How to Steam a Fish Whole

Posted by MNAngler On April - 18 - 2011

In my last post, I gave instructions on How to Clean a Fish Whole. Now I’ll show you how to cook it.

These days, it’s very simple and easy to steam a fish. Back in the day, before there was electricity, my mom had to steam fish in a Pyrex pie plate in a big ol’ pot. She had a cool tool with three prongs that opened up and pulled the pie plate out of the pot.

But now, you can have a fish from fridge to table in 15 minutes flat. Just follow these easy steps:

Preamble: The Ingredients & Tools

  • A fish
  • Several green onions
  • A chunk of fresh ginger
  • A drizzle of Soy sauce
  • A drizzle of Sesame oil
  • About a Tbsp of Cooking sherry
  • About a Tbsp of water
  • A few shakes of White pepper
  • Chive flowers or fresh chopped cilantro
  • A large kitchen knife
  • A serving plate large enough for the fish, but small enough for the microwave

If you’re looking for exact measurements, you won’t find them here. My wife learned the recipe above from my mom, so there was no such thing as precise measurements. Don’t be afraid to guesstimate. Cooking isn’t an exact science. You can’t ruin it. It’s sure to be edible.

Note that there is no butter or lemon used in this recipe. That may be blasphemous to many fish eaters out there, but I encourage you to try this recipe and you’ll find that using butter and lemon juice isn’t the only way to eat seafood.

Step 1: Prepare the Fish

Use a pair of kitchen shears and cut off all the fins, dorsal and otherwise. They won’t be edible, so it’s best to dispose of them sooner rather than later.

Take a large kitchen knife and cut 3-4 slits into the meat about 2 inches apart all the way to the bone. These will be places to put herbs later in the process.


Step 2: Prepare the Herbs

Chop green onions into 3-4 inch sections. Take all but the root sections and crush them with the side of your knife. This will release more of the flavor into the fish.

Slice the ginger so that you get twice as many slices as you have slits in the fish. Take half of the ginger slices and cut them again lengthwise so you have some ginger slivers.


Step 3: Add the Herbs to the Fish

Create a bed with the green onion root sections and put the fish on top of it. Stuff the body cavity of the fish with the green onion sections and ginger slivers. Open the slits in the body of the fish and put a slice of ginger into each of the slits.


Step 4: Add the Seasonings

Drizzle soy sauce, sesame oil, and cooking cherry over the fish. Add a little bit of water to help with the steaming. Shake some white pepper on top depending on taste. If you have chive flowers, crush them and sprinkle them over the top. Or add some chopped cilantro.


Step 5: Cover

Cover with wax paper, then with saran wrap. The wax paper helps to steam the fish and keeps the saran wrap from sticking to the fish.


Step 6: Cook

Put the entire dish in the microwave and cook at 70% power for 5 minutes to start. Check it when the microwave beeps.

The fish is done when the meat flakes off the bone with gentle prodding. To check it, I usually take the side of a fork and start in the middle of the body by the tail fin. Run the fork toward the head following the spine. The spine is a good place to divide the meat. Once the fork has sliced through the cooked meat, get under it by the spine and slowly push the meat up off the bone. It should flake off.

If it doesn’t flake off easily, put the fish back in the microwave and cook it for a minute at a time at full power checking it after each run. It should only take an extra minute or two. As you cook more fish, you’ll get a better feel for how much longer it should go for.

When done, take off the saran wrap and wax paper and bring to the table. Use the technique described above to remove the meat from the skeleton.

Many people are squimish about the head of the fish being on the dinner table. But without it, you miss out on probably the best piece of meat on the fish: the cheeks. The cheeks get the most workout on a fish, so the meat on the cheeks are firmer and better tasting than any other part of the fish. It’s harder to find the cheeks on smaller fish, but if you get a good eater size fish, dig the cheek meat out and give it a try. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good it tastes.

2 Responses to “How to Steam a Fish Whole”

  1. Once again, great post. It’s like one of those fast and convenient microwave dinners. I should post one of my wife’s recipes also.

    I personally prefer the heads on the fish, just for the visual. I like to see the whole fish on my plate (fins and all), it’s artistic.

    Also, I knew about the cheek meat. It’s just that I usually eat trout between 10 and 12 inches. So the cheek meat on a fish like that is smaller than a dime. Not really worth the effort to me. I never ate a bass though, so I wouldn’t know about that.

  2. Optimista says:

    What a super informative and helpful post! I’ve never seen anybody cut slits in the fish and stuff them with ginger – what an excellent idea. Now if only you could invent some way for me to taste your creation over the internet…

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