There are many ways to cook a delicious fish – you can fry it, poach it, and even grind it into a paste for fish skewers or fish cakes. Steaming it, however, remains a popular method of cooking fish, particularly among Asian households, as it brings out the fish’s naturally sweet flavour while retaining the flesh’s soft and flaky texture.
This cooking method is also relatively easy for beginners and a good option if you’re pinched for time. You don’t even need to filet the fish – in fact, it is often served whole. All you need to do is to remove the scales and its innards, which oftentimes, your fishmonger will see to. It cooks quickly in a steamer, or on top of a wire rack placed in a wok filled with a little boiling water. It is also a very healthy way of cooking fish, as virtually no oil or fat is used.
But not all types of fish are suitable for steaming. Whitefish is most suitable for steaming – popular choices include snapper, grouper, halibut, cod and trout. Salmon works for some recipes, too.
The most popular style of steaming fish is Chinese style, which is to flavour it with soy sauce, sliced chilli, spring onion and coriander. This recipe requires very fresh fish – live fish is best, but if you can’t get your hands on one, you need to know what signs to look out for when it comes to choosing fresh fish.
Fresh fish have bright, clear eyes and red gills. It should have a mild smell – a strong fishy smell means the fish has been sitting out for too long.
Still, even the freshest fish will have a slight fishy odour. To remove the odour, douse the fish in rice wine before cooking, and use generous amounts of garlic and ginger. Or instead, a dash of lime or lemon as a fish “cleanse” during steaming.
Tip: Use an oval or oblong plate for steaming, so you don’t have to transfer a fragile steamed fish from wok or steamer to a serving plate.
The fish water will have a fishy smell, so discard the water from the bottom of the plate after the fish is cooked.
There are many variations of the basic Chinese-style steamed fish. One example is to use fermented black bean paste or miso paste as a base for the sauce of the fish. Simply fry the bean paste with ginger or garlic and top the fish with the mixture before serving.