Recipe, Guide And Tips From A Hong Kong Kitchen
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Chinese Steamed Fish: Recipe, Steps & Tips

Steamed fish recipe

Chinese Steamed Fish is a delightful and healthy dish for the whole family. It’s super easy to prepare as well — if you know these golden rules:

Steaming Fish In Chinese Way: 3 Golden Rules

  • Pick the freshest fish you can find
  • Learn how to retain the natural flavor of the fish
  • Remember how to remove the fishy taste and smell

We will go through the steps and talk about the tips along the way.

Steamed Fish Recipe: That’s All You Need!

There is no secret for a perfect steamed fish recipe. Even the soya sauce that tastes so good…? It’s no magic as well. I will tell you how to prepare it at the end of this article.

1 fresh fish
2-3 pieces of ginger
2 pieces of spring onion, shreded
Soya sauce, sugar and water

How To Steam Fish In Chinese Style

Chinese steamed fish: 3 golden rules

First, you’ll need to know how to pick a fish. Two things to keep in mind:

1. The freshness

2. The size

Let’s talk about how to pick a fresh fish. First of all, it has to look fresh!

If you don’t have the luxury of watching the fish caught live from the vendor’s water tank, then you should look for fish with clear eyes, skin that looks shiny and feels firm, and a body that “jerks” occasionally.

In terms of how big a fish you should get for the dinner, if it is for a typical family of four (2 adults and 2 kids) then a catty i.e. 12 oz would be good for a hearty meal with rice, steamed fish and a dish of green vegetable.

Steps Before The Steaming

chinese steamed fish: preparation before cooking

Your vendor will mostly likely remove the scales for you, but you may want to check the area around the dorsal fin and the pectoral fins to ensure all the scales are removed.

Then, clean the fish with one super quick rinse — the trick is not to wash the fish under running water or the taste of the fish will be washed and lost.

Use a paper towel to gently soak off the extra water from the body of the fish.

Steamed fish recipe: how to cook fish thoroughly

Once the fish is properly prepared, place the fish on the plate, and slide in a few pieces of spring onion (chopped to about 5-8 cm long each) so the fish does not stick directly to the plate.

The reason for doing this is to let the steam reach the back side of the fish to ensure thorough cooking.

If spring onion is a scarcity in your area, or you simply want to save up, you can replace the spring onion with the spoon as shown above. That’s what we do at home.

The Steaming

Chinese steamed fish: preparing the wok

Take out your wok, pour in water and bring it to boil. The water should not touch the plate itself, as we are trying to steam a fish and not boil a fish.

But then, make sure you have enough water for a steaming for 10 minutes. It depends on the shape of the wok, but in general if you pour in around 1-2 inches of water it should be enough.

How to steam fish the Chinese way

Once the water is in high boil, put the plate on the steamer, close the lid tightly, turn the timer for 8-10 minutes of cooking, and that’s it!

Keep at high fire throughout the cooking so the fish gets lots of steam for a good and thorough sauna.

Can you be more precise on the cooking time?

I wish I could, but it really depends on the size and the thickness of the fish. For the fish shown above (one catty, with relatively thin shape), 9 minutes is good. But then for a bigger and thicker fish you will need 1-2 minutes more.

If you buy fish from a Chinese wet market, the vendor will tell you the time. But a general rule of thumb is that if your fish is measured one “fish tail” longer than the above, add one minute.

I heard that we should slice the fish on the side?

Not necessary if you can manage the cooking time well. If you are a beginner, I do encourage you put in a few slices because the fish will be more evenly cooked.

Once you have a better feel on the cooking time, I would recommend you skip this step because the flavor of the dish will be drained. Except for reason of gutting, the fish should be kept uncut as much as possible for the same reason.

How to steam fish the Chinese way

I don’t have a wok. What can I do?

The one featured above is a classic but modern version of a Chinese wok. While I highly recommend you get one, you can use any pans or pots for steaming as long as it is:

  • Big enough to hold the plate
  • Deep enough such that the dish does not touch the boiling water
  • Has a fitting lid i.e. the steam does not leak out. Otherwise it is very difficult to measure the time.

While Steaming…

Chinese steamed fish: preparing ginger and spring opinion

Perfect time to work on the garnishes!

If the fish is really fresh, these ginger and spring onion are mere decorations (or side dishes, as Chinese loves to eat them). But then if the fish is not as fresh, these two ingredients are your best friends in removing the fishy taste and smell of the dish.

Simply cut the ginger into thick but long pieces, and for the spring onion, you can chop it to about 5 cm long each. There are fancy way to make the “flowery” shape which I will show you in another post.

Some people may insist on include the ginger and spring onion in the steaming. I don’t find it necessary as long as the fish is fresh. Too much spices will in fact overpower the natural flavor of the fish. Also, overcooked spring onions look soggy and don’t taste good.

After The Steaming

steamed fish recipe: how to remove fishy taste from fish

Critical step: drain the water on the dish. You might have thought that it is tasty… it’s actually very fishy. Taste if if you don’t believe me!

This is the most important step to remove the fishy taste from any steamed fish.

Now, place the ginger and spring opinion on the fish.

Click here for more steamed fish recipe: adding ginger to remove fishy taste

A question: Should I slice the ginger and shred the ginger?

If you shred the ginger (or at least slice it into longer shapes), it helps to release the aroma. I understand that some of you may find the taste of the ginger too strong. If this is you, just use fewer pieces of ginger.

Steamed fish recipe: adding spring onion to remove fishy taste

Finally, two ways to finish up:

Option 1:

Put the fish back in the steamer for one more minute so the ginger and spring onion will be slightly cooked. Then, pour in the slightly heated oil and soya sauce.

Pros: my mom-in-law doesn’t like to eat raw spring onion (she got a bad stomach ache once) so that’s how we steam the fish sometimes.

Cons: since the fish is slightly re-steamed, a portion of the meat may become tough.

Option 2:

Heat up the oil with a pan and pour on the fish direct. Then, pour the soya sauce on the pan so the sauce is slightly (but not overly) hot. Pour the soya sauce on the fish.

A couple more steps, but I think this is the better way.

How to make the soya sauce for steamed fish

Very easy — no secret and no magic!

Mix 1 tbsp light soya sauce + 1 tbsp water + 2 teasp sugar and stir. Pour it in a pan that was just heated (for the oil).

Tips: don’t overheat the soya sauce because the taste will be spoiled.

And Here Is One Easy And Healthy Dish Your Family Can Enjoy… All Done In 10 Minutes!

Steamed fish recipe

Summary

How to retain the natural flavor of the fish

  • Minimize the washing. One very quick rinse is good enough
  • Don’t slice the fish on the side once you get a knack on the cooking time
  • Don’t overuse ginger, spring onion and other spices (unless your fish is not too fresh)

How to remove the fishy taste and smell

  • Most important: learn how to pick only the fresh fish!
  • Remove the water on the dish after steaming

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