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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Cantonese Style Steamed Fish 粤式蒸鱼

When I first started in the kitchen, my first steaming self-taught lessons began with this Cantonese style of steaming. Probably the most classic way I am not exactly too sure, but on average eating in and out, I indeed have had this more than any other styles steaming can adopt. Steamed whole with ginger and spring onion and lightly bathed in a specially mixed light soy sauce, this gentle method of cooking works well in retaining the fish's tender and delicate texture. This is pretty much the very same version of steamed fish that I grew up having at home. So ultimately, this is exactly what I first intended and eventually attempted to learn and re-create in my own kitchen two years back. But honestly, the first couple of times were so meh. And as with many other things, making a steamed fish is definitely one that only gets better with experience. You adjust and readjust the sauce fine tuning it each time, you experiment with the steaming time until you can visualize well how it correlates with the size and especially the thickness of the fish and you then start perfecting it by regulating the heat locating the optimal point, and lastly finishing it with a refined garnishing. And when you have done enough wrongs and some rights, you will soon figure that you have got the steaming ABC right at your fingertips. 

Quoting from the post on the Steamed Fish with Ginger Puree 姜茸蒸鱼, "Regardless of which steaming styles with what kind of sauces you decided to adopt, they always do come back to the steaming basics - a real fresh fish to begin with, scale, clean and gut thoroughly, season and stuff, make a bed, set timer and steam, lift and transfer to a serving plate, pour prepared sauce over the fish, garnish and serve! Contrary to that precious essence we do always get with steaming a chicken, the pool of fish juice and the stuffing post-steaming is anything but good. Fishy and cloudy in appearance, having utilized them fully throughout the steaming process would have rendered them tasteless, flavorless and simply too unpleasant a sight when served alongside the fish. So yes, have them removed and always let the fresh fish start anew post steaming."

Cantonese Style Steamed Fish 粤式蒸鱼
Serves 2-3
1 whole pomfret fish (usually weighing about 1 to 1.5lb)
salt and white pepper powder
2 tbsps Shaoxing wine  

2 stalks spring onion (green parts only) sliced thinly lengthwise to make curls for garnishing 
1½ ginger. skin removed and julienned
a handful cilantro leaves for garnishing (optional)   
tbsps cooking oil

Stuffing and bed
6 stalks of spring onion (just the white parts), cut into 3" to 4" sections, lightly crushed
3" ginger, cut into large chunks and crushed

tbsps light soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp rock sugar
a dash of white pepper powder
a scant of salt
4 tbsps water 

1. Mix the ingredients for the seasoning in a small bowl. Transfer it to a small sauce pan and put on low heat to lightly heat up dissolving the sugar within. Leave heated on low until ready to be used later.   
2. Clean and gut the fish thoroughly. Pat dry and cut two slanting slits across the thicker part of the abdomen on each side, taking care not to cut right through. Season in and out with salt and white pepper powder. Stuff the fish cavity with half of the stuffing and leave aside while you prepare the bed.
3. Line the center of a steaming plate with the remaining of the stuffing. This will be the platform to which the fish will be resting on, at the same time making sure that the fish will not be bathed in the pool of fish juice that oozes out when put to steam later. Meanwhile, get the steamer ready with enough boiling water in it.
4. Lay the fish on the bed in the steaming plate. Pour in a tbsp of Shaoxing wine into the fish cavity, and another tbsp over the fish. 
5. Carefully place the steaming plate onto the steaming stand. Cover, set the alarm and turn the heat down to medium. I had my pomfret weighing at 1.4lb which needed about 12 minutes to be thoroughly done. Adjust the steaming time to your fish accordingly. 
6. Check if the fish is ready at 12mins - you can stick in a fork at the site with the thickest flesh. Flaky and separating well - it's done. Give it another minute or two otherwise.   

7. Remove from heat, remove the stuffing in the fish cavity and gently transfer to a clean serving plate. Spoon in the seasoning all over and around the fish.
8. Heat up a small skillet with the cooking oil. Add in the julienned ginger and let fry lightly until fragrant and slightly browned. Set aside the julienned ginger, leaving the oil behind to continue heating. Spread the ginger over the fish followed by the spring onion curls.
9. Finish by gently and carefully pouring the hot oil slowly along the length of the fish. Listen to the satisfying sizzling sound - it tells you (and me!) that you have at least got this part right. lol. Garnish with some cilantro leaves(optional) and serve hot.


  1. Great recipes,
    actually i'm a little confused with this dish..
    is cantonese style is literary same with hongkong style?
    i prefer to use preserved salted black beand / tausi to steam chinese pomfret..
    make some savory hint to the fish

    1. I think they are indeed very closely related. In fact most Hong Kong people originate from the neighboring Guangdong province (Canton) hence the heavily Cantonese-influenced cuisine typically found in Hong Kong. So while one may have had steamed fish done exactly this way in Hong Kong (hence à la Hong Kong style), the great chef behind the dish is most of the time a Cantonese and really, it is actually the Cantonese way of making it.

      I love steamed fish with black bean sauce too although I'll usually have them with other types of fish like the whole tilapia. As for the naturally tantalizingly good pomfret, I do think that just a light touch of seasonings is perfect in accentuating the natural sweetness of a pomfret. Now I think I must have picked this rule of thumb from the Cantonese too lol.

      And thanks for dropping by!

  2. Great Article
    full of information
    Thanks for the recipe, i would like to try it

  3. what is a steaming plate? I've seen this in a few of your recipes....

    1. Hi there! I'm actually not sure if that's right term for the plate but I was actually referring to the stainless steel dish (as shown in the pictures) that I normally use to steam anything and almost everything. I think it conducts heat relatively better than other types of plates in general. That said, it's not a must to use that though. You can use anything as long as it can withstand the heat.

  4. I just tried this recipe and it turns out really yummy! Thanks for sharing.

  5. I was told by a fisherman to steam 2.5 lbs of pomfret for two hours to get all the flavour and sweetness of the fish.
    Is it true?

    1. Ya if you like eating hard dry cardboard like fish.

  6. Made this tonight. Just delightful! Thank you.


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