A Step-By-Step Guide: Cantonese Steamed Fish

Growing up eating a Cantonese mother’s cooking, steamed fish and soups were always on the table. And even when we weren’t eating at home, steamed fish is inevitably what we order. For something that involves so few ingredients, so little elbow grease and so little time, it is extremely comforting. Sometimes the simplest things are the best.

All you need: some fish (you can use fillets or whole fish), spring onion, ginger, soy sauce, coriander, sugar, white pepper, oil.

What you get: beautifully steamed fish in a soy dressing that’s so good with rice.

Sit the fish on spring onions and top with ginger slices.

The spring onions under the fish not only allow for better circulation of steam to cook the fish, they also fragrance the fish as it cooks.

Top the fish with ginger slices (you don’t have to peel the ginger).

Steam until the fish is cooked – this depends on the size of the fish.

Steam over high heat, covered. For fillets, it should take anywhere from 5-8 minutes. For whole fish, 12-20 minutes. To make the fish cook quicker, you can cut deep slits on the fish.

Meanwhile, prepare toppings of coriander, spring onions and ginger.

Julienne the ginger, slice the spring onions on a diagonal and pick the coriander leaves off the stems.

When the fish is done, discard the spring onions and ginger. Transfer the liquid to a pan.

To test the fish, pierce it with a fork – there should be no resistance.

Season the liquid from the fish with soy sauce, sugar and white pepper to taste.

You want this sauce to be on the salty side because we did not season the fish with salt before steaming.

A little sugar highlights the natural sweetness of the fish. I would not recommend black pepper because it is too strong and not commonly used in Chinese cooking.

Pour over the fish.

For a cleaner look, you might want to pass it through a sieve, but it doesn’t really bother me.

Top with ginger and spring onion.

Meanwhile, you want to clean out your pan and heat to dry it.

Heat oil in the pan – you’ll need about 4-5 tablespoons. If you have rendered chicken fat, that’s even better.

Scald the spring onions and ginger with the oil and top with coriander.

You should hear a good sizzle once the hot oil encounters the spring onions and ginger.

The oil forms a ‘vinaigrette’ with the soy sauce.

Minimum effort, maximum output type of dish!



Pamelia Chia is a Singaporean chef and the author of the bestselling cookbook ‘Wet Market to Table’. After graduating with an Honor’s degree in Food Science and Technology from the National University of Singapore in 2014, she decided to trade a food scientist’s lab coat in for chef whites. She has since been working in restaurants in Singapore and Melbourne, including Candlenut and Carlton Wine Room. Her deepest interest being the preservation and celebration of Singaporean food heritage and culture, she started Singapore Noodles in 2020 as a platform to share about Singaporean food to a global audience. Find her on Instagram @pameliachia.

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