Friday, November 5, 2010

Chinese Whole Steamed Fish


Every couple of months, my family would get together with all of our extended family in the Southern California area.  We would go to one of two places: Sam Woo in San Gabriel for dim sum or NBC Seafood in Monterey Park for Chinese seafood.  Nowadays, our we patronize Newport Seafood in Roland Heights.

One thing about reputable Chinese seafood restaurants is that they always have tanks and tanks full of live seafood.  I don’t understand why Western restaurants, especially those that specialize in seafood, don’t do this.  I think it’s safe to assume that most of the time the quality of a fish that’s dispatched only 15 minutes before eating it will be better than one that comes in dead from a fish monger.  When you order live seafood at these restaurants, they’ll bring out whatever you ordered to your table still live and flopping around to make sure it’s up to snuff before they…snuff it out.


As with dim sum, there were always a few guarantees when my family got together for Chinese seafood: crispy chow mein, Chinese lobster (in my opinion, the best way to prepare lobster), and Chinese steamed fish would be ordered and we’d get complimentary oranges or red bean soup for dessert.

With a longing for Chinese seafood and very little knowledge about the Chicago Chinese seafood scene, I set out to make my own Chinese steamed fish.  The first step was to get a live fish scaled and cleaned.  Most Asian grocery stores will usually have at least live tilapia, which is what I opted for.  I could’ve went with a more flavorful fish, but I was feeling cheap that day.


When I got home to cook the fish, it was still stiff from rigor mortis.  It doesn’t get much fresher than that.  Chinese steamed fish is very simple: all you really need to do is steam the fish in a basket full of aromatics and herbs and top the fish with some soy sauce and hot aromatics.  Also, don’t discard the head because the cheeks are the best part of the fish.


The fish turned out pretty respectable compared to what you can get at a restaurant.  Next time, I’ll probably go with a more flavorful fish.  I’m also interested in seeing if the quality of the fish at Marketplace on Oakton matches the quality of their produce.

Chinese steamed fish:

  1. 6 stalks green onion => ~3” rough chop
  2. 5” piece ginger => matchsticks
  3. 1 bunch cilantro => rough chop, set 2 T aside
  4. 1/3rd of step #1 + 1/3rd step #2 + 1/2 step #3 => line steaming vessel
  5. 1/3rd of step #1 + 1/3rd step #2 + 1/2 step #3 + salt + pepper + 1.5 lbs whole fish => season and stuff fish
  6. Step #4 + step #5 + 1 T  rice wine => steam, medium heat, ~15 minutes, discard aromatics
  7. 2 T cilantro + 1 t sesame oil + 2 T soy sauce + 1/2 t sugar => heat, pour over fish
  8. 1/3rd of step #1 + 1/3rd step #2 => really hot pan with oil, ~10 seconds, pour over fish


  1. so you totally dont know me, but im friends with your sister emily.....i love your blog.

  2. What is it about cheeks? They're the best part of everything!

  3. Thanks, Mei.

    That's so true about cheeks. I guess the cheeks of most animals have a lot of fat and collagen in them which is why they're so good.