In case you think Dan and I spent ALL of last weekend drinking, let me assure you that we did not. Really!
Case in point: on Saturday, we had friends over for a belated Chinese New Year celebration. I made Momofuku pork belly buns, scallion pancakes (recipe coming soon!), green beans, and a whole steamed fish. My friend Kat contributed some kick ass mapo tofu to the meal. She was also supposed to fry up some sticky rice cakes (nian gao) for dessert, but it started snowing and we lost power, so the stove was out of commission.
Which was honestly probably for the best – there was a ton of food, and we ate a lot of it. As it was, even without dessert the food coma from lunch was so strong that Kat fell asleep on the couch while we were hanging out. That’s the sign of a good party, right?
Now, I don’t want to make a big deal out of it or anything, but did you guys notice that I said I cooked a whole fish? I cooked a whole fish. A. WHOLE. FISH.
This is exciting for me because steamed whole fish is one of my absolute favorite dishes that my parents cook for me when we go over for lunch/dinner, but I’ve never made it myself. Until recently I had nowhere to get fresh, whole fish – we had no fish markets close by, and unlike my dad, I don’t enjoy fishing. Fortunately, an awesome new Asian mart opened up down the street from me a few months ago, and it has a huge fresh seafood selection.
But I couldn’t bring myself to take advantage of this fishy selection until last weekend because (1) it’s always mobbed by tough little Chinese ladies jostling each other to get at the best stuff, and (2) the idea of cooking a whole fish was, frankly, really intimidating. However, whole fish is a must for Chinese New Year, so….
Turns out, steaming fish isn’t hard at all! If we’re being honest, the part I struggled with the most was picking out a fish and then asking the guy behind the seafood counter to clean it for me. When he asked me how I wanted him to clean it, I froze, since I didn’t actually know that there was more than one way to clean a fish. Luckily there were some illustrated signs on the wall behind him that explained all the different ways they could clean fish for customers (de-scaling/gutting, filleting, etc.), so the panicky moment passed quickly and I walked away with a fish I didn’t have to clean myself.
After that, the cooking part was easy! All I had to do was put my fish on a plate, put the plate in a steamer, wait 15-20 minutes, pull the fish out, load it up with chopped scallions/ginger, pour hot oil and soy sauce on top, and voila! Delicious steamed fish for everyone. (Psst – don’t tell my parents that I under-steamed my fish at first and had to finish it off in the microwave…)
What I love about steamed fish is that it’s so light and fresh. The version that my mom makes doesn’t even use oil, so all you get there is a delicately seasoned but somehow super flavorful dish that’s light and actually pretty good for you.
The meat is super tender, not at all fishy, and so amazingly tasty despite the lack of heavy sauces and spices. I love to eat it dipped in soy sauce, with mounds of fluffy white rice and sauteed veggies.
If you haven’t tried steaming whole fish yet, I highly recommend it. Just make sure that when you finish devouring all the meat on one side of the fish, you don’t flip the fish over to get at the other side – that’s bad luck (flipping the boat, so to speak)!
Happy year of the Sheep, everyone!
- 1 1-2 lb. whole fish (I used sea bass)
- 3 scallions, slivered
- 1 large finger of fresh ginger root, cut into small matchsticks
- ⅓ cup of grape seed or canola oil
- 3-5 tbsp of light soy sauce
- Place your fish directly on a serving platter, or on a glass Pyrex pie plate.
- Place a small metal steam rack into a large stock pot, and fill the pot with water just to the top of the rack. (Or, use one of those Chinese metal steam pot thingies if you have one)
- Bring the water to a boil.
- Place your fish with the serving platter or pie plate on the rack, cover, and steam for 15-20 minutes.
- When the fish is done steaming, remove it from the heat.
- Top the fish with the scallions and ginger. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan or pot, heat your oil until it just barely begins to smoke. Carefully pour the hot oil over the scallions/ginger and fish. (This should cause some sizzling)
- Finish the dish with soy sauce.
(Very slightly adapted from The Pheasant and Hare’s recipe)