how to make sauce for steamed fish | Family Cuisine

To make sauce for steamed fish, you will need to combine equal parts of soy sauce and water. Add a teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of cornstarch, and stir until the mixture is smooth. Now add chopped ginger root,

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How to make sauce for steamed fish

Cantonese steamed fish is a traditional, simple dish often served as one of the final courses in a Chinese wedding banquet (right before the last rice and noodle course).

That said, it’s also a dish that can be found on home dinner tables on any old weeknight. That’s how you know it’s not just easy…it’s really delicious.

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All you need is a few simple ingredients that can probably already be found in your own pantry and refrigerator. Come to think of it, I’d never written the recipe down before this. We’ve made it so many times that everyone in the family can make it in their sleep.

You’ll get the hang of it quickly too. It’s such an easy and delicious way to prepare fish.

Pouring Sauce over Cantonese Steamed Fish

Note: This recipe was originally published in October 2013. While we haven’t changed the recipe, we have updated it with new photos, clearer and more detailed instructions, metric measurements, and a video! Enjoy!

What If I Don’t Have a Wok or Steamer?

The traditional way to steam fish (or any food) is with a wok, steaming rack, and lid, or a wok and a bamboo steamer.

Many restaurants have the luxury of using steam ovens or large multi-level steamers, but the most flexible steaming tool is still a large wok, especially if you are steaming a large fish or filet. For more ideas and tips on steaming, see our post on Chinese Steaming Techniques.

As you’ll see in that post, not having a steamer or wok is ok. You can simply use a large pot or deep skillet with a lid. With that, you can either use a steaming rack or an empty tuna can in 1-2 inches of water. Voila! You have a steaming setup.

Check out our Chinese cooking tools page for more information on tools you need for steamed dishes. In particular, check out some of the simple plate lifting gadget that can make your life easier when handling hot plates!

How Long Do You Steam Fish?

Steaming fish goes pretty quickly, especially with the fish fillets we’re using in this recipe.

If you’re looking to make a whole fish, check out our comprehensive recipe for Chinese Steamed Whole Fish. As with any protein, bones extend cooking times, so it can be a bit trickier to determine when your fish is done.

Even with fish fillets, though, steaming time will still vary based on the type, size, and thickness of your fillet.

For small, thin filets, your fish may cook in as little time as 4-5 minutes. Thicker, larger filets will take longer.

So, how do you know when your steamed fish is done? Simply use a dull butter knife to gently pierce the thickest part of the filet. The fish is done when the butter knife falls through the fish easily, without resistance.

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It’s best to check the fish earlier and keep steaming for an additional 1-2 minutes if needed. Avoid overcooking the fish, as it can get tough or rubbery!

What Type of Fish is Best for Steaming?

The Chinese love to steam whole fish, especially the older generation of folks who consider the fish head and belly the best parts! But preparing, cooking, and serving whole fish has its challenges, so many choose the easier fillet option.

Note: if you’d like to do the whole fish version of this recipe, head to our Cantonese Steamed Whole Fish post for a complete tutorial on how to cook and serve it. Fresh whole striped bass or black seabass are great options for that one!

Choosing the type of fish filet to cook obviously depends on availability and freshness, but just about any delicate white fish is a good choice.

Avoid oily and firm fish like bluefish, mackerel or swordfish. Instead, any of the following will work:

  • Flounder or fluke
  • Sea bass
  • Haddock
  • Ocean perch
  • Grouper
  • Cod
  • Freshwater tilapia

We used a haddock fillet for this post:

Haddock Fillet

The best source for fresh fillets is from your trusted fishmonger, but flash-frozen fish from the supermarket will also work.

For those of you lucky enough to live near convenient ocean fishing, this is a great recipe for a delicate fresh-caught fish like fluke or flounder, black seabass or blackfish. See our deep sea fishing fun during our Montauk family trip.

Even cod is a good fish for steaming if it’s fresh, especially when you have an expert like Judy catching nice-sized cod on our Prince Edward Island RV Getaway. Another noteworthy recipe where we use fillets is our Hunan Steamed Fish with Salted Chilies and Tofu or Duo Jiao Yu, which uses stronger spicier flavors. It’s one of our favorite recipes. We also have a Hunan-style whole steamed tilapia with tofu.

Cantonese Steamed Fish: Recipe Instructions

Cut the scallions into 2-inch lengths, and cut the pieces in half lengthwise. Julienne them thinly. Thinly slice about 15g of ginger, and julienne them. Give the cilantro a rough chop. Remove about 1/3 of each of the aromatics, and put on a separate plate. Set aside.

Aromatics for Cantonese Steamed Fish

Combine the light soy sauce, salt, sugar and hot water in a measuring cup or small bowl, and mix until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Set aside.

Mixture of soy sauce, salt, sugar, and water

Prepare your steaming set-up. You can use a metal tiered steamer, or a wok/deep skillet/pot, as long as it has a lid. Simply place a small round metal elevated rack (or even an empty tuna can) at the bottom for the plate to sit on, and fill with 1-2 inches of water.

Wok with steaming rack and water

Bring to a boil. (See our post on how to set up a steamer if you’re not familiar with steaming foods in Chinese cooking.)

Rinse your fish fillet, and carefully lay it on an oblong heat-proof plate that will fit into your wok or steaming setup. Carefully place it in the steamer, and adjust the heat to medium.

Placing plate of fish in wok to steam

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The water should be at a slow boil that generates a good amount of steam, but not so high that the water evaporates too quickly.

Cover and steam for 7-10 minutes depending upon the size and thickness of your fish fillet. If you have extremely small, thin fillets (half an inch), cook for 4-5 minutes. Check for doneness using a butter knife. If it falls easily through the thickest part of the fillet to the bottom of the plate, the fish is done.

Checking fish for doneness with butter knife

Turn off the heat, and carefully drain any liquid on the plate.

Draining liquid off plate of steamed fish

Spread about ⅓ of the scallions, ginger, and cilantro on the steamed fish (alternatively, you can wait to do this AFTER adding the sauce).

To make the sauce, heat a wok or small saucepan to medium high heat, and add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil.

Adding oil to small saucepan

Add the remaining ⅔ of the ginger, and fry for 1 minute.

Adding julienned ginger to oil

Add the white parts of the scallions and cook for 30 seconds.

Adding white parts of scallions to ginger

Then add rest of the scallions and cilantro. The mixture should be sizzling.

Adding the rest of the scallions and cilantro

Add the soy sauce mixture.

Pouring soy sauce over scallions, ginger, and cilantro

Bring the mixture to a bubble, and cook until the scallions and cilantro are just wilted, about 30 seconds.

Bubbling sauce for steamed fish

Pour this mixture over the fish.

Fish fillet with scallion ginger soy sauce over the top

If you prefer to add the raw aromatics after adding the sauce, you can do so now, and heat an additional 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to pour over the raw aromatics.

Raw aromatics over the top of sauced fish

Be careful when pouring the hot oil over the raw ginger, scallions, and cilantro. The aromatics should sizzle and release their fragrance.

Pouring hot oil over ginger, scallions, and cilantro on Cantonese steamed fish

Serve your Cantonese Steamed Fish immediately! Lots of steamed white rice is a must.

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Plate of Cantonese Steamed Fish
Picking up Cantonese Steamed Fish

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