A steamed fish recipe that’s fast, healthy and packed with flavor is something everyone should know how to cook.
Today’s recipe is exactly that. A great option for weeknight dinners or entertaining, this uses fresh fish fillets (or thawed frozen ones, if that’s what you’ve got!). The fish is scattered with ginger, chilli and green onions, for a quick Chinese steamed fish dish you’ll end up making on repeat because it’s that good.
There’s nothing complex about making this steamed fish recipe, but the depth you get from a handful of ingredients and a steamer will surprise you. While the fish itself is subtle in taste, the simple sauce of rice wine, light soy sauce and sesame oil is full of umami flavors. The final step of hot oil poured over the fish sizzles and releases the aromas of the ginger, chilli and onions. If you’ve ever found steamed fish boring or bland, this step will forever change your mind about how tasty it can be.
The Chinese cooking style and flavors of this meal mean I most often serve it with simple steamed white rice. If we have guests I’ll go further and make an Asian food banquet, adding Chinese steamed vegetables.
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What type of fish should you use for steaming?
You can steam just about any kind of fish, but for this steamed fish recipe I choose white fish fillets like tilapia, cod, sea bass, hake or snapper.
Today I used beautiful red snapper fillets from my fishmonger. They’re firm but flaky and have a lovely sweet taste.
You want fish that’s about 5/8″ (1.5cm) thick so it steams fast and evenly. For individual servings use smaller, 5oz (140g) pieces. Or cook one larger filet that weighs a little over a pound (600g), cutting and serving it at the table.
Size is less important than the thickness of the fillets in this steamed fish recipe. Nice thin fillets are necessary for the quick cook time we’re doing. Too thick and your fish will take longer to steam. It’ll also be more likely to overcook on the outside before it’s done in the center.
Freshness of fish is important when you’re steaming. Steaming is a delicate cooking method and if your fish is a little old, you can’t disguise that easily.
If you don’t have access to same-day-caught fresh fish, I’d recommend boat-frozen as a better option than older fresh fish. Thaw frozen fillets in the fridge, then pat them dry with paper towels before cooking.
Want to use a whole fish?
If you have a fresh whole fish, that also works for this recipe! You’ll need to adjust the cooking time but otherwise the ingredients and method translate well. Take a look at my recipe for Whole Vietnamese Steamed Fish for some pointers on cooking and serving up a whole fish.
The best way to steam fish: stovetop or steam oven?
There isn’t really a ‘best’ method for this steamed fish recipe, so it comes down to what kind of kitchen equipment you’ve got available to you.
The traditional recipe for this dish has you place fish and aromatics in a bamboo steamer basket, or steamer insert, over a pot of water. It’s a method that’s worked for centuries and it’s the perfect simple and accessible way to cook many types of fish.
If you have a steam oven, you can use that instead for this recipe. The big advantage of a steam oven is more precise timing, because the temperature of the cooking environment is very stable. Plus you can more easily cook for a crowd by filling your steam oven with multiple pans or plates of fish.
Whichever method you use, you’ll end up with flaky fish that’s perfectly cooked and on the table in about 15 minutes from start to finish.
Want more quick and delicious recipes? Try these too!
How to know when your fish is cooked
Once you’ve cooked fish a few times it gets pretty easy to tell when it’s done. If you’re new to it, here are a few telltale signs that serve as a general guideline:
Fish continues cooking when you remove it from the heat so we’re aiming for just a tiny bit underdone. When it’s perfectly steamed, the fish should be just barely flaky; if you prod it with a fork it’ll come apart but there’s a tiny bit of resistance.
If it flakes apart as soon as you touch it, it’s a little overdone. If you can’t flake the fish at all with a fork, it needs more cooking so you don’t end up with raw fish that’s got a chewy and unpleasant texture.
Fish will turn opaque as it cooks, going from a pinkish, translucent appearance to one that’s white. This is a sign that the proteins in the flesh are coagulating and firming up.
If you want absolute certainty and don’t trust your eyes or the fork/flake test, you can use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of the fish fillets. This is a little harder with thin fillets like we’re using today, but the center of the fish should read 130-135°F/54-57°C when it’s done.
Note this temp is lower than most governmental food guidelines! If you’re immunocompromised or pregnant, or cooking fish that’s less than perfectly fresh, it’s safer to go to 145°F/63°C to make sure any harmful bacteria are killed.
Step by step fast steamed fish with ginger
The full ingredients and method are in the printable recipe card below; for the visual walk though, read on!
Because this is a dish that comes together fast once you get going, have your ingredients all set out and prepared.
Warm some plates for serving so you don’t end up with cold fish after all your efforts. Set up a steamer pot and steamer rack or bamboo basket with an inch of water in the bottom. Put it on high heat to come to the boil. If you’re cooking in your steam oven, preheat it now.
Prepare and steam fish
Put the fish onto a heat-proof plate or lightweight stainless steel pan. Mix Chinese cooking wine, salt and pepper in a small bowl, then drizzle the top of the fish with the mixture.
Steam the fish until it’s opaque and just shy of being flaky. Unless your filets are very thick, your total steaming time should be no more than 8-10 minutes at most.
Remove the cooked fish from the steamer or steam oven, and put onto a warmed serving plate.
Dress fish and prepare hot oil
Scatter the ginger, green onions/scallions and chilli over the top and set aside while you prepare the sizzling oil step.
Put the peanut oil into a small saucepan and heat until it’s very hot but not quite smoking. While you wait, drizzle the fish with light soy and sesame oil.
Sizzle and serve
As soon as the oil is hot, pour it quickly over the fish and aromatics. Listen for that crackling, sizzling sound as the oil hits the other ingredients! If you’ve got everyone around the table already, do this step right in front of them. That way you all get to enjoy the sizzle and the aromas that come from the ginger and onions.
Now eat up! That lovely light sauce and the bright aromatics get scooped up with every mouthful, so you get all the textures and tastes with that gently steamed soft fish. You’re going to love it, and I hope you’ll be making it again and again once you know how simple it is.
Happy steaming, see you here again soon.
Have you made and enjoyed this recipe? I’d love if you’d be kind enough to rate and review it via the stars in the recipe card, or leave a comment below! Ratings and reviews help other readers to find and know whether one of my recipes will suit them.
A Fast Steamed Fish Recipe with Ginger (15 minutes!)
- 4 5oz white fish fillets skinless, 5/8" (1.5cm) thick, or one 1lb 5oz (600g) fillet, of the same thickness as the smaller fillets 150g
- 1 Tbsp Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry
- 1/2 tsp fine salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 4 scallions green onions, finely julienned
- 2 inch piece fresh ginger peeled, finely julienned
- 1 red chilli deseeded, finely sliced
- 4 Tbsp peanut oil or other neutral flavored/vegetable oil
- 2 Tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp sesame oil
Set up steamer or preheat steam oven
- For stovetop steaming, fill the base of a steamer pot or saucepan with an inch of water and set on a cooktop to come to the boil. For steam oven, preheat using steam setting, 195°F/90°C (100% humidity). Warm serving plates so they're ready when the fish is cooked.
- If you're steaming in a steam oven, place the fish on a lightweight stainless steel tray in a single layer. For a steamer basket, place the fish onto a heatproof plate which fits inside a bamboo or basket steamer. Mix the Chinese cooking wine, salt and pepper in a small bowl and drizzle the top of the fish with the mixture.4 5oz white fish fillets, 1 Tbsp Chinese cooking wine, 1/2 tsp fine salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper
- Steam the fish until it's opaque and just shy of being flaky. This should take no more than 8-10 minutes unless the fish is very thick. If you want to cook to temperature, the internal temperature should be 130-135°F/54-57°C in the thickest part of the fish filets.
Add aromatics and sizzling oil
- When it's cooked, remove the fish from the steam oven or steamer and transfer to warmed plates for serving. Scatter with the scallions, ginger and chili.4 scallions, 2 inch piece fresh ginger, 1 red chilli
- Heat peanut oil in a small pan over medium heat until it's very hot but not smoking. While the oil heats, drizzle the fish and aromatics with the soy sauce and sesame oil. When the peanut oil is hot, pour it over the fish and aromatics. It will sizzle and make the ginger, chilli and scallions smell amazing. I like to do this at the table for dramatic effect.4 Tbsp peanut oil, 2 Tbsp light soy sauce, 1 Tbsp sesame oil
- Serve immediately with steamed rice and, if you like, steamed Asian greens.
- Fish varieties: Look for mild, white fish fillets like tilapia, cod, sea bass, hake or snapper.
- Fish fillet size: Size is less important than the thickness of the fillets. Choose fish that’s about 5/8″ (1.5cm) thick so it steams fast and evenly. For individual servings you can use smaller, 5oz (140g) pieces, or cook one larger (but still thin) fillet that weighs 1lb 5oz (600g), cutting and serving it at the table.
- Fish Freshness: Steaming is a delicate cooking method and if your fish is a little old, you can’t disguise that as easily as if you grilled or baked it. If you don’t have access to same-day-caught fresh fish, choose boat-frozen fillets over older, unfrozen ones. Thaw frozen fillets in the fridge, then pat dry with paper towels before cooking.
- Want to use a whole fish? You can! You’ll need to increase the cooking time but otherwise the ingredients and method translate well. Take a look at my recipe for Whole Vietnamese Steamed Fish for some pointers on cooking and serving up a whole fish.
- Checking fish for doneness: When it’s perfectly steamed, the fish should be opaque and just barely flaky; if you prod it with a fork it’ll come apart but there’s a tiny bit of resistance. Fish continues cooking when you remove it from the heat so we’re aiming for just a tiny bit underdone. If you can’t flake the fish at all with a fork, it needs more cooking so you don’t end up with raw fish that’s got a chewy texture. If you don’t trust your eyes or the fork/flake test, use a thermometer to check the internal temperature. This is a little harder with thin fillets, but the center of the fish should read 130-135°F/54-57°C. Note this is lower than most governmental food guidelines! If you’re immunocompromised or pregnant, or cooking fish that’s less than perfectly fresh, it’s safer to go to 145°F/63°C to make sure any harmful bacteria are killed.
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