Whole Fish Steamed Tilapia – Hunan-Style

March 30, 2023

Savor the goodness of a complete fish with our signature dish, Whole Fish Steamed Tilapia with Duo Jiao & Tofu. Every bite is a heavenly experience, with fresh tilapia, silken tofu, ginger, garlic, scallions, and Hunan salted chopped jalapeño peppers bursting with flavor.

The perfectly steamed tilapia, silky tofu, aromatic chilis, and spices combine to provide a fantastic dish with a balance of robust and delicate flavors and textures.

In a nutshell, it’s fantastic!!! And among our favorite foods is…

We’ve learned via trial and error how to replicate the restaurant-quality results of this steamed tilapia in the Hunan manner.

You can have a fantastic supper if you start here, read carefully, then get cooking.

Guide To Whole Fish Purchasing

Here’s some help buying that fish:

  • Try to find an Asian or Chinese grocery store that sells live fish. They are the newest and most delicious options available.
  • To make things easy on yourself, have the fishmonger choose a fish weighing less than 1.5 pounds.
  • The fishmonger will inquire as to your preferred cooking method. Get him or her to remove the scales, cut the fish, and gut it for you.
  • If you can’t find any live fish, inquire about the quality of the frozen options. The eyes should not appear sunken but rather clean and round. Make use of both your own good sense and the fishmonger’s recommendations.
  • If you like, you can substitute tilapia fillets for the whole fish; however, the steaming time will need to be cut by 40% due to the need for bones. Go for the whole fish if fresh tilapia is available.

Now, let’s talk about the process of success.


  • 1 whole fresh tilapia (1¼ – 1½ pounds)
  • 16 ounces of silken tofu (sliced in half lengthwise and crosswise into ¼ inch slices)
  • 3 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1 finely diced scallion (white and green parts separated)
  • ⅔ cup of hot water
  • 6 tablespoons of Duo Jiao (plus some of the liquid from the jar)
  • 3 tablespoons of canola oil
  • 1½ tablespoons of minced ginger
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon of white pepper (or to taste)
  • ⅛ teaspoon of salt (for the tofu, plus more to taste)


  1. There’s more work to be done to prepare your whole fish, even if the fish market should have already done the bulk of it (gutting, trimming sharp fins, and removing scales). Before you even cook the fish, you should go over it with a knife to remove any scales the market overlooked. The fins, the abdomen, and the head are common areas where scales are absent.
  2. Examine the fish’s internal cavity with a dull butter knife to scrape away any residual bloodlines or membranes. You may need to use kitchen shears to remove the remaining gills and spiky fins. The contrast is night and day compared to the fish you’d find at the market, where they rarely bother to clean and prepare the fish.
  3. The next step is to begin at the back of the fish and work your way forward as if you were filleting it. A strong chef’s knife will get you through the bones in the cavity, but watch your fingers! For the inexperienced chef, kitchen shears may prove useful.
  4. Once you’ve removed the skeleton, continue filleting the fish until you reach the top fin, but *don’t* remove the filet from the body of the fish. Split the fish in half down the middle once you reach the head.
  5. Rinse your fish, place it skin-side up on a chopping board, and press down gently to flatten it.
  6. Remove the plastic wrap from the silken tofu and drain any excess liquid. Carefully remove the tofu container from the tofu block by inverting the container over a chopping board. Proceed by halving the tofu lengthwise and slicing it crosswise into 1/2-inch cubes.
  7. Lift each piece of cut tofu onto a large, heatproof dish or bowl using your knife or cleaver. The sauce and liquid should be boiling hot; thus, the dish should be deeper than necessary. Spread the slices of tofu out on the platter, so they fan out on all sides. Spread the silken tofu with 1/8 teaspoon of salt. Next, arrange the fish on top of the tofu, skin-side up, and place the whole thing in the steamer.
  8. Prepare your fish by filling a wok with 4 cups of cold water, placing the fish on a steaming rack inside, and covering the wok.
  9. Raising the temperature to medium-high is recommended. In around 7 minutes, the water will boil. Add another 6 minutes of steaming time for a total of 13. After 7 minutes, test to see if the water has reached a simmer. If not, then turn up the thermostat.
  10. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer or very low boil if the water is already boiling vigorously. The fish should be checked for doneness after 13 minutes. Avoiding overcooking fish is essential for optimal outcomes.
  11. A butter knife can be used to cut through the flesh and expose the bones of fish. The meat should slice through the knife like butter, all the way to the bone.
  12. If the meat is tough to the touch or you meet resistance while trying to pierce the fish (and don’t strike the bone), the fish is probably still raw and needs a few more minutes in the oven.
  13. Once the tilapia flakes easily when tested with a fork, remove it from the heat and, using a dry kitchen towel to hold the plate on one side and, if necessary, a spatula and gently hold the fish in place, carefully pour off the liquid that has gathered at the bottom of the plate. If the wok isn’t safe to use, you can do this step in the sink. Take your time, and be careful that the tofu and fish don’t fall off the platter!
  14. Combine 3 tablespoons of canola oil, 1.5 tablespoons of chopped ginger, and 6 tablespoons of duo jiao salted chili peppers in a clean skillet or wok and cook over low heat. Infuse the oil with ginger and dual jiao peppers for a minute or two. The oil should be getting red and smelling like chilies at this point.
  15. After that, throw in 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic and the scallion whites. Continue stirring for another 10 seconds, then add the remaining ingredients: 2/3 cup boiling water, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon granulated white sugar and 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper powder.
  16. Boil, then low simmer. Add extra salt, or the briny liquid from the jar of dual jiao chili peppers, to taste. The sauce for this fish meal should have a good amount of salt in it.
  17. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the scallion greens. Distribute the salted chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and scallions evenly over the fish and tofu, and then spoon the sauce over the top.
  18. To finish your Hunan steamed fish, sprinkle some more ground white pepper powder.
  19. To enjoy every last morsel of your Hunan Steamed Tilapia, we recommend mounding a heaping serving of rice in the center of each plate and topping it with a generous helping of the fish and sauce. It’s finest when shared amongst a large group, and goes well with a side of stir-fried greens or other meat.
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