As much as I'd like to remain objective on Chinese food, it's hard to hide my favoritism towards Cantonese fish. In Beijing, Shanghai, or Sichuan province, fish is most likely pan-fried, heavily sauced, or buried in a broth of chilies. That's all nice, but nothing beats the clear flavor of steamed fish, with nothing to disguise the freshness. Guangdong province is spoiled in its coastal proximity. No wonder steamed fish became so entrenched in the diet.
When I taught Chinese cooking classes, I often had students who were intimidated by steaming fish in a wok. And once they tried, they were surprised by how easy it is. So, here are a few simple steps to steaming a fish, Cantonese style.
1. Pick a live one. Or at least a fresh one. - Cantonese restaurants take pride in their enormous fish tanks. And my family almost never orders fish without picking one out themselves. To get the most out of this recipe, find a fish market or head to Chinatown. If you must use fish on ice, pick one that is properly store (well-covered with ice, not sitting in a puddle of cold water). And make sure the eyes are clear, not cloudy.
2. Invest in a wire steamer rack, also called a steamer insert. - They're cheap, a few bucks at the most. In a pinch, you can also turn a bowl upside-down; just make sure it's wide enough to balance your fish plate.
3. Less is more - No need for soy sauce, cooking wine, or lots of oil. You need only a few seasonings for the fish, and the steaming will create a natural sauce.
Other Chinese seafood recipes:
Dragon Well Tea Shrimp (Longjing Xiaren)
Tilapia with Tangerine Salsa
Wonton Noodle Soup, Hong Kong-Style
Chinese Steamed Fish with Black Bean and Ginger Sauce
Serves 3 to 4
- 1 pound whole white fish
- 1 tablespoon fermented black beans, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 1-inch knob ginger, julienned or shredded with a microplane
- 2 stalks scallions, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/2 lemon
Special equipment - wire steamer rack or similar, wok with lid
- Clean your fish and pat dry with a kitchen towel. With a sharp knife, make a slit in the belly almost to the tail. Mix together the black beans, garlic, ginger, and half the scallions; stuff the mixture into the slit. Place the fish in a medium-sized plate and pour over with vegetable and sesame oil. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the fish.
- Fill your wok with 2 to 3 inches of water and bring to boil. Carefully set your plate on the rack, then cover with the lid. Steam for 10 to 12 minutes, depending on how thick your fish is in the middle. Check for doneness by poking the flesh with a spoon or chopstick at the thickest point; if the flesh flakes off easily, your fish is done.
- Garnish with the other half of your scallions and serve immediately.