I have always loved seafood for as long as I can remember. However, my natural inclination was to always order the fried dishes over any other when dining out. The same would apply when cooking for myself at home. I always assumed that any other method of cooking a fish other than frying it would be really difficult or time consuming. It was only after experimenting with steaming fish at home for the first time ever last fasting month that I finally realised how simple it was- not to mention what a breeze tidying up afterwards was without the need to wipe the stovetop and mop the floor from all the splattered oil!
What really inspired me to actually try a steamed fish dish was the fresh, light flavours I was craving a few days into the fasting month, after eating much heavier festive foods readily available at the many ‘pasar malam’ stalls that spring up during this time. Don’t get me wrong, the food is delicious but too much of a good thing and your body will soon start showing signs of the damage done. I knew istinctively, as all experienced chefs or foodies that for this particular dish I would require some really fresh ingredients to produce a dish worth writing about. So here I would like to stress once again the importance of finding fresh, quality ingredients (especially the fish) in order to achieve the best possible flavours and colours as the end result.
As many of the ingredients in this recipe are widely available and used in Asia, I have chosen to name this dish ‘Asian-inspired Steamed Fish’. Do not be deterred if you do not have a proper steamer, as it is easy enough to set one up using utensils you may already have in your kitchen, or if all else fails you just need to go out and get the appropriate stuff. In my case, I used a huge wok that my Mum has had for ages and by some twist of fate I found a round tray with holes in that just fit perfectly into the wok while allowing the lid to cover it completely. Each time I wish to make this dish, I just make a small ‘plate’ for the fish using aluminium foil to line my steamer tray and that seems to work just perfectly every time!
The following are a list of all the ingredients used to create this delicious & simple dish.
A whole fish of any kind (I used sea bass or ‘ikan siakap’ for mine)
Juice from half a lemon
2 inches of ginger (skinned then half can be sliced diagonally and the other half julienned)
4 cloves of garlic (sliced thinly)
1 chilli (de-seeded and then julienned)
2 sprigs of scallion/spring onion (half cut roughly and the other half julienned)
Cilantro for garnishing (optional but highly recommended!)
3 tablespoons of palm oil
1 tablespoon of sweet soy sauce; Habhal’s Kicap Manis Cap Kipas Udang (you can experiment with different brands on your own but the brands specified have worked wonders for me)
2-3 tablespoons of light soy sauce; Lee Kum Kee’s
1 tablespoon of fish sauce
A few dashes of sesame oil
Right, so lets start with the fish. I would highly recommend using a whole fish as I truly believe steaming the fish with head, bones and all truly does contribute to the flavour of the final dish, not to mention looks quite impressive. Once cleaned, the fish can be scored lightly on both sides and rubbed with lemon juice. This helps to reduce the fishiness and contributes a very mild fresh citrus edge to the dish. Time permitting, the fish can be left for about 30 minutes to a few hours in the fridge before proceeding to the next step- steaming!
Steaming is probably one of the healthiest methods of cooking. As mentioned earlier, any kind of utensils that allow the fish to be covered fully in the steam for about 10-12 minutes (depending on the size of the fish) is suitable to use. Firstly, arrange all the sliced spring onions on the bottom of the dish where the fish is to be placed as a kind of ‘bed’. Next, do the same with some of the sliced ginger and garlic before using the rest on top of and inside the fish. This allows the flavours to merge and infiltrate the fish during the cooking process. The fish is now ready for the steamer.
While waiting for the fish to steam, the sauce can be prepared. In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of sweet soy sauce with 3 tablespoons of light soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of fish sauce and a few dashes of sesame oil. As I alluded to earlier, any brand can be used but the quality and taste will vary between them, so a little experimenting may be required before the perfect balance is reached. The brands I have specified have worked well for me and are definitely worth a try if you wish to enjoy the same great taste I have been able to achieve.
As soon as the fish is ready, (the flesh will flake when prodded with a fork if it is) drain the excess water from around it and transfer to the intended serving dish, leaving behind the ingredients it was steamed with earlier. The chilli, and the remaining fine strips of ginger and julienned spring onion can now be scattered over the entire fish. Next, heat the palm oil in a small saucepan on high for about 2 minutes. Palm oil is perfect for this as it has a very subtle or no flavour to interfere with the other fresh flavours of the dish but will heat up to a very high temperature, owing to its high smoking point. This is crucial as the hot oil will extract flavour from the fresh ingredients and also create a nice sheen on the fish. Once the palm oil is hot enough, remove it from the heat and immediately pour it over the entire fish. A gentle crackling sound will be heard followed by the most amazing aroma, if the oil is hot enough.
Using the same saucepan the palm oil was heated in, briefly heat the special sauce prepared earlier until it becomes bubbly and then pour this over the entire fish. By this time, the aroma of all the combined ingredients would be mouth-watering. Finally, garnish generously with a few sprigs of cilantro. Enjoy!
We’re giving RM10,000 and other amazing prizes to the winner of our first ever R.AGE Food Fight!
The five finalists will get to learn from the best, our Food Fight mentors:
– Chef Wan, Malaysia’s original food celebrity
– Chef Rodolphe Onno, Le Cordon Bleu master chef
– Chef Darren Chin, of Restaurant DC
– KY Speaks, top Malaysian food blogger
– Chef Liang, performing artiste and up-and-coming restaurateur
They’ll also get media and video production training from us at R.AGE, before they face off against each other at the Food Fight finale for the RM10,000 grand prize.
The competition’s closed, but you can always check out the other Food Fight submissions at https://rage.com.my/foodfight