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Steamed Fish in a Flash

Fine Cooking Issue 46
Photo: Scott Phillips
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Steaming is my favorite way to cook fish. It’s quick, it’s healthy, and it always tastes fresh and clean.

My favorite fish to steam is firm white fish, such as cod or sea bass, but the strong accompanying flavors in this recipe—earthy shiitakes, salty ham, bright ginger, pungent garlic, woodsy sherry, salty soy sauce, and nutty sesame oil—would also stand up to a salmon fillet. Shrimp is another good option.

In this recipe, the fish is steamed on a plate to catch all the juices for a delightful sauce. The plate should be heatproof and needs to fit in your steamer without touching its sides so that the steam can circulate.

To steam the fish, I use a Chinese bamboo steamer set over a wok or a pot of boiling water. Several steamers can be stacked on top of one another, so I can easily double the recipe to serve four as a main dish, and I can also steam some rice at the same time.

If you don’t have a bamboo steamer, you can use a pot with a flat-bottom steamer insert, or you can rig your own steamer. Just cut the top and bottom from a tuna can to use as a support for the plate and find a covered pot deep and wide enough to accommodate everything.

Once you’ve set up your steamer and gathered your ingredients, this dish comes together in a flash. A quick sauté in oil for the shiitakes, ham, ginger, and garlic jump-starts their flavor, and then it’s into the steamer with everything.

I usually steam the fish until it feels softly firm and looks opaque when cut into the center with a knife. Once I’ve moved the fish to serving plates, all that’s left to do is drizzle it with soy sauce, sprinkle it with sliced scallions, and serve.


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