Steamed Fish – Cantonese-Style!

Robin Boyle Chinese, Dinner, Family, Fish & Seafood, Main course, Vegetables

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My father was a naturally gifted cook – years ahead of his time in terms of experimentation and sophistication. He loved Chinese food, one reason being that his first job (at age fifteen) was at Chung Gong’s greengrocer in Launceston. Through the protective owners he developed a taste for Cantonese cuisine, acquiring useful cooking skills along the way. Every few weeks he would cook a Chinese-style dish for the family, and we children all went on to develop a love for that cuisine.

Steaming was one of the methods he used, and this simple fish and vegetable dish reminds me so much of my childhood, and indeed adulthood too because he continued to cook into later life. Having the necessary equipment was no object, he was great at improvising. Thus, he didn’t have a bamboo steamer or an electric steamer or even a special steamer insert for a saucepan. However, he would still manage to contrive an effective steamer from a large stockpot and a suitable insert over the boiling water.

The recipe below gives a lovely, clean and delicate result. Refrain from over-seasoning, in particular by adding bottled sauces as you don’t want to run the risk of overwhelming the delicacy of the fish, though one option given is to use some pounded black beans. Offer more flavour when serving with some extra soy sauce and/or chopped chilli or a soy-chilli-garlic sauce.

Use the freshest fish possible; here we use orange roughy. Use whatever vegetables you think will suit and which will cook in time. Use your favourite steaming method, in this case we used our new convection-steam oven and were easily able to put the whole dish in and cook it uncovered.

Ingredients (for two serves)
  • two fillets white fish, skin off (200 to 250 g each)
  • one bunch baby bok choy, washed and drained, quartered or in leaves
  • 200 g sugar snap or snow peas, trimmed
  • one red capsicum, segmented
  • 2 tbsps peanut oil
  • 2.5 cm piece fresh ginger, finely chopped or in thin strips
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tbsp sherry or equivalent
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • (optional – 1 tbsps salted black beans, rinsed, pounded)
  • 2 tbsps extra peanut oil
  • 2 or 3 spring onions, diced
  • (optional – 2 tbsps coriander leaves, diced)
  • steamed rice for serving
  • extra soy sauce, chilli for serving

Have the fish fillets at room temperature. Prepare your steamer and have it ready to go. Use a dish with sides and large enough to take the vegetables, fish and sauce. To avoid a watery sauce, shake or pat dry the vegetables if they are still wet. Combine the ginger, garlic, sherry and soy (and black beans if using).

Pour the first lot of oil into the dish, add the vegetables and toss to coat. Place the dish into your steamer, covering it if required to trap the steam in. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes to partly soften the vegetables. Place the fish on top of the vegetables. Pour the soy mixture over the fish. Return to the steamer for 5 to 10 minutes until the fish is just cooked.

In the meantime, heat the remaining oil in a saucepan. Either in the cooking dish, or on serving plates, sprinkle the fish with the spring onions (and coriander if using) then pour over the very hot oil. Spoon the juices from the cooking utensil around the fish and vegetables.

Serve: Serve the fish and vegetables immediately with steamed rice.

Difficulty: 3/5 (Moderately difficult). In fact very easy, but care must be taken not to overcook the fish.