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Steaming fish results in flavorful meal


    Soy-steamed fish with scallions and pistachio. The technique for steaming fish is not at all difficult to master, and the aromatics — like ginger, scallion and sesame oil — are readily available. If you’re lacking a bamboo steamer, use a wok or deep skillet with a rack to keep the plate of fish above the simmering water.

The next time you buy a piece of fish for dinner, instead of pan-frying, poaching or broiling, why not consider steaming? It’s fast, easy and makes a remarkably satisfying light meal.

Chinese cooks have long been experts at steaming fish — especially whole fish, which may seem daunting. But boneless fillets are also excellent when prepared in the same way. The technique is not at all difficult to master, and the aromatics — like ginger, scallion and sesame oil — are readily available.

Most vegetables, whether small potatoes, carrots or asparagus, benefit from steaming, which accentuates their innate sweetness. The same holds true for fish.

Of course, spanking fresh fish is required. Look for white-fleshed fish such as sea bass, preferably about 2 inches thick. In a pinch, you could use salmon, but avoid stronger-tasting fish (like mackerel) for this method.

It’s worth investing in a good steamer with a sizable diameter. One made of stainless steel, though expensive, will last a lifetime. Inexpensive bamboo steamers available in Asian markets are quite sturdy and come in every size. A large wok with a lid works, too. It just needs a rack of some sort to hold what’s being steamed well above the boiling water below. Chopsticks can do the job, or a cake rack propped up securely. Absent a wok, a wide deep skillet with a domed lid will suffice, or some pasta pots com with steamer baskets.

In truth, the preparation of this fish dish takes longer than the 10 minutes or so it takes to cook.

First, you cut scallions and ginger into fine julienne, then stir up a little mixture of soy sauce and sesame oil, spiked with Shaoxing wine and a pinch of sugar. This makes a savory steam bath for the fish.

Then, put your fish fillet directly on the plate from which it will be served. It goes into the steamer for a brief spell and emerges succulent and fragrant. All you need is rice as an accompaniment.

With its topping of sizzled ginger, chopped pistachios and fluffy cilantro, the fish is both festive and fragrant.

By David Tanis

  • 3/4 pound fish fillet such as sea bass, tilapia or snapper, about 2 inches thick
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine (Shaoxing) or dry sherry
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Chinese fermented black-bean paste or sauce (optional)
  • 2 scallions, white and pale green parts only, cut into fine julienne
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 1-inch chunk ginger, peeled and cut into fine julienne
  • 2 tablespoons toasted chopped pistachios, for garnish
  • Cilantro sprigs, for garnish

Put fish on a sturdy heatproof plate, salt lightly and set aside.

In small bowl, mix together soy sauce, wine, sugar, sesame oil and bean paste.

Set up a steamer, large enough to accommodate the plate, with 2 inches of water in the bottom. Alternatively, use a large wok or deep, wide skillet fitted with a rack to keep the plate above the water.

Bring water to a rapid boil over high heat. Lay plate in steamer. Spoon soy sauce mixture evenly over fish and cover with lid. Steam fish 8 to 10 minutes, until cooked through. (It should flake easily when probed with a fork.)

Use a large spatula to carefully remove plate from steamer and set on a towel to blot moisture. Top with scallions.

In a small pan, heat oil over medium-high until rippling. Add ginger, let sizzle about 15 seconds, then spoon ginger and hot oil over fish.

Garnish with pistachios and cilantro sprigs, and serve immediately. Serves 2.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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