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Chinese Style Steamed Fish
By Charlie Burke

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Although I haven’t featured oriental cooking in this column, we frequently
turn to stir fries and
steamed fish when we want a light meal that is still full of
flavor. I have fresh ginger, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil (thick and dark and
intended for seasoning, not the light type used for frying), Vietnamese fish
sauce and varied Chinese hot pepper and black bean pastes as staples in the
refrigerator. I use Chinese five spice flavoring in many recipes, and a favorite
is roast chicken seasoned with five spice from a recipe by Jasper White, an icon
in Boston cooking.

This is healthy cooking, low in fat and which includes large amounts of lightly
cooked fresh vegetables. This recipe was done with tilapia, which is farm
raised in an ecologically friendly form of aquaculture. It is recommended by
groups monitoring depleted species (
click here for more information) and can
take some of the pressure off cod and other over-fished species. Affordable
and versatile, it is firm and mild in flavor, somewhat like expensive Dover
sole.

We have an inexpensive bamboo steamer which has three levels, permitting
the fish and vegetables to be steamed together, but conventional metal
steamers work well, also. I usually drizzle the fish with soy sauce mixed with
grated ginger and some cayenne powder or Chinese red pepper paste before
steaming and drip small amounts of sesame oil over the cooked fish. Thinly
julienned scallions and sweet red peppers add color and flavor, and a sprinkle
of dark sesame seeds adds crunch and contrast. Fish fillets are used here, but
shrimp and scallops are perfectly suited for steaming and make an easy but
elegant dish for entertaining.

Two servings:

2 six – eight ounce tilapia fillets
2 tablespoons soy sauce or reduced sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon grated or finely minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon Chinese hot red pepper paste or black bean paste (optional)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon black sesame seeds (optional)
2 scallions, trimmed, cut into 2 inch lengths and then thinly sliced lengthwise
½ sweet red pepper, julienned
4-6 fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced (optional)

Bring 4 inches of water to a boil in a wok or metal steamer. Mix soy sauce,
ginger, red pepper paste and lemon juice in a small bowl. Place fillets on a
plate sized to fit inside the steamer. Drizzle soy sauce mixture over the fillets
and sprinkle with the julienned vegetables and sesame seeds.

Place fish into the steamer and cover. Cooking time will vary with different
size fillets and the steamer being used. Check frequently after 4-5 minutes and
remove from the steamer when the fish is not quite opaque in the center;
residual heat in the plate will complete the cooking.

Place the fillets onto plates and pour fish juices and sauce from the steamer
plate over them. Drizzle each with several drops of sesame oil and serve.

This dish was served with asparagus charred in a ridged grill pan and
steamed snow peas, but broccoli, green beans and carrots are bright and
flavorful when steamed until barely tender. Bok Choy or Chinese cabbage are
traditional oriental vegetables, and, of course, steamed white rice is a usual
side dish.

Low fat cooking does not have to be unexciting cooking. The ginger, soy and
the heat from the pepper paste contrast with the mild fish to produce complex
flavors in a very simple preparation. Black bean paste gives a different earthy
taste to the sauce, and I sometimes add chopped garlic. In the past we had to
travel to Chinese grocery stores to get authentic oriental ingredients, but now
they are on the shelves of nearly all markets, so experiment and choose your
own favorites to take advantage of this great flavor resource.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH
Farm to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  
Along with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at
Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
Steamed Fish, Chinese Style - Photo by Charlie Burke
©The Heart of New England online magazine
...celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont!
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