Steamed whole fish is a classic Chinese way to prepare it. But don't worry about not having a large steamer, you can make this delicious Chinese oven steamed fish with plain old foil. The result is wonderfully tender fish perfect any time.
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We love fish and are so grateful to have not one but two great fish markets nearby. It makes it so easy to add favorites like Goan fish curry, and Catalan fish stew to our menu. Although in fairness, we are pretty bad at falling in to a habit of salmon most of the time since the kids like it.
This Chinese oven steamed fish is one I'm hoping to convince them to have as well. I let them off the first time I made it as they had a friend over, but the flavors here are so mild and easy to like, I think they'll be getting it next time. And there will definitely be a next time.
Steamed fish - a Chinese New Year staple
If you've read some of my other posts on foods typical of Chinese New Year celebrations, like sang choy bao, Chinese lettuce cups and yee sang, Chinese salad, you may have seen me mention fish is common as well. A steamed whole fish is particularly common in the Cantonese speaking area.
Fish is believed to bring luck and prosperity in the coming year. ’Yu’, the word for fish, sounds like the word for leftovers, so a little of the fish is typically left for good luck. You would typically serve it as the main dish, alongside meat.
The classic Chinese way of preparing a whole fish is with ginger and sometimes garlic and green onions in and around the fish. You then drizzle a simple soy-sesame oil mix over the fish.
You can cut the garlic and ginger very small and stuff it in to cuts in the fish, but I've gone for an easy method by using slightly larger pieces in and under the fish. I couldn't resist a little in the cut at the top, but you could just lay on top.
The most popular way to cook it is probably steamed in a steamer. However I for one don't have anything big enough to steam a whole fish. Wrapping the fish in foil and putting it in the oven, though, gives very much the same result.
How can fish be steamed in oven?
Cooking in a foil packet like this is basically the same as the French-style preparation of fish "en papillote". Traditionally that means using parchment paper, but foil is definitely easier to handle.
By sealing up the packet, you lock in all the moisture and flavors you have added in with the fish. In effect, the fish is steamed rather than baked. This means the fish comes out wonderfully moist and tender.
This Chinese oven steamed fish is delicately flavored, tender and moist. It goes well with simple sides like stir fried greens or a light salad. It makes a delicious meal, whether for Chinese New Year or any time.
Try these other dishes for a Chinese New Year meal:
- Hong shao rao (red braised pork belly)
- Sang choy bao (Chinese lettuce wraps)
- Yee Sang (a salad with thin cut vegetables and, often, sashimi, found in Chinese communities eg in Singapore)
- Chinese pork and cabbage dumplings
- Wonton soup
- Plus get more Chinese recipes in the archives.
Chinese oven steamed fish
- 1 ½ lb sea bream 700g, approx, or other whole white fish (can use two small)
- 3 green onions (spring onions)
- 1 clove garlic
- 6 slices ginger (6 slices approx a 1in/2.5cm piece)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- ½ tablespoon sesame oil
- ½ tablespoon rice vinegar
- Preheat the oven to 400F/200C.
- Trim the ends off the spring onions (both stem and dark green part) and peel off any rough outer layer. Cut them in to roughly 2-3 inch (5-7cm) pieces and slice them in half lengthwise. Cut the ginger in to thin slices and peel and slice the garlic.
- Line a baking dish big enough to hold the fish with a piece of foil that is big enough to wrap the fish with a bit of extra to fold together. Put roughly 1 onions-worth in a layer at the bottom of foil ad top with a couple slices of both garlic and ginger (see pictures above for this and next step).
- Make two cuts into either side of the fish then rest it on top of the onion, garlic and ginger slices. Put a couple more pieces of onion, ginger and garlic in the cavity then cut the last of the garlic and ginger in to smaller pieces to fit in the cut on the side of the fish. (Alternatively, just lay on top.) You should still have around 1 onion left.
- Mix together the soy sauce, sesame oil and rice vinegar and drizzle over the fish. Fold the foil over the fish and roll the edges together to seal up the packet.
- Place in the oven for around 25 minutes, or a little longer depending on the size and thickness of the fish, until the fish is cooked through. Serve topped with the remaining onion.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.
Try these other oven-cooked fish ideas:
- Crumb top baked cod from Palatable Pastime
- Parmesan grouper potato casserole from Food Lust People Love
- Sheet pan baked cod on crispy garlicy potato rafts from Karen's Kitchen Stories
- Baked cod puff from Sid's Sea Palm Cooking
- Oven roasted mussels over wilted greens from Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Olive oil poached cod from A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Sheet pan shrimp stuffed peppers from Sneha's Recipes