CANTONESE STEAMED FISH
One of the last courses of a Chinese wedding dinner is Cantonese steamed fish, a simple but traditional dish (right before the last rice and noodle course).
It can be prepared in different ways, but it’s also a dish that can be served at home on any given weekday night. So, you know it’s not just simple… It’s a real treat.
All you’ll need is a few staples from your own kitchen, which you presumably already have on hand. All of us in the family have done it so many times that we can do it now without even thinking about it.
It’s a simple and excellent method of cooking fish.
DO I NEED A WOK OR STEAMER IF I DO NOT OWN ANY?
A wok with a steaming rack and lid, or a wok with a bamboo steamer, is the traditional method for steaming fish (or any other dish).
As with most things in life, a huge wok is the most versatile steaming utensil, especially if you’re steaming anything like a large fish or filet. See our post on Chinese Steaming Techniques for additional information on steaming.
It’s okay to cook without a steamer or wok, as you’ll see in that piece. Large, deep pots and pans with covers will do. That means you can either use a steaming rack or submerge an empty tuna can in a pot of water no deeper than two inches. Voila! You’ve got a raging fire going.
For more information on the tools you’ll need to prepare Chinese steamed foods, take a look at our page on Chinese cooking supplies. Check out some of the easy plate-lifting devices that can make your life simpler when managing hot plates in particular!
STEAM FISHING TIME PERIOD
Because of the thinness of the fish fillets we’re using, steaming is a short process.
Bones, like any other protein, add time to the cooking process, making it more difficult to tell when fish is done.
Even with fish fillets, the amount of time it takes to cook will depend on the type, size, and thickness of your fillet.
Your fish can cook in as little as 4-5 minutes if you choose thin, tiny filets. It will take longer to cook thicker and larger filets.
So, how can you tell when your fish is done steaming? Simply pierce the thickest area of the filet with a dull butter knife. When the butter knife slides easily through the fish, it’s done.
The fish should be checked sooner and kept cooking for another 1-2 minutes if it needs to. Fish can become rough or rubbery if overcooked.
What is the best fish to steam?
Steaming whole fish is a favorite Chinese dish, especially among the elderly, who regard the fish’s head and belly as the tastiest parts. A lot of people prefer the simpler choice of buying fillets instead of entire fish because it is harder to prepare, grill, and serve whole fish.
Head to our Cantonese Steamed Whole Fish post if you’d like a thorough instruction on how to make and serve the whole fish version of this meal. You might also use whole striped bass or black seabass, both of which are readily available in fresh form.
Just about any delicate white fish can be used for this dish, so long as it’s in season and good shape.
You should steer clear of oily and hard fish like bluefish, mackerel, and swordfish. Instead, you might try one of the following:
- A Flounder or a Fluke
- Sea Bass
- Ocean perch
For this post, we utilized a haddock fillet.
- 10 ounce fillet of delicate white fish
- 2 scallions
- 2 tablespoons of ginger
- 2 tablespoons of hot water
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- 1 small bunch of cilantro
- 1 ½ tablespoons of light soy sauce
- 1/8 teaspoon of salt
- 1/8 teaspoon of sugar
- Chop the scallions into 2-inch lengths, then cut each piece in half lengthwise. Thinly slice them. Using a mandolin, julienne around 15g of ginger. Chop the cilantro coarsely before using. Remove the aromatics from the mix..
- A small bowl can be used for combining the light soy sauce with other ingredients like salt, sugar, or hot water. Set aside in a separate location.
- Add 1-2 inches of water to your steaming set up. Begin heating up.
- If you’re using a steamer or wok, place the cleaned fillet on an oblong heat-resistant plate. Set the steamer to a medium heat and carefully add the piece. There should be a considerable amount of steam coming from the water, but not so much that the water evaporates too soon.
- Let it steam for seven to ten minutes, depending on the thickness and size of the fish fillet. For very thin fillets, cook for 4 to 5 minutes (less than half an inch thick).
- Use a butter knife to check for doneness. To test whether the fish is cooked, insert your finger into the thickest section of the fillet and see if it slides right through.
- After turning off the heat, carefully drain any remaining liquid from the platter. The steamed fish should have about a third of the onions, ginger, and cilantro on it.
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, heated in a wok or small saucepan, will form the sauce. Add the remaining 2/3 of the ginger, and cook for a further minute. Add the scallions’ whites and heat for 30 seconds. Add the remaining scallions and cilantro and mix well. The mixture should be hot and bubbling.
- Mix the soy sauce and water together. Simmer the mixture until the scallions and cilantro are wilted, about 30 seconds.
- Douse the fish with this concoction and serve. Instead of adding the raw aromatics after the sauce has been added, heat up an additional 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to drizzle over the raw aromatics. Preparation time is of the essence here.