This classic Chinese preparation is both simple and dramatic. It’s the kind of dish that doesn’t need precision: You can have more or less ginger, you could add cilantro or chili or not. It’s a beautiful technique for a perfectly cooked fish and so easy to execute. Once the fish is cooked and plated, it's easy to pull off the filets from the bones. With a bowl of rice or some sautéed greens, it makes a complete dinner for two or three or, with a larger fish, even four.
I have included some suggestions for aromatics to add to the steaming water—they will certainly add a delicate flavor to the fish, but if you don’t have the ingredients, don’t sweat it. Even with plain water, this is an exquisite dish —Sara Jenkins
Optional aromatics for steaming water: star anise; knob of ginger, roughly sliced; Szechuan peppercorn; scallions; or green garlic
fine mild red wine vinegar
In This Recipe
For the fish, look for a whole porgy, black sea bass, Boston mackerel, or even trout, then get it scaled and gutted. (In a pinch, this can be made with fish filets, but I love cooking fish in the bone: I think it comes out much more moist and flavorful, as well as being a beautiful presentation.)
Rinse the fish with cold water inside and out and pat dry. Score a couple of gashes in the flesh on either side of the fish.
Slice 4 of the scallions and the knob ginger into a fine julienne and set aside. Save the scraps for stuffing the fish belly. Season the fish belly with salt and pepper and the teaspoon of wine or sherry.
Stuff the fish with the scallion and ginger scraps and the lime zest.
Take a large stock pot and put about 3 inches of water in it and bring to a boil.
Inside the pot, place an inverted cake pan or some other such thing so that you can rest a large plate with the fish on it inside the pot and out of direct contact with the water. (The fish will be on a plate that is resting on another object that is in direct contact with the bottom of the pot.)
Chop the final scallion into 3 pieces and rest it on the plate. Season the fish with salt and pepper on the outside with and place the fish on the plate.
Place the plate on the object in the pot, cover the pot, and steam over high heat for 10 to 12 minutes (more for a larger fish), until done.
While the fish is steaming mix the soy sauce with the vinegar and lime juice.
Remove the fish carefully and place on a serving plate. Place the julienned ginger and scallions across the top of the fish and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.
Heat the sesame oil in a small pan until just before smoking, then pour over the fish.
Finally, pour the soy sauce mixture onto the plate and serve. This fish is also quite tasty still served at room temperature.