Saturday, March 11, 2006

Whole steamed fish with ginger and scallions

Looking at my Outlook schedule last monday morning was depressing enough to start drinking office coffee. It was burnt and just plain bad, and it wasn't going to help me deal with the insane number of meetings I had that week, but still... And then the phone rang. Am I late somewhere already? After looking at the caller ID, I breathed a sign of relief. It was my Mom. "You have a minute?" All our conversations start this way, and I am yet to have one that actually took a minute. "Sure!" how could I say no to procrastinate dealing with customers and developers.

"How was the borsh?" I spent half an hour trying to get some sort of semblance of a borsh recipe out of my Mom over the weekend. We don't cook Russian food with recipes, so giving a recipe for a dish you know like the back of your hand is harder than you'd think. I am lucky if I get a rough idea of ingredients. The measurements, temperatures, and timings are usually described with the words "some", "a lot", and "a little". I don't mind. By now I know how to interpret my Mom's recipes, and that borsh was great. "I think it will be even better today." I said, "You know how it's never at its best the first night."

"How was rockfish?" I asked. My Mom was asking me for advice on rockfish this weekend and I was curious how it turned out. Rockfish is Maryland's name for striped bass. It's the pride and joy of Maryland fin fish and one of my favorite fish. "Oh, I didn't get it," she said appologetically as if knowing how much I wanted her to try it. I was so close -- I almost got my Mom to try a new fish. "Why not?" I asked. "I figured maybe you can make it for us when you come. Besides, I wasn't sure if it's really the same thing as striped bass. What if it's different! Maybe you can get it in Boston, and take a picture for me and post it on your blog." "Sure, I'll take a picture of striped bass for you. Not that I need an excuse to cook a whole striped bass, but this will encourage me to get it next time I am in the store."

So, here it is -- striped bass or rockfish or whatever the local name for it is. It's one fish you can never mix up with any other because it has stripes :)

Whole steamed fish with ginger and scallions

How to make a steamer: Traditionally, the fish is placed on a plate, then set on a rack inside the wok filled with boiling water, and covered with a dome cover. If you don't have a wok, you can easily improvise a steamer by using some commonly available kitchen tools. I fill my large turkey roasting pan with 1-2 inches of water, and set one of the gas stove burner grates inside to serve as a riser for the plate with fish. You can also use empty tuna cans that have been opened on both sides to make a ring. Couple of tall cookie cutters would also do well. Make sure that the water is at least half an inch below the top of your riser, so that it doesn't touch the plate with fish. Whatever you use for a riser should be at least 1.5 inches tall to allow you to pour in enough water. For a cover, use a large piece of aluminum foil. If using a large turkey roasting pan, set it over 2 burners.

Fish substitutions: striped bass (shown in the picture), tautog, black bass, Mediterranean bass, sea bream, red snapper, or any non-oily whole fish under 3 Lb. You can also use fish fillets or steaks (halibut is perfect for this recipe).

You might find this Guide to buying and cooking a whole fish helpful.

Serves 4

1 inch fresh ginger, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
One 2.5 Lb whole fish, scaled, gutted, gills and fins removed
Salt and pepper
2 tsp sesame seed oil
2 Tbsp Teriyaki sauce

  1. Set up a steamer by using a wok or a large roasting pan as described above.
  2. Rinse the fish under cold water, pat dry with paper towels, and place on a plate. For fish over 2 pounds, cut four 1/2 inch deep slits on each fillet (the slits should score the fish crosswise -- from the tummy to the backbone). Rub the fish with salt and pepper. Stuff some ginger and scallions into slits and sprinkle the rest over fish.
  3. Bring the water in the steamer to a boil over high heat. Set the plate with fish inside the steamer. Cover tightly with a domed cover or aluminum foil. Steam on high for 8 minutes per inch of thickness (a 2.5 Lb fish will take 12-14 minutes). Note: if using steaks or fillets, steam for only 6 minutes per inch of thickness.
  4. To check if the fish is done, insert a fork in the back of the fish and try lifting the top fillet off the bone. If you can mostly separate the fillet from the bone and only encounter the resistance towards the center of fillet, the fish is done. It will continue to cook as it rests. Turn off the steamer and allow the fish to sit uncovered for 5 minutes. Remove the plate from the steamer being careful not to spill any juices that accumulate on the plate.
  5. In a small saucepan, warm up sesame seed oil and soy sauce and pour over fish. Present the fish whole to the table. Fillet and serve over rice.


Anonymous said...

Hi Helen!
My husband and I took one of your classes a few years ago at CCAE. Glad to see you're doing well.

I make a similar recipe often, and I like to use the fresh from the tank tilapia from the Super 88 market. I steam it with scallions and ginger and use a sauce of half soy sauce and half vegetable oil to top it off. Always a treat!

Anonymous said...

Hi Helen,

Steamed whole fish is one of my favorites. For 16 years, I was a fishfarmer: grouper, snappers, sea bass (baramundi)and, tilapia. So my family always had the freshest prime fishmeat one can get.

I would steam the fish like you do except just using thin slices of ginger. When the fish is ready and rested on the warm serving plate, I cover it with a generous serving of thinly slice matched sticks of fresh ginger and scallions. I boil the cooking oil and then pour it on the garnishing, the searing process releases a sweet aroma that makes one very hungry. The semi-cooked garnishing provides a good contrast to the texture of steamed fish. Cheers!