Learn how to make Hong Kong style Cantonese steamed fish with silky smooth flesh at home with all the pro tips you wish you know earlier.
As a kid one of the things that I look forward to when we go to Chinese restaurants was a steamed whole fish dish. I LOVE Chinese-style steamed fish. Some Chinese restaurants have fish tank filled with live fishes. The fish tank was not for decoration. Those live fishes are for customers to choose and the chef or chef’s helper will catch the fish, prepare and cook it on the spot.
HONG KONG STYLE STEAMED SEA BASS
This Cantonese steamed fish is one of our family’s favorites. The whole fish is steamed and then dressed with julienned green onion (scallion) and ginger. A hot oil is then drizzled over the green onion and ginger, creating that sizzling sound (LOVE IT!). The soy sauce-based sauce is then dressed on the side of the dish (not on the fish, explanation on this later!). The taste is so clean and simple, yet incredibly delish.
PRO USEFUL TIPS YOU NEED TO KNOW FOR STEAMING FISH
To make the most fresh-tasting Hong Kong style steamed fish that boasts the silkiest flesh, there are pro tips you need to know:
1. FRESH FISH
If you have access to live fish, well, please go for it. I don’t. Not at the grocery store 🙂 When I said fresh, it doesn’t mean you can’t buy frozen. Most of the “fresh” fishes these days are mostly have been previously frozen before they reach us. Just choose the high-quality fish you possibly can
2. RUB THE FISH WITH SALT
Salt helps to remove the fishy stench and enhance the aroma of the dish. The salt is then rinsed off with water
3. PROP THE FISH UP
Place some sectioned green onion stalks on the steaming dish and place the fish on top. This help to steam the fish evenly on both sides and help to prevent the skin from sticking to the plate. The green onion also helps to remove fishy aroma
4. ENOUGH WATER IN THE STEAMER
Make sure you fill up the steamer with enough water. You don’t have to open the steamer and refill water when you are halfway steaming the fish. This will skew the steaming time and steaming temperature
5. STEAM ONLY WHEN WATER HAS COME TO A BOIL
Only place the fish in the steamer after the water has come to a boil and then lower it slightly so the water simmer steadily and does not splatter all over. This will cook the fish properly and quickly to ensure the flesh remains silky and tender
6. TIMING IS EVERYTHING
It takes about 12 minutes to steam 450-500 gr whole fish. You can tell the fish is cooked when the eyes popped out and the mouth is slightly opened. Overcooking will make the flesh tough
7. RESIDUAL HEAT
After 12 minutes of steaming, do not open the lid immediately. Turn off the heat and let the residual heat continue to steam the fist for the next 2 minutes
BEST FISH FOR STEAMING
1. WHOLE FISH
I use sea bass in this recipe, which turns out excellent. You can also use grouper, red snapper, white pomfret, tilapia (I used it in the video), halibut, or any white fish you like really!
2. FILLET FISH
Any white fish fillet can be used: tilapia, cod fish, halibut, sole, flounder
Now that you know the basic for steaming fish, are you ready to whip up this Cantonese-style steamed whole fish?
HOW TO COOK CANTONESE STEAMED FISH
STEP ONE: PREPARE THE SAUCE
Heat sauce ingredient, except for the oil (we will heat this up later), in a small pan and bring to a boil and cook until sugar has dissolved. Remove and set aside
STEP TWO: PREPARE THE FISH
1. Clean fish by rubbing some salt on the skin and inside. This will help to remove fish odor and retain moisture and freshness of the fish when cooked. Rinse off an pat the fish really dry with an absorbent paper towel.
2. Make a few slits on the fish where the flesh is thick
3. Place the white part of the green onion sections on a steaming dish, place fish on top of this green onion. This will help to cook both sides of the fish evenly and prevent the skin from sticking to the plate too
STEP THREE: SET UP THE STEAMER
1. I use a wok with a lid. Place a metal trivet on the wok. Pour in some water
2. Bring water in the steamer to a rolling boil
STEP FOUR: STEAM THE FISH
1. Let the steaming water simmer steadily, not too harsh that it splatters. Steam the fish for about 12 minutes for 450 gr fish or until cooked through. Heat control is crucial here. If you are using fillet fish, you only need about 8-10 minutes to steam the fish
2. After 12 minutes, turn off the heat but do not open the lid yet. Let the fish continue to steam for 2 minutes
3. Remove the lid and pour away the liquid that on the steaming dish
STEP FIVE: DRESS THE FISH
1. Pour the sauce over the fish and then scatter julienned green onion and ginger on the fish
2. Heat up the cooking oil until really hot and you start seeing smoke started to rise. Remove from the heat and very carefully drizzle this hot oil over the green onions and ginger. You will hear a sizzling sound
This baby is now ready to be served!!
The family loves how silky smooth and tender the steamed fish is. Making this Cantonese steamed fish is really not hard at all. You just need to know few tips to get the maximum result out of it 🙂
Cantonese Steamed Fish (with Pro Tips You Need To Know)
- 1 large whole fish (I used sea bass) about 450-500 gr
- 4 stalks white part of the green onion save the green part for other use
- 3 Tbsp soy sauce or more to your taste
- ½ tsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp water
- 3 Tbsp cooking oil to be heated later
- 2 stalks green onion julienned
- 3 inch ginger julienned
- ½ cup fresh cilantro
Prepare the sauce:
- Heat sauce ingredient, except for the oil ( we will heat this up separately later), in a small pan just until sugar has dissolved. Remove and set aside
Prepare the fish:
- Clean fish by rubbing some salt on the skin and inside. This will help to remove fish odor and retain moisture and freshness of the fish when cooked. Rinse off an pat the fish really dry with absorbent paper towel.
- Make a few slits on the fish where the flesh is thick
Set up the steamer:
- I use a wok with a lid. Place a metal trivet on the wok. Pour in some water. Make sure it's enough to steam the fish so we don't have to refill water in the middle of steaming, which will disturb the cooking time. Not too much water too that it boils over the steaming dish. Bring water in the steamer to a rolling boil
- While waiting or the water to boil, place the white part of the green onion sections on a steaming dish, place fish on top of this green onion. This will help to cook both sides of the fish evenly and prevent the skin from sticking to the plate too
Steaming the fish:
- Once the water has come to a boil, put the steaming plate inside the steamer. The steaming water should be at a steady simmer, not too harsh that it splatters. Steam fish the fish for about 12 minutes for 450 gr fish or until cooked through. Heat control is crucial here. If you are using fillet fish, you only need about 8-10 minutes to steam the fish
- Once 12 minutes is over, turn off the heat but let residual heat to cook the fish for an extra 2 minutes. The fish is done when the eyes pooped out, the mouth is slightly open and the flesh flake easily
- Remove the fish and pour away the liquid that has pooled on the plate
Dressing the fish:
- Drizzle the sauce over the fish. Scatter julienned green onion and ginger on the fish
- Heat up the cooking oil until really hot and you start seeing smoke started to rise. Remove from the heat and very carefully drizzle this hot oil over the green onions and ginger. You will hear a sizzling sound
- Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and serve immediately
Why do we have to use high heat? Won’t medium heat achieve the same results?
You definitely want to make sure the steaming water comes to a steady boil to steam the fish so it’s cooked properly without being overcooked. Perhaps I should reword it to make it clearer 🙂
Thank you for sharing this lovely dish.
I made it last night for my Cantonese girlfriend and our Cantonese friend, and it looks like none of them cooked it in that way before (both were surprised by the sauce without oil) and they laughed for a good two minutes at the chopsticks steaming method.
I did try the chopsticks for steaming, and found it quite difficult as it was unstable. With that being said, I still managed to cook/steam the fish, but both of them weren’t satisfied with the sauce from the recipe, and made their own (lots of soy sauce and peanut oil). I have to say it was fantastic! The fish was also excellent (I followed the time from your recipe), and it got praised!
I’ll definitely do it again, but I’ll use their sauce next time as I really liked the peanut flavor!
Thanks again for sharing this recipe. Take care!
Thank you for sharing Dimitri! The oil is actually heated and then pour over the greens and I didn’t mix it with the sauce 🙂 I will have to try it with peanut oil next time 😉