Steamed Fish

Qingzhen Yu

Preparation info

    Appears in

    Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook

    By Ellen Schrecker

    Published 1976

    • About

    Flavor: Mild and GingeryMeal: Almost in Advance, Steamed

    In Szechwan, fish were steamed as a special treat for the very young and the very old, those pampered children and honored elders whose palates occasionally needed a respite from the fiery everyday fare. Only the freshest of fish got such a treatment. Mrs. Chiang’s mother knew how to use spices to disguise the flavor of a fish that had passed its prime, but she used very little seasoning when she wanted to let a really fresh fish speak for itself. Steaming is the best way to accentuate the sweet flavor of a fish.

    When Mrs. Chiang steams a fish, she follows her mother’s recipe and adds nothing but a few scallions, some ginger, wine, and a sprinkling of soy sauce and sesame oil. It is a simple recipe, one that couldn’t be easier to prepare. All you do is place the fish with its seasonings on a plate inside a steamer and let it steam; the recipe is foolproof. And if your fish is fresh, you will produce a subtle and elegant dish.



    1 whole, fresh fish (1-½ pounds), preferably sea bass, carp, or flounder Have the store scale and clean the fish, but leave the head on. Before you cook it, rinse it under running water and make sure it is completely scaled and all the guts have been removed.
    1-½ teaspoons salt Cut deep gashes into the side of the fish, about ¾ inch apart; it does not matter if the gashes hit the bone. Rub the salt all over the fish, inside the cavity as well as on the skin outside, then put the fish on a plate or in a shallow bowl.
    2-inch piece of fresh ginger Peel the ginger, then cut it into slivers about ⅛ inch wide, the width of a wooden matchstick.
    4 scallions Clean the scallions, then smash each one, both green part and white, with the side of your cleaver and cut into 1-inch lengths. Put about half the scallions, along with half the ginger, into the cavity of the fish.

    1 tablespoon soy sauce

    1 teaspoon sesame oil

    Carefully sprinkle the soy sauce and sesame oil over the fish. Then spread the rest of the ginger and scallions on top.

    Set the fish aside to marinate at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes. After it has been marinating for a while, the fish’s fragrance will be quite amazing.


    (fish and its marinade)

    3 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or cooking sherry

    If you don’t have a Chinese-style steamer, you can improvise one out of a wok and its cover or a large pot. After you have set it up, fill the bottom of it with water and put the plate or shallow bowl containing the fish on the rack over the water. Sprinkle the wine over the fish.

    Bring the water to a boil over a high flame, then cover the steamer and steam the fish for 20 minutes. Remove the plate from the steamer carefully and serve the fish immediately.