How To Prepare Chinese Steamed Fish

The Chinese are world-renowned for their cuisine, and seafood is one of their staple ingredients, being an abundant natural resource in many regions of the country. Fish have an elevated place in Chinese folklore and culture too, as they represent affluence, good luck and prosperity. Here is a popular Chinese method of preparing fish.

Cantonese steamed fish is a common weekday meal in China, and it is also prepared as part of a traditional wedding banquet feast. It’s very simple and easy to make. It is best to steam very fresh fish, as the flavour will be clean and pure. Steaming is one of the healthiest ways to prepare fish, as you don’t need to add large amounts of oils or fats.

Small boneless fillets are ideal fish to steam if you have never tried this method before, as they cook quickly and evenly. If you are already a confident cook, then whole bass, plaice, bream, lemon sole, brill, trout, and salmon will all be excellent options for steaming. 

There is no one particular method for steaming fish. Professional chefs will have steaming ovens or fish kettles, but it is possible to use a collapsible petal steamer, a bamboo steamer, or indeed any device, such as an inverted bowl, that elevates the fish above the surrounding water in a large pan or wok, so that it can be covered.

To prevent the fish from sticking to the surface of the steamer, apply a little oil to the base, or alternatively wrap the fish in foil or baking paper. Traditional Chinese methods may even recommend using leaves such as cabbage, garlic, or spinach, which will also flavour the fish as it cooks.

If you are using a whole fish, it should be gutted, washed, descaled, and so on as usual; and if you want some extra flavour, it can be stuffed with lemon, spices, or onions. The steaming water can also be flavoured to infuse the fish, with anything from wine, cider, lemon juice, to fennel seeds, garlic, ginger, and bay leaves, as many recipes recommend.

The length of time you steam the fish for will depend on the size; many cooks recommend 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Small fillets will only need four or five minutes. Keep an eye on the fish as it cooks; it should still be quite firm rather than flaky when you remove it from the heat, as the temperature will continue to cook the fish even after it is moved.

Serve the fish immediately with toppings and side dishes which have been prepared in advance, as leaving a gap will give the fish a chance to turn soggy. Traditional Cantonese steamed fish is served with soy sauce mixed with rice wine, sesame oil, white pepper, and rock sugar, and stirred through some chopped spring onions and coriander.  

Traditional side dishes include rice and noodles, but of course, you can add any vegetables or sides you like. There are also an endless variety of Chinese sauce recipes to try, if you want a change from traditional soy sauces.

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