipe. I just saw this on Tastespotting, and I now am following you. You have a gorgeous blog.

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tammy October 25, 2011 at 1:07 pm

This sounds great.my dilemma is feeding a family of 6 and getting it all done and serve it hot to everyone. Your recipe says it serves 2. Do you think I could keep it in oven on low to keep warm as I cook the others. I dont want it to be dry. My boys love fish

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katerina October 25, 2011 at 1:26 pm

@tammy – try the en papillote method. You can actually make one big parchment package or two little ones, remove from the oven at the same time, open them, dump onto a platter and garnish with your sauce\ hot oil. (Of course the sauce recipe will need to be increased.)

If you want to do a really large fish… that may be tricky unless you have a really big wok!

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