Chinese steamed sea bass, a steamed fish dish that’s light and healthy also quick to prepare and cook.
Chinese steamed sea bass is a beautifully light fish dish, full of flavour but requiring little in the way of preparation. With just a few aromatic ingredients, and a fresh whole fish, this meal can be on the table in less than 30 minutes.
I spent a long time working in China some years back. Food is served banquet style with plates of food set in the centre of the table on sharing plates. Diners simply share the food, having a little from every plate on offer.
I worked beside the coast, so we ate a lot of lovely fresh seafood. We used to select our own fish and seafood from tanks built along the walls. The variety was amazing, cooked simply and always full of fresh tasting flavours.
One dish regularly ordered, was a whole fish simply steamed with ginger, garlic, spring onion and chilli. This Chinese steamed fish was then covered with a warm soy dressing and served whole.
We would each just help ourselves to a portion of the fish, the vegetables and the dressing, Often the dish would come with some additional warm soy dressing on the side.
I recommend asking your fishmonger to help out by scaling, gutting and removing the fins from your fish in the shop. This will save a lot of time and mess when you get home.
However, if you do have to prepare the fish yourself it’s easy enough. Here’s how it is done:
Scaling a fish:
Using the back of a knife, run it up and down the body of the fish. The scales will come off quite easily. Rinse thoroughly under cold water when finished.
Gutting a fish:
Next, using a sharp knife make an incision in the belly of the fish, near the tail end and cut through the belly up to the head of the fish.
Remove everything from the cavity of the fish, it will come away easily enough. Then give it a good run under cold water to clean up the inside of the fish.
Removing the fins:
I find the best way to remove the fins from fish is to use a sharp set of kitchen scissors and cut them off using that. Try as get as close to the base of the fish as you can without damaging the flesh of the fish.
What does the cooking term “en papilotte” mean?
This recipe cooks the fish en papilotte in the oven. This French terms simply means to cook “in paper” or “in parchment”. This is the simplest method of steaming food when you don’t have a steamer. Here you cook your food in a small parcel of parchment paper or kitchen foil.
This simple method of cooking seals in all the flavour, steaming the fish and keeping it moist. It is the ideal method for cooking this Chinese steamed sea bass.
I like to cook fish using this method, but you can also cook vegetables and chicken in the same way. Sealing in the flavours and opening the parcel when you are ready to eat.
Chinese steamed fish would traditionally be cooked using a bamboo steamer, which I have and use often. However, we used this alternative method of cooking in the recipe to show how easily it can be prepared and cooked without one.
How can I use a bamboo steamer instead?
If you have a bamboo steamer this works really well for Chinese steamed sea bass. Simply stuff the fish with the vegetables and place in the steamer and pop the lid on.
Next place the steamer over a pan or wok of boiling water (the water should be below the level of the steamer – it is the steam that cooks the fish). Steam gently for 15 minutes.
Heat the remaining ingredients in a small saucepan. Once the fish has cooked through, remove from the steamer and place on a serving dish. Pour the warm soy dressing over the fish.
We have used whole sea bass but you can use any fish using this steaming method. A similar whole fish like sea bream, snapper, tapia or any similar type white fish would work.
However, don’t be limited by only using whole fish. If you don’t want to try whole fish, then a filleted portion of fish would also work. Place the fillet of fish in the parcel, allowing one per person and lay the vegetables on top.
Cod, haddock, hake, halibut or even an oily fish like salmon or trout would all work with the Asian flavours in this dish.
Please note that those with a peanut allergy should substitute the groundnut oil with sunflower oil in this recipe.
What can I serve with this fish dish?
This steamed sea bass dish works really well for a light lunch. I like to serve it alongside some simply stir fried vegetables. Keep it simple and serve with our Stir-fried Pak Choy; or our Stir-fried Broccoli with Garlic, and some steamed rice.
However, if planning a Chinese banquet style meal then along with this Asian steamed sea bass try some other Chinese dishes like our Stir-fried Beef & Black Bean Sauce; our Pork & Peanut Stir-fry or our Easy Stir -Fried Chicken & Cashew Nut.
Place everything in the middle of the table and leave guests to help themselves!
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Additional recipe suggestions:
Looking for inspiration for feeding the family mid week, then take a look at our Ultimate Guide to Family Dinners. Full of useful hints, tips and recipes.
Chinese Steamed Sea Bass
- 500 g one whole seabass (or similar type fish, scaled and gutted)
- 2.5 cm fresh root ginger (julienned)
- 1 red finger chilli (de-seeded and julienned)
- 3 spring onions (sliced)
- 1 tbsp groundnut oil (substitute with sunflower oil if you have a peanut allergy)
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp light soy
- 1 tsp dark soy
- 1 tbsp shaoxing rice wine
- Wash and dry the fish thoroughly and score three deep diagonal cuts down each side of the fillet. Place the fish on a tray lined with a large sheet of parchment paper (ensuring it is a large enough piece to fold up to make a parcel).
- Place half of the ginger, chilli and spring onion within the cavity of the fish and take the remaining vegetables and tuck them into the cuts and sprinkle over the top of the fish.
- Add a splash of cold water and fold up the parcel taking care to ensure the paper is not touching the top of the fish. There needs to be space at the top of the parcel to allow the fish to steam.
- Place the tray in the oven at 180CFan and cook the fish for 12-15 minutes.
- Meanwhile place all the ingredients for the dressing into a saucepan and gently heat up.
- Once the fish has cooked, remove from the oven, open the parcel and place the fish gently onto a serving dish. Pour over the warm dressing and serve immediately.
• Please note that the nutrition information provided below is approximate and meant as a guideline only •