Chinese Steamed Fish

Chinese Steamed Fish

The taste of a particular food can evoke potent memories, bringing back sounds and smells, and calling up a moment in the past as if we’d never moved on from there.   If I walk into a bakery and smell rye bread baking, it’s like being transported to my grandmother’s kitchen, where I used to kneel at the oven window, watching the little rye buns bake and counting the minutes until they were done.  She always put coarse salt and caraway on the tops of the buns, and they were so fragrant and chewy that they didn’t need butter.

This steamed fish recipe is based on a twenty-five year old memory.  There was a truly great pan-Asian restaurant in Washington for many years called Germaine’s (those of you reading from Washington are nodding knowingly), and her steamed fish was sublime. Flaky and white, with just a tang of ginger and salt, this fish was so tender you could have fed it to a baby.  Germaine had so many signature dishes that I hate to neglect the others, like Pinecone Fish and Paper Chicken, but I think this recipe for steamed fish is as close as I’m ever going to get to Germaine’s perfect version of it.

Chinese Steamed Fish on America's Table

You don’t need a big steamer to make this.  I used a large roasting pan and put the fish on an ovenproof plate inside, and covered it with foil.  I’m morally opposed to buying expensive pieces of kitchen equipment that won’t get much use, because after the expense, they have to be stored somewhere, and that too is a problem.  It seems more sensible to adapt what I have and make it work.  Maybe someone should create an app for borrowing kitchen supplies, so we can share them around – I would happily loan out my chocolate molds, bundt pan collection, or pizzelle maker!  But back to the delish fish dish…

Serves: 4

Prep time: 40 minutes


  • 1 – two-pound very fresh whole tilapia, grouper, rockfish, snapper or flounder
  • 1 cup cilantro, hard stems removed
  • 6 thinly-sliced pieces of ginger, and 6 tablespoons julienned ginger
  • 6 scallions, 3 diced and 3 thinly sliced into long pieces
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil


  1. Scale and gut fish, or ask your butcher/fishmonger to do it
  2. Leave head and fit intact.  Wash thoroughly.

  3. Cut 3 slits on each side of the flesh part of the fish and insert slices of gingerChinese Steamed Fish on America's Table

  4. Season with salt.
  5. Place the diced scallions at the bottom of a heatproof plate large enough to hold the fish.

  6. Put the fish on the plate and top with half of the julienned ginger. 
  7. Place the plate with the fish inside a steamer or a large roasting pan with one inch of water.
  8.    Cover with foil. 
  9. Steam for 20 minutes or until fish is tender and fully cooked.

    Chinese Steamed Fish on America's Table

  10. Microwave option:

  11. Cover fish with wet paper towel and cook on high power for 12 minutes.
  12. Remove fish from steamer and top with the rest of the julienned ginger, scallions and cilantro.

  13.   Set aside.
  14. Heat oil in a heavy saucepan until smoky.

  15.   Pour hot oil over the fish. 
  16. Add soy sauce and sesame oil.
  17.   Serve immediately with steamed rice.

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