This is a true family favourite. For the longest time, we would eat it in Chinese restaurants in Singapore, not realising how easy it was to make at home. The subtle but fabulous combination of flavours seemed tricky to achieve at home. That is until I came across the recipe in Fushia Dunlop’s “Every Grain of Rice”. I follow this recipe almost exactly.
In Singapore, I always made it with a whole sea bass, as it was really easy to find whole fish. In London, it’s much harder to find, unless you plan in advance, so I have resorted to using fish fillets (skin on). The whole fish tastes better no doubt, as the bones and aromatics in the cavity, impart their flavour. But the fillets work well too, and I add a little extra herbage to make up. If you can’t find sea bass, sea bream or red snapper would work well too.
The only prep needed is to spend a few minutes finely slicing the aromatics. That’s really it. To me, cooking doesn’t get better – delicious, delicate and aromatic with little effort.
Steamed fish Cantonese style
The cooking style is typically Cantonese, and little smoking oil helps the aromatics transfer their flavour to the juices served with the fish. Just be careful not to overcook the fish. The fish is done, as soon as it starts flaking off easily and the flesh looks opaque. I have a special "grip" that I found in Singapore, which makes easy work of transferring the hot dish from the steamer to table, worth seeking out if you add this to your regular repertoire.
Trim the spring onions and cut three of them into 6cm lengths, then into fine slivers. Wash and peel the ginger, (keep the thick peel and any knobbly bits for filling the cavity if using whole fish). Cut the peeled part into long, thin slivers.
If using whole fish, rinse and pat dry. Starting at the head, make three or four parallel, diagonal cuts on each side of the fish, cutting into the thickest part of the flesh near the backbone.
Rub the fish or fillets with a little salt and the Shaoxing wine. (If using whole fish place the ginger bits and any other bits of coriander stems etc. in the belly cavity of the fish). For fillets, place skin side down onto a plate that will fit the steamer.
Leave to marinate for 10–15 minutes. Pour off any liquid that has emerged from the fish and pat it dry. Prepare the steamer and bring to a boil.
Steam the fish over high heat for 7-8 minutes for fillets or 10–12 minutes for the whole fish, until just cooked. Test it by poking a chopstick into the thickest part of the flesh; the flesh should flake away easily. Remove and discard the aromatics from the cavity.
Take the fish out of the steamer carefully.
Scatter the fish with the slivered ginger and spring onion. Heat the oil in a small pan over a high flame. When it starts to smoke slightly, drizzle it very slowly over the ginger and spring onion slivers, which should sizzle dramatically (make sure the oil is hot enough by dripping over a tiny amount and listening for the sizzle before you pour the rest over the fish).
Dilute the soy sauce with 2 tablespoons hot water. Remove the fish from the steamer and pour the diluted soy sauce all around the fish.
Garnish with coriander if using and and serve immediately.