Steamed fish with ginger

Preparation info

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Appears in

Old Food

Old Food

By Jill Dupleix

Published 1998

  • About

Until steamers come fish-shaped, confine your steaming to plate-sized fish, or you’ll have serious trouble with heads and tails. This classic Chinese method is surely the finest way to cook fish in all the world, and one of the healthiest. It would pay to invest in a double-decker steamer from Chinatown, if you want to cook four fish at a time.


  • 4 plate-sized snapper, bream, or baby salmon, around 400 g (14 oz each)
  • several lettuce or cabbage leaves
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 5 cm (2 in) knob of ginger
  • 1 small red chilli, sliced (optional)
  • 3 green (spring) onions, finely chopped
  • 5 tbsp peanut oil
  • half a bunch of coriander


Scale, clean and gut fish. Wash and dry well. Use a sharp knife to make three slashes in the thickest part of the fish, on both sides.

Fill base of steamer with water and bring to the boil. Line 2 shallow heat-proof bowls with leaves and lay fish on top of leaves. Mix soy, sesame oil, rice wine and sugar, and pour on top. Peel ginger and cut into tiny matchsticks. Scatter ginger, chilli and half the spring onions on top of fish and place in the steamer. Steam for 12 to 15 minutes, but start checking at around 10 minutes to see how fish is doing: the flesh should part easily from the bone when pierced with a knife. Remove fish from steamer when cooked.

Heat peanut oil in a small pan until it just starts to smoke. Remove fish from steamer and pour the hot oil on top of the fish. The skin will crackle and sizzle, and the oil will add to the cooking juices to make a wonderful, aromatic sauce. Top with remaining spring onions and coriander leaves and serve with jasmine rice.

To serve, run a sharp knife through the flesh from head to tail, then cut across into 3 sections. Distribute among four Chinese serving plates, then turn fish over and repeat the exercise. Don’t forget to drench your rice with the cooking juices.