In China, fish is a symbol of wealth and prosperity. Steamed fish is a popular dish to serve during special occasions, such as formal banquets and holiday dinners. It is a permanent fixture on any Chinese New Year menu. When serving fish on such an occasion, serve it whole-head, tail, and all. This symbolizes a good beginning and a good ending.
Yield: Makes 4 servings
One 1½- to 2-pound whole fish, such as rockfish or snapper, cleaned
¼ tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
4 sprigs cilantro
3 tbsp vegetable oil
Prepare a wok or stir-fry pan for steaming (see Notes). Season the fish inside and out with the salt and pepper. Place the fish on an 8- or 9-inch pie plate or shallow, heatproof dish. Place the dish in the steamer, cover, and steam over high heat until the fish turns opaque and just begins to flake, 15 to 20 minutes. Carefully remove the dish from the steamer.
Stir the soy sauce and sesame all together in a small bowl. Pour over the steamed fish. Lay the cilantro sprigs over the top of the fish.
In a small skillet, heat the vegetable oil over high heat until it just begins to smoke. Carefully pour the hot oil over the fish, stand back, and watch it sizzle. Serve immediately.
One of the best ways to retain the natural flavor and nutritional value of your ingredients. Steaming is also a very healthy cooking technique because it uses little or no fats or oils.
To steam, bring water to a boil in a wok or wide frying pan. Place the food in a heatproof dish and place it on a steamer rack above boiling water. Cover the steamer with a tight-fitting lid and steam until the food is done, adding additional water as needed. Remember to be very careful when removing the steamer lid. Always tilt the lid away from yourself, so the escaping steam will not burn you.
Don’t just change your oil, cook it!
A good Chinese chef can differentiate cooked oil from uncooked oil, much the same way that anyone can tell inexpensive from extra-virgin olive oil. Many Chinese prefer the taste of seasoned oils, so they heat it up and add garlic, onion, ginger, and/or chiles. The flavors infuse the oil and add great taste to stir-fried food. Also, by heating oil before pouring it over steamed fish, the fishy odor is eliminated, and the oil creates a pleasant sizzle.