Perfect Steamed Fish

I’m a fish snob. I only like my fish done two ways – steamed or raw. Growing up, I’ve always wondered why the same fish, when steamed at home taste so different from those in restaurants. After all, how different can steam get? I found my answers after working in a Chinese restaurant for two years.

Home cooked steamed fish tend to taste, well, home cooked. What I enjoy from good steamed fish is how exquisite, moist and clean the fish taste. Typical cooking tips teaches you to score the fish and stuff ginger into the slits to aid in getting the flavour through, but you don’t see that happening in restaurants.

Here’s the technique I learnt from a Cantonese chef that works every time, with any fish. For this demonstration, I made steamed barramundi with dried chilli, shallot and ginger.

Step 1: After de-scaling, make sure the fish is properly cleaned. Place the fish in a large steaming plate propped on 2 bamboo chopsticks. This will ensure even cooking of the fish and prevents the fish from going mushy at the bottom. There is no need to score the fish nor add any garnishings. We are steaming the fish as it is.

Steam your fish in a hot steamer. I used a 900g barramundi which took about 20 mins. It is important that you do not let the steam escape during the first 10 mins.

Step 2: While the fish is cooking, you can prepare the garnishing. You can use pretty much anything – shallots, scallions, ginger, chilli, garlic, plums etc. I’ve sliced the shallots and ginger thinly and removed the seeds from the dried chilli.

Step 3: Remove the fish from the steamer when it’s done and carefully remove the chopsticks. Notice how the fish is beautifully arched. You can support the arch by putting some soft tofu at the bottom. Sprinkle your garnish over the fish and flavour it with soy sauce, pepper and a touch of fish sauce.

Step 4: This is probably the most important step that separates home cooked from gourmet. Pour about 100 ml of cooking oil with 1 teaspoon of sesame oil into a wok and throw in the dried chilli and ginger. Crank the heat up and let the flavours gently infuse while the oil heats up. When the oil is boiling hot, quickly pour everything over the fish. Except some sizzling so be careful while doing this. Serve immediately.

Pouring hot oil over the fish before serving improves the flavour, but also prevents the fish from drying out. The hot oil also shocks and releases the aroma from the garnish so when you serve them on a table, everyone can smell the shallot or scallion.

4 Responses to “Perfect Steamed Fish”
  1. Janine says:

    Wow now here’s a tip I never knew about! I’m definitely trying this when I next have steamed fish đŸ™‚

  2. Yin says:

    Is barramundi similar to Malay Siakap?

    Me too love steamed fish. I use to discard the steamed fish sauce, (smelly to me) then only pour over the cooked oil and sauce just like what you mentioned.

    • foodandscent says:

      Yea it’s also called Siakap. With some fish I discard the steamed sauce, especially the freshwater fish, but farmed barramundi tend to not smell too fishy. My favourite is steamed rock grouper, but they’re so expensive!

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