Steamed fish is one of the easy to make dishes that is sure to have so much flavor. It’s one of the dishes that we love making at home because it’s easy, but I’ve always wondered for a while why we could not capture the taste of the dish from Chinese restaurants. We used to marinate the fish in soy sauce first before putting it in a dish in the steamer, along with the aromatics. But last year, I gave it another try and after a bit of research, I found out that the Chinese method is quite different, and it made all the difference.
If you noticed, the really good “Chinese restaurant” version of steamed fish with soy sauce has cleaner, more refined flavors–as if you can taste every element and ingredient in the dish. This is because they steam the fish separately, before adding any other elements. When you marinate the fish in the soy sauce mixture before steaming, the flavors of the soy sauce mixture get meshed in with the fish and its flavor is different.
And while in other dishes this may work well, it won’t in steamed fish because, in this dish, we want to highlight the freshness of the fish and the subtly sweet flavor of the soy sauce. – bit more heavy, way less aromatic and it also leaves a slight metallic taste to the mouth. In short, if you steam the soy sauce along with the fish, the flavor is different in the sense that it is a bit heavier, less aromatic and it also leaves a slight metallic taste to the mouth.
Some recipes call for rock sugar. While that is great and makes a more syrupy sauce, it’s not necessary–any sugar or sweetener will do. In my case, I used plant-based stevia, and in a very very small amount (because soy sauce with boiling oil poured over it already quite sweet).
So anyway, I’m sharing the recipe below and I hope you enjoy it! This also works with additional Cilantro.
Chinese Steamed Fish Fillet with Scallion, Garlic, Soy Sauce and Chili
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 8-15 minutes (depending on the size of the fish)
- 3 pieces or about 300-500 grams of any type of white fish fillet (in the photos above, I used Wild Caught Crimson Snapper [meatier] and Regular Cream Dory [lighter])
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced ginger
- 1/4 cup chopped garlic (or more if you want a stronger garlic flavor)
- 1/2cup of scallions or leeks, thinly sliced diagonally
- 1/4 cup rice wine (xiao xing rice wine usually), set aside half 1 and a half teaspoon for steaming.
- 1-2 siling labuyo/bird’s eye chili, chopped (or more if you want it spicy!)
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar/1 stevia sachet
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 3 tbsp water
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- Optional: pandan leaves for steaming, and fresh cilantro leaves and an additional layer of flavor.
1. Mix the soy sauce, rice wine, water, and sugar/stevia in a bowl and set aside.
2. In a steamer, place half the ginger and the pandan leaves (if you will use it) on the steaming rack, then put the fish on top. Place the remainder of the ginger on top.
3. Depending on how big the fish pieces are, steam the fish for 8 minutes minimum (for thin or smaller fillets). If you are cooking thicker or bigger pieces of fish, steam for 15-20 minutes).
4. To know if your fish is cooked, do the fork test: nudge the fish gently with your fork. If it easily flakes, the fish is ready. However, if your fish is still translucent and still a little springy, it would need a bit more time.
5. Once cooked place the fish onto a serving plate or bowl.
6. Pour the soy sauce and rice wine mixture on top of the fish.
7. Heat your cooking oil in a separate pan, until it’s very hot (deep fry levels hot, around 250 to 300 degrees). Quickly toss your scallions, chili, and garlic in the oil (to avoid burning).
8. Turn off the stove and immediately pour the oil, the scallions, the garlic, and chili onto the fish. This step is important so as to quickly “cook” the soy sauce.
EDIT: someone pointed out that it is better to pour the boiling oil first before the soy sauce. It’s a fair point and I think this is also a good method 🙂