So-Easy Steamed Fish

IMG_4719 Last November I shot two little segments for a TV show called Frankie Cooks. What a fun day that was! I met Frank Celenza on FB after an episode of his show aired that featured his mom making pancakes. They were so sweet and funny together in the kitchen, it reminded me of all the time I’ve spent in the kitchen with my mum.  As culturally different as two people can be (Frank and I), some things are universal – moms, kids, food, togetherness. Ok, let me stop with this here, before the waterworks start. Anyway, he invited me on his show and I suggested this steamed fish recipe. I’ve been wanting to share it for a while now for two reasons – it’s so simple and it’s SO delicious. I figured this would be a great way to SHOW the recipe rather than just type it up in a blog post. He was keen on the idea, and we booked a date to cook together. About three days before the shoot date, he emailed me – “Hey Auria, I’ve booked a fishing vessel and will be heading out to catch a fish for us!” Holy cow – that’s amazing. We went back and forth with a few emails, shopping lists and confirming times and my last email back to him said “Good luck at sea tomorrow!”

Frank spent most of the following day at sea. I spent most of the day recipe-testing a new sambal. The following day, I showed up at his apartment ready to steam some fish!
I met his crew and got familiar with his kitchen. We set up some of the ingredients, but I didn’t see a fish anywhere. I asked about it and he tells me he’ll get it out of the fridge when we need it. “Well, maybe I need to prep it a bit?” I ask. He replies with a chuckle “Oh, you’ll have time for that later.”  I had a feeling something was fishy.

So we begin. I slice shallots, I pick and wash cilantro, I peel and slice ginger. No sign of any fish. Finally, I’m all like “ok homeslice, where’s this fish?” in my head, because in real life I’m much too polite (chicken!) to be pushy.  I probably said something more along the lines of “Uhm, Frankie? The fish?”He turns to the refrigerator and leans into it to get the fish. And BOY! what a fish it was.  A 29” striped bass that weighed about 11lbs! I could easily have done this with a 2-lb fish from a nearby market, but noooooooo – instead here in front of me is the little cousin of Jaws. A behemoth of a fish. And fresh? There’s a picture of it in Webster’s Dictionary under the word Fresh.  It felt like a blessing from the ocean – it really did.

I had a great day with Frank and his crew. Here’s a picture of (from L-R) Luke Celenza (composer), Frank Celenza (Frankie!) and myself (guilty!) I wish I could remember what happened right before it was taken. I look absolutely hilarious in it, but it’s one of my favorite pictures ever. It’s my “I Love Lucy” moment!


As for the recipe, it’s one of my husband’s favorite fish dishes ever. It’s also pretty quick and simple once you get the hang of it which makes it a good recipe for weeknight dinners. From start to finish, this should take you twenty or twenty-five minutes tops. Be sure and get your rice cooking before you begin to pull these ingredients out of your refrigerator – this way, as soon as the fish is done your rice will be ready and waiting to soak up all the sesame and soy deliciousness!

So-Easy Steamed Fish

1 whole fish, about 1.5 – 2lbs (striped bass, branzino, flounder, snapper or trout)

2″ piece of ginger (peeled and julienned)

1/2 tsp kosher salt

2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine

2 tsp sesame oil

2 tbsp light soy sauce (Chinese soy sauce, not Kikkoman)

1/2 tsp rock sugar (or regular sugar)

1/2 tsp white pepper (or black pepper, if that’s what you have on hand)

2 tbsp cooking oil

1. Boil 2″ of water in your steaming apparatus, whatever that may be. I use a wok with a well-fitting lid and an oval stainless steel plate for the fish. I find the fancy steaming baskets can be too small for a whole fish and requires the fish to be cut in half. There goes the “whole fish” appeal of this dish – I mean, it’s OH-KAY I guess but makes the presentation a little less presentation-y.

2. Your friendly fishmonger can prep the fish to your specifications: Scale, gut and leave the head, tail and fins on. Wash the fish, gently pat dry then season well with salt both inside and out. Lay 1/3 of your sliced scallions on your fish plate. Place the fish on the scallions and pour the rice wine slowly all over the top.  Stuff 1/3 of the ginger inside the cavity, arrange 1/3 of it on top of the fish and save the rest for later. When your water is at a furious rolling boil, carefully place the fish plate in work or steamer and cover tightly. Set your timer for 12 minutes.

3. While that’s going, mix the sesame oil, soy sauce, rock sugar and white pepper in a little pan and set aside.

4. At twelve minutes, uncover the fish and take a good look at it. Prod it with a fork near the thickest part of the fish and if it flakes easily, it is completely done. If it doesn’t, give it another minute or two. When the fish is done, remove the plate carefully.  I have something we called a plate-lifter that you can find in Chinatown fro $2 that I use for this purpose. If you don’t have one, please be very careful – hot steam, wobbly wok and oven mitts reaching in to grab a hot plate filled with liquid sounds like a recipe for an unsavory adventure. I’ve done this many a time when cooking at the home’s of friends sans plate-lifter, and it just requires a little patience and care.


5. While holding the fish on the plate, pour out any cooking liquid that has accumulated.

6. Set your little sauce pan on high and heat through until it just begins to bubble – less than a minute.  I usually do this step during the last minute of fish cooking time, so that my cooked fish is not waiting and losing heat. Pour the sauce over the fish, then top with the remaining scallions. Put the cooking oil and ginger in the same sauce pan and cook on high until it shimmers, almost at a smoke. Pour this over the fish and enjoy that gorgeous sizzle.  Serve with rice and tasty veggies .

Ok, I’ll admit, step 6 is a bit of a dance of fish, sauce, garnish, and oil and it all happens in less than two minutes. Once you’ve done it twice, you’ll get the hang of it though. I can just see it now – you’ll serve this meal and your peeps will be all “Who ARE you?!!”