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.
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.
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.
Chinese Steamed Fish(serves 2)
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.