Do you know the secret to restaurant-style, perfectly-steamed fish? Follow this simple guide to nail this Chinese home-cooking staple every single time!
- Firstly and most importantly, make sure you choose a steaming fish that is fresh! So before you head to the market / supermarket, read our guide first: The 10 Things You MUST Know About Choosing Fresh Fish.
- Not all fish tastes good steamed – but some good choices are Crimson Snapper, Asian Seabass, Grouper (except for Black Grouper which is better for deep-frying), Soon Hock and my family’s favourite: Baby Threadfin (also known as Ngor Her Shun – literally translated Ngor Her’s grandson). Read our Foodies MUST-HAVE Guide to the 10 Most Common Local Fish to find out more!
- Ensure the fish is properly scaled and cleaned, so that the fishy smell will be removed. For this, read our short guide: 6 Simple Steps to Scale and Clean Your Fish Like A Pro
- Before steaming a whole fish, make two or three slits diagonally across the fish ( in the direction of the fin towards the stomach). This allows the inside of the fish to be evenly cooked.
- Pat the inside and outside of the fish dry with a kitchen towel.
- The water in the steamer must be boiling before placing the fish inside, otherwise the cooking timing will not be the same as indicated below.
- Adding thin strips of ginger to the fish before steaming will help to mask the fishy smell. The ginger must be thinly sliced to give a more fragrant aroma.
- Do NOT oversteam! For a medium-sized fish like Asian Seabass (which I am using for this demonstration) or Red Snapper, 7-8 minutes of steaming over medium high heat (provided that there is enough water to cover the top of the steaming rack, and a stainless plate is used) is sufficient. If you are using porcelain or oven-proof glassware, an extra 2-3 minutes may be required.
- During steaming, try not to open the cover. Otherwise the sudden drop in temperature will change the cooking time of the fish.
- After steaming, immediately remove the fish from heat, otherwise it will continue to cook. Use a chopstick to prod at the thickest part of the fish. If it flakes easily, the fish is cooked.
- Discard all the cloudy-looking juices (which have a fishy smell) that comes out from the fish after steaming. I usually use my baster to suction off the juices, but if you don’t have one, you can also soak it up with a paper towel. Alternatively, you can transfer the whole fish onto a serving plate and discard the juices.
- For this reason, its best to prepare the sauce separately and pour over the fish after the water has been discarded. This is a Chinese restaurant tip for preparing steamed fish!
- Just before the fish is about to be ready, heat up 4-5 TBsp of oil in a small pan over high heat until the oil is hot but not smoky. Separately, prepare the soya sauce mixture (2 TBsp of light soya sauce, 1 tsp of sugar, a dash of salt ,5-6 Tbsp water) by mixing all the ingredients in a heat-proof bowl and heating it in the microwave for 20-30 secs until the sugar melts.
- Once the fish is steamed, immediately place finely shredded spring onions on top of the fish and pour the very hot oil over it. As you do, you will find the hot oil brings out a wonderful fragrance from the spring onions as well as the fish.
- Pour the heated up soya sauce mixture pour over the fish. Drizzle 1 TB Hua Tiao Chiew over the fish and serve immediately. Its best to do this when the fish has just been removed from the heat to maximise the fragrance and flavours of the sauce and wine.
- As the fish takes less than 10 mins to steam, steam the fish only when the dinner is ready to be served. Once the fish turns cold, it is not as delicious. Now you have a lovely Cantonese-styled Seabass ready to be served! Look how tender the flesh of the fish is when you scoop out a spoonful!
TOP TIP! I usually use a baster (heat resistant suction pump) to suction off the cloudy-looking fish juices, because its so much more convenient. Its quite cheap, and useful for basting meats in their own gravy to keep them moist and infused with flavour during roasting/grilling. I definitely recommend that you invest in one if you do a fair bit of cooking, and you can easily get one from Amazon for $15 or less. Here’s what a baster looks like:
- Baby/Toddler-Friendly: Steamed fish is an extremely healthy and nutritious food for weaned babies, toddlers and children. Before adding the sauce, take some meat from the tail section (which has the least bones) and mash finely (for younger babies) or coarsely (for older babies), being careful to ensure there are no bones. Serve with porridge or rice. Alternatively, some people like to use Indian Threadfin (Ngor Her) fillets for steaming. Just make sure you adjust the steaming time depending on the size of the fillet, so that the fish will not be overcooked.
- Child-Friendly: Take some meat from the tail section, being careful to ensure there are no bones.
- Confinement: Steamed fish is great for new mummies during their confinement period, as well as for nursing mothers. Instead of a whole fish, you can use cook individual portions of Indian Threadfin (Ngor Her) fillets to boost milk supply as part of a nutritious confinement meal.
- Egg-Free: No modifications needed
- Gluten-Free: Use gluten-free soya sauce and gluten-free Chinese Rice Wine (Hua Tiao Chiew)
- Nut-Free: No modifications needed
- Shellfish-Free: No modifications needed
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