Steamed Sole Fillets in Lettuce Leaves


  • 1 or 2 star anise
  • thumb of fresh ginger, the outer part peeled, the remaining part cut into slivers
  • dried tangerine peel or a sliver of orange zest
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 250 g (½ lb) Thai fragrant or basmati rice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 500 g (1 lb) prepared vegetables, such as shredded Chinese leaves, slivers of celery, bok choy (white Chinese cabbage), shreds of carrot, bean sprouts
  • 2 lemon or Dover soles, filleted and skinned
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 4 spring onions
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce


This recipe uses three steamer baskets, either an electric steamer or a wok with three bamboo baskets. At a pinch, you can steam the fish directly on top of the vegetables.

Put the star anise, ginger peelings, orange, fennel and cinnamon in the pan or wok which is going to be the base of the steamer, and add water, but not enough to submerge the first steamer basket.

In a saucepan bring the rice to the boil in twice its volume of water, and add half a teaspoon of salt. Simmer with the lid on for 5 minutes.

Drain the rice, rinse and strain again, and place it in a steamer basket, lined with muslin if it has large holes. Steam the rice for 5 minutes, over the aromatics.

While the rice is steaming, prepare the vegetables, and place them in the second steamer basket which you fit on top of the rice. Steam the vegetables for 5 to 8 minutes while you prepare the fish.

Cut each fillet lengthways so that you now have 8 pieces of fish. Season lightly and roll up each piece.

Put the fish in the third steamer basket, and on top scatter the thinnest slivers of garlic and fresh ginger, with shreds of spring onions. Sprinkle on a few drops of soy sauce and rice vinegar. Place the third steamer basket over the vegetables, cover with a lid, and steam for 3 minutes only.

If you are using bamboo baskets, these can be brought to the table, and everyone can help themselves using Chinese soupspoons, chopsticks and bowls. A dipping sauce can be made by adding a little chilli sauce and grated ginger to the remaining soy sauce and rice vinegar. Warm sake or rice wine would accompany this dish very well.

An old-fashioned yet very effective method of cooking, the pressure cooker, also relies on the absorption method. This is now being given a new lease of life in America where it is known as ‘infusion cooking’ – a good description, since whatever is being cooked infuses in its own juices. The other distinctive feature of the pressure cooker is that cooking time is dramatically reduced. I started using one again about three years ago, and I am utterly converted. So much so that I use a pressure frying pan as well. I was deeply sceptical of the promotional leaflet, which suggested I could cook a risotto in 10 minutes. Indeed, I doubted that a passable risotto could be produced by this method. It can. The creaminess induced by the constant stirring and breaking down of the rice grain by the manual method is produced by the application of pressure to the grain, and the results are very good indeed. I include a recipe below to demonstrate this, as well as the standard stirred risotto recipe.