Mister Jiu’s Sizzling Fish

Sizzling Fish

This Cantonese steamed fish is topped with ginger, green onions, and fermented black beans.

Serves4

Prep20 minutes

Cook12 minutes to 15 minutes

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Credit: Pete Lee

On a weekly basis, my mom would cook corned beef with cabbage, or chicken à la king, or sausage lasagna. It was too expensive to travel internationally, but we got to eat all over the world from our kitchen table. When she cooked food from her childhood, though, she would make us this steamed fish, topped with ginger, green onions, and fermented black beans. The flavor of steamed fish in Cantonese cuisine is all about sīn tìhm (鮮甜), the essential flavor of a fresh ingredient in combination with a pure, smooth sweetness. The final lashing of hot oil in this dish infuses the green onions and ginger into the flesh of the fish and enriches the soy. 

Take care not to overcook the fish; I like to turn off the heat in the last minutes of cooking and let the steam finish the job. The flesh should pull off the bone in tender morsels, not flake. I always score round, fleshy fish to help it cook evenly. Then I steam the fish only until the thickest flesh right behind the gill area is not quite opaque or, as Cantonese cooks say, “translucent like white jade.”

Tester’s Note

This is a quintessential head-to-tail Chinese dish, one I remember my grandmother making a few times a week, so I was thrilled to test this for the Mister Jiu’s cookbook. The beauty lies in purchasing the freshest fish possible, using a few aromatics, and then letting steam do all the cooking. It’s a simple symphony of flavors, and the only fancy technique is heating oil at the end to pour over, or sizzle, the ginger and scallions on top. The cooked oil wilts them down and draws out the flavors as it flows down over the fish, mingling with the soy sauce and fish juices collected at the bottom of the dish. This flavorful medley spooned over steamed rice is one of my favorite things ever.

When choosing a fish, look for one that fits in your steamer, but if it doesn’t, it’s okay to cut it into two pieces. Be patient separating the bones from the meat when serving (that’s part of the fun!), and don’t forget about the delicate hidden pocket of meat in the cheek — it’s my favorite! – Christine Gallary, Food Editor-at-Large

Sizzling Fish

This Cantonese steamed fish is topped with ginger, green onions, and fermented black beans.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 12 minutes to 15 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon

    fermented black beans (optional)

  • 1

    (1 1/2 pound) whole fish (such as black bass or Tai snapper), gutted and scaled

  • 1 large handful

    aromatics (such as thinly sliced ginger, green onion tops, and/or strips of fresh citrus zest)

  • 1/4 cup

    high-smoke-point oil (such as peanut oil)

  • 2 tablespoons

    premium soy sauce (頭抽, tàuh chāu) or light soy sauce (生抽, sāng chāu)

  • 1 (1-inch) piece

    ginger, peeled and thread cut

  • 3

    green onions, thread cut (white parts only)

  • Young cilantro sprigs for garnishing

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, cover the black beans (if using) with water, let soak for 30 minutes, and then drain.

  2. Prepare a steamer in a wok or a large, lidded pot and bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat.

  3. Meanwhile, using kitchen shears, cut off the gills and the fins (careful, sharp!) on the top, bottom, and sides of the fish. Run your fingers over the skin, especially near the gills and belly, toward the head to check for any last scales; remove the scales with the edge of a spoon or the back of a knife.

  4. On both sides of the fish, make eight 2-inch-long parallel slits into the flesh, not quite deep enough to hit bone, starting about 1 inch from the gills. Place the fish in a pie plate. (The fish can hang over the edges so long as everything fits in the steamer. If not, cut the fish in half to fit and hope none of your guests are superstitious.) Tuck some of your chosen aromatics into each slit, then stuff the remaining aromatics in the cavity. Top the fish with the black beans.

  5. Place the pie plate in the steamer, cover, and steam until the eyeball is opaque and the flesh of the fish is white and flaky at the thickest part near the head and first slit, 10 to 12 minutes.

  6. While the fish is steaming, in a small heavy-bottom saucepan over low heat, slowly warm the oil.

  7. When the fish is ready, remove it with the pie plate from the steamer. (Reassemble as a whole fish if you cut it in two.) Drizzle with the soy sauce, then top with the ginger and green onions. Turn the heat under the oil to high and warm until it just starts to smoke. Immediately pour the oil over the fish, getting as much of the ginger and green onions to sizzle as you can. Garnish with the cilantro and serve with a spoon big enough for drizzling the juices.

Recipe Notes

Reprinted with permission from Mister Jiu's in Chinatown: Recipes and Stories from the Birthplace of Chinese American Food by Brandon Jew and Tienlon Ho, copyright © 2021. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Photography copyright: Pete Lee © 2021