Tips for Cooking Great Steamed Fish

Steaming fish is a long-time favourite way of cooking fish among East Asian communities. It is a healthier cooking method and it leaves the fish meat sweet and succulent….

” Good to the last bit of succulent flesh! “

For fish lovers, steamed fish is one of the best ways to enjoy it. Nibbling every bit of the fish bones and head is the best part of eating a fish, leaving not a single scrap of flesh, not even for your pet cat. If you want to have a go at steaming fish at home, we highly encourage it! It is simple enough even for novice cooks. All you need is a wok & lid with a steam rack, a medium sized serving dish big enough to fit your fish, a knife and some basic ingredients readily available in your local supermarkets.

Here are some simple tips for you to get started:

Types of fish – The best fish for steaming have sweet and white flesh texture, less bones and does not a strong fishy odour like tuna or mackerel. The popular choice of fish easily found in your local markets are White Pomfret (Bawal Putih), Grouper (Kerapu), Seabass (Siakap), Tilapia, Snapper (Jenahak) and Threadfin (Senangin).

Freshness – Fish should have bright & clear eyes, firm flesh, red gills and no bad odour.

A nice fresh fish should look the part with bright scales and eyes. We like to stuff it so every bit of it is flavourful

Fish fillet or whole fish – Ideally a steamed fish should be whole with its head and tail attached. Steaming fish with the bones on gives the fish a sweeter and succulent texture. However, if you are cooking for one or cooking for a child, steaming a piece of fish fillet is definitely a better option.

Cooking time – The tell-tale signs of a cooked fish is that the flesh colour changes to opaque white, comes off the bone easily and eyes should pop out from the socket. Timings are around 8 to 10 minutes for a medium sized fish and around 15 minutes for a larger fish.

Let’s get steaming!

Thai Steamed Fish

The four main flavours for Thai cuisine are the 4 S’s – Sweet, Sour, Spicy and Salty, which is what your taste buds will experience from this recipe. The balance of the flavour components will compliment the taste and texture of the fish. It is sure to make your face pucker up with delight!

Garlic Oil:
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
¼ cup oil for frying

Dress the Fish:
1 whole Seabass (siakap), scaled, gutted and cleaned
½ tsp salt (for fish)

6 pcs pickled garlic or onion, chopped
3 tbsp juice from pickled garlic or onion
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 inches ginger, cut into thin strips
4 pcs bird’s eye chillies, chopped
1 whole lemon, juiced & zest
1 ½ tbsp ugar
1 tsp alt (for marinade)
¼ cup water
Half of the garlic oil

1. Make garlic oil. Sauté chopped garlic on medium heat. Set aside in a bowl.

2 Prep fish. Cut 3 slits down to the bone on each side of the fish. Season with salt and massage it in, including the cavity and in between the slits. Stuff the cavity with the reserved coriander stalks.

3. Mix all the ingredients together for the marinade. The taste should be sweet, sour and salty.

4. Take some of the marinade and spread on the bottom of the steaming platter. Place the fish on top and pour the remaining marinade all over, including inside the cavity.

Ready to be steamed

5. Steam about 12 to 15 minutes depending on the size of your fish. The flesh should turn opaque white colour and flakes off the bone easily. Remove from the steamer and garnish with the remaining garlic oil, lemon slices and fresh coriander leaves. Serve immediately.

You want to enjoy this as soon as it’s out from the steamer. All you really need is some white rice


All the ingredients would have lent flavour to the fish. Flesh will be firm and falls easily from the bone.

You can make a simpler steamed fish by just using garlic, ginger and A-Grade soy sauce or teow chew style by using sour plums and pickled vegetables. Once you get the knack of steaming fish, there’s all kinds of flavours you can experiment with.

Chef Tips:

1. Remove the garlic oil from the heat when the colour starts to change to light golden brown. It will continue cooking itself in the hot oil and become browner.

2. You could butterfly the fish instead of leaving it whole. The cooking time will only take 8 to 10 minutes.

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