Steaming is worry-free method for succulent fish

Published 1:32 am Saturday, April 7, 2018

White fish is tricky since it is easy to overcook. In Southern China, cooks have a worry-free method for perfectly moist, succulent fish: steaming. Aromatics such as ginger, scallions and cilantro simmer in the steaming water, imparting flavor.

The key to steaming’s success is the temperature. While frying and sautéing fish exposes its delicate muscle fibers to high temperatures, causing the fibers to shrink and lose moisture, steam creates a gentle, consistent heat. That mild heat firms the protein, allowing it to retain most of its moisture, resulting in tender, juicy fish.

I used a cod fillet for this recipe which has a mild flavor and flaky texture. Cod is easy to find in the market but any white mild fish like haddock or halibut can be used. Since fillets vary in thickness, a general guide is to steam them for about 8 minutes per 1-inch thickness.

This recipe was really delicious. I used my big pot with a basket for steaming. Covered with cabbage leaves, it protects the fish. The oriental flavors worked so well with this fish. This is good enough for company.


From ‘Milk Street Magazine’ March-April 2018.

Ginger-Scallion Steamed Cod

Serves 4

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus ¼ cup whole leaves, divided

6 scallions, 3 minced and 3 thinly sliced on bias, divided

2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided

3 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil, divided

Four 6-ounce skinless cod, haddock or halibut fillets

6 large green cabbage leaves, plus 2 cups thinly sliced green cabbage leaves

2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar

2 teaspoons white sugar

1 teaspoon ground white pepper

1 serrano chili, stemmed and sliced into thin rings

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

In a wide shallow bowl, stir together the chopped cilantro, minced scallions, ginger, 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil. Add the fish and coat well. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Place a steamer basket in a large Dutch oven. Add enough water to fill without reaching the basket. Remove the basket. Cover the pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high. Don’t let the steaming water reach a full boil. A gentle heat cooks the fish slowly and evenly, helping it stay moist.

Line the basket with 4 cabbage leaves. Place the fillets on the leaves, then cover with remaining 2 leaves. Turn off the heat, then set the basket in the pot. Cover and return to a simmer over medium. Steam until the fish flakes, 8 to 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the remaining 4 tablespoons soy sauce, the rice vinegar, sugar and pepper. Transfer 3 tablespoons to a medium bowl, add the sliced cabbage and toss. Arrange on a serving platter. Reserve the remaining dressing.

When the fish is ready, discard the leaves covering it. Use a spatula to set the fillets over the cabbage. Sprinkle with sliced scallions and the serrano.

In a small skillet over medium-high, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil until starting to smoke. Pour the oil over the fillets. Drizzle with sesame oil and sprinkle with cilantro leaves. Serve with the reserved dressing on the side.