Chinese Steamed Fish Recipe

Ring In the Year of the Horse With Fragrant Steamed Fish

For anyone who hails from Southeast China, it wouldn't be the Lunar New Year without some form of fish. The Chinese are big on words that sound the same but have double meanings, and the common Mandarin phrase nian nian you yu ("may there be surpluses every year") sounds the same as the phrase "may there be fish every year."

A fragrant whole fish, steamed and served with aromatic ginger, scallions, and cilantro, is a staple of my family's annual dinner. The dish is flexible with the variety (my mom prefers pompano, and I enjoy trout or sea bass) and the cooking method (she makes hers in the microwave, while I use the oven), but fish is an absolute must at the table.

Fragrant Steamed Fish

Fragrant Steamed Fish

Notes

Green jalapeños are milder, but their red counterparts add a pop of color to this dish.

Whole Steamed Fish

Ingredients

1 2-pound whole fish, such as sea bass or sole, cleaned and descaled
3 tablespoons canola or other vegetable oil, plus more for rubbing the fish
8 1-inch slices of ginger root, plus about 1/4 cup ginger cut in matchsticks for garnish
2 scallions, dark greens removed, sliced in half, plus 1/4 cup scallions, dark greens removed, cut into matchsticks
6 tablespoons Chinese Shaoxing rice wine, divided
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 jalapeño, seeded and cut into matchsticks
1/4 cup cilantro, loosely chopped, for garnish
Salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
  2. Rinse the fish with water, and pat dry with a paper towel.
  3. Rub both sides of the fish with salt and oil.
  4. Place half of the ginger root and sliced scallions in an oven-safe platter or glass baking dish. Lay the fish on top, and cover with the remaining ginger and scallions. Pour 3 tablespoons of rice wine over the fish, scallions, and ginger. Score the fish with a sharp knife by creating two incisions in the fish's flesh deep enough to reach the bone.
  5. Wrap the entire fish, including the oven-safe platter, in parchment paper, making sure to twist the parchment paper up tightly to prevent the fish from drying out. Bake at 400ºF for about 25 to 30 minutes (depending on the size of the fish) or until a chopstick inserted into the thickest part of the fish comes out easily.
  6. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine soy sauce, remaining rice wine, and sugar. Set aside.
  7. When the fish is cooked through, open the parchment paper, and pour away whatever juice comes out; it will be fishy. Remove and discard the scallions and ginger root that are on top of the fish. Tilt the fish up with a spatula, and remove and discard the bed of scallion and ginger root. Set the fish back down, and cover with the fresh, julienned ginger root, scallions, jalapeño, and cilantro. It should be in layers on top of the fish. Pour the soy sauce over the aromatics.
  8. Heat the 3 tablespoons oil on the stove in a small saucepan over medium heat until aromatic. (It's heated through when a damp, but not wet, chopstick sizzles when it touches the oil.) Once it's heated through, pour the oil over the fish; you should hear a sizzling sound. Serve immediately.
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