Today was a beautiful Sunday of blue skies, warm breezes, and no schedules stretching out lazily before me. I stopped into the local Asian market to pick up the requisite 25 lb bag of rice, box of ramen noodles and bunches of cheap, fresh veggies. While there, I decided I wanted to tackle cooking a whole fish, since I’d never done it before!
The fish counter at the asian market is pretty intimidating. Rows and rows of fish on ice with blank, wet eyes staring back at you. On top of that it smells funny and I don’t know exactly the right words in vietnamese to explain what I want. But I forged on in the name of deliciousness!
I picked out a red snapper and had the fish guy de-scale & de-fin the fish. A man next to me told me check under the gills. If it is red, the fish is fresh; if it is brown or darkened, it’s no good. Pretty good tip! There was some miscommunication between our hand signals and my broken vietnamese and the fish guy ended up also slicing the fish in half, but not a big deal.
Once I got home, I did some quick recipe research on how to steam a whole fish, since I wanted to stay healthy, and frying a whole fish seemed a lot messier. In reading these recipes, I found the following standard rules of fish-steaming:
- Fill the fish cavity with aromatics
- Steam a 1 lb fish for 15-20 min
- In a separate pan, heat oil to almost smoking and quickly sautee some scallions/ginger etc, and then pour this on to of the steamed fish
Following these rules, I came up with the following recipe. It makes for a very healthy, hot, and delicious mean, and was actually quite easy, so you should try it out!
- 1 lb whole red snapper
- 2 inches of ginger
- 2 inches of carrot
- 1/2 bunch cilantro
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 scallions
- 2 TB soy sauce
- 1 TB sesame oil
- 1/2 TB fish sauce
- 1 bottle beer
- 4 stalks celery
- 1 lime
- Salt, pepper
- Rinse off the fish and rub the outside and inside with salt & pepper to season
- Julienne the ginger and carrots. Coarsely chop the cilantro. slice the garlic cloves. Chop up the scallions. Slice the lime into thin rounds. Set all aside on a plate.
- Stuff the fish with the ginger, carrots, cilantro, garlic and lime slices. Use about 1/2 of everything, reserving the rest for later. Lay some lime slices on the top of the fish.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil, and fish sauce. Pour this on top of the fish.
- In a pan big enough to fit your fish, lay down 4 celery stalks. These will form a nice little stand for your fish while it is steaming.
- Pour one bottle of beer into the pan and turn up the heat to med-hi. I used Heineken b/c all asian men drink Heineken and i figured that would make sense in an asian-style dish.
- Once the beer starts boiling, carefully lift the fish onto the celery stalks and cover the pan to let the fish steam. You can also pour in any excess sauce from the plate directly into the pan.
(Please ignore my ghetto lid setup. I didn’t have a lid to the big pan I was using!)
- When the fish has about 3 min left, in a separate pot, heat up 4 TB oil to nearly smoking. Toss in the remaining ginger, carrots, garlic and quickly stir to cook and get all the flavors out – about 1-2 min, then turn down the heat.
- Use a spatula to lift the fish out of the pan and onto a serving plate. Remove the stuffing and discard. Pour the hot oil/ginger/carrot/garlic mix directly over top the fish. Garnish with more cilantro and you are ready to serve!
I served the fish with some steamed rice, a plate of fresh herbs, and some lime/sugar/fish sauce sauce. The meat is tender and flaky. The sauteed ginger/carrot/garlic are really the key piece in making this dish. It’s spicy, sweet, and strong against the light flavor of the fish meat. Make sure you get some bites with the fish & ginger all at once!