Steamed Sole

Steaming is a very Chinese approach to fish cooking and is a great technique as long as the fish are cooked whole and on the bone. The fish does not have to be expensive; lemon sole is excellent cooked this way and so is whiting If you want to go up-market, try steaming a sea bass or a Dover sole.

You may have a dedicated piece of kit to do the job, but others can improvise. A large wok with a lid and a rack is ideal. You steam the fish on the plate on which you serve it, allowing 450 g / 1 lb weight per person on the bone, so make sure it is large enough for the fish to sit flat on the base.

If serving the fish as part of a Chinese meal, a 900-g / 2-lb fish will be enough for 4. The Cantonese tend to scatter the fish with lots of flavouring ingredients, like dried shrimp and bits of ham, but this is not essential. Set up the steamer with water in the bottom and put to boil. Make sure the fish is scrupulously clean. If there is any blood in the body cavity, rub with salt and rinse under cold running water.

Read more


  • 1 whole sole, weighing about
  • 675 g/ lb
  • 1 carrot
  • 3 spring onions
  • 5-cm / 2-inch piece of ginger
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 hot red chilli
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp sunflower oil
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • whole coriander leaves, for garnish


Cut the carrot, spring onions and ginger into julienne strips, putting them immediately into a bowl of iced water and tossing to mix the strands. Cut the garlic clove into paper-thin slices and the chilli into thin rings.

Put the sesame and sunflower oils in a small pan with the garlic and chilli and heat gently

Pour 1 tablespoons of soy sauce on the base of the plate for the steamer and then lay the fish on top, skin uppermost. Pour the remaining soy sauce over and put to steam. The size of the fish does not affect the cooking time, which will be between 12 and 15 minutes, as much as it does with other cooking methods.

Test that it is done after 10 minutes by sliding the tip of a knife into the back at the centre and pulling upwards. The flesh should detach easily. You do not want it undercooked because it will not come off the bone. Conversely, it is difficult to overcook because steaming is a gentle, forgiving technique and you would probably have to leave the fish for about 20 minutes before it was actually ruined.

Remove the fish and plate from the steamer and wipe round the edge of the plate for a neat presentation. Drain the vegetable julienne and heap on top of the fish. Pour the now hot and aromatic oil on top to wilt the vegetables and complete the dish by scattering whole coriander leaves over.

Eat immediately – if the oil is allowed to cool it will make the dish greasy.