Steamed Whole Fish, Asian Style

Sunday January 27, 2013

We always see these wonderful looking whole snapper at the Asian market and they look so inviting.  Here is the Chinese method for steaming a whole fish in the steamer baskets over a large rice cooker; it retains the texture of the delicate flesh and the flavor is fantastic.  If you are having more guests, steam 2 fish, one on each tier.  Be sure not to buy the fish so big it doesn’t fit in the basket. Serve with hot steamed long grain white rice.

Steamed fish is eaten whole & all together; head, tail, skin & all. Photo by Stephen Jack


Machine:  Large (10-cup) rice cooker

Serves 4


  • One yellow snapper, whitefish, or sea bass, about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds
  • 3 tablespoons dry sherry or Shaoxing wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Few gratings of fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 heaping tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese fermented black beans
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions, both white and green parts, for sprinkling
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce mixed with 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or rice vinegar and 3/4                  teaspoon sugar, for serving


Have the fishmonger clean, scale, and trim the fish, leaving the head and tail on.  Place in a shallow bowl large enough to hold the fish.  Sprinkle salt on both sides.  Cover and refrigerate 1 hour.  Wash off the salt with cold water and pat dry with paper towels.  Rinse out the bowl and place the fish back in it.  Make diagonal slashes, 1 inch apart, down both sides of the fish to allow for even cooking with the steam.

Combine the wine, sugar, garlic, pepper, ginger, and black beans in a small bowl.  Pour over the fish.  Cover and refrigerate 1/2 hour.

Fill the rice cooker bowl 1/4 to 1/3 full of water, cover, and plug in.  Press COOK to bring the water to a boil.  Line the steamer basket with a single layer of chard or napa cabbage leaves, or a piece of parchment paper.  Arrange the whole fish on one tier of the steamer basket.  (If you are having steamed vegetables, you can arrange them on the top basket.)  Place the baskets over the boiling water and cover.  Set a timer and steam for 18 to 23 minutes.  Check for doneness by pressing and flesh will be firm.  Serve immediately, on a platter with the green onions on top and the soy sauce/vinegar on the side for drizzling.

Excerpted from The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. (c) 2002, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.

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