Steamed Whole Tilapia with Ginger and Scallion
In western kitchens, fish is usually only cooked in fillets or steaks, rather than whole, and the cooking methods are primarily frying, deep-frying, or baking. In Chinese cuisine, however, fish is frequently steamed, both in pieces, and as a whole fish with the head and skin intact.
Here, whole Tilapia is given the traditional Chinese treatment by steaming it with ginger and garlic. As a final step, more ginger and also some scallion is added and hot oil is poured over everything just before service. The result is exquisitely aromatic and delicious.
An Overview of the Method….
In Chinese cuisine, Ginger is often used with fish to counter strong, ‘fishy’ odors and taste. Along with garlic, it also adds a delicate additional flavoring during the steaming process.
Scallions, cut into very thin slivers, add a pleasant visual appeal, and a nice aromatic enhancement during the final cooking process.
When you purchase whole Tilapia, you will quite likely have to ‘gut’ it by removing the entrails yourself, and you will almost certainly have to remove the outer scales as they are really tough and inedible. You can do this by using a knife and running the blunt edge of the blade along the flanks from tail to head.
Once your fish has been de-scaled, you should cut two or three diagonal slashes through the skin and a little way into the flesh on both sides. This will help it cook evenly and will allow the flavor of the aromatics to penetrate more easily.
One further thing you should really attend to in preparing the fish is to remove the gills. It is not critical, but leaving them in can sometimes leave a slightly bitter taste in the flesh just behind them. If you haven’t done this before, it really isn’t all that difficult. Just open the gill flaps on each side and cut away the ‘feathery’ bits that look like… well, like gills.
For the best flavor, you want to season the interior with rice wine, soy sauce, garlic and ginger, and scatter ginger slivers over and beneath the body just before steaming.
Steaming a fish of this size takes about 10 or 12 minutes over high heat. You can use any set-up you like, but the beauty of the traditional bamboo steamers is that they don’t cause the steam to condense and drip over the food.
For the final touch, scatter the scallion and ginger slivers on top of the fish along with red pepper flakes, if desired, and then pour over smoking hot oil. This will not only allow the scallion and ginger to release their aromas, the oil will give a nice sheen to the fish after it has been dulled by the steaming.
If you feel confident, you may want to do this at the table when steaming larger fish for guests, as the presentation is much more dramatic. Either way, get it to the table piping hot…
Your Recipe Card
Chinese-style Steamed Whole Tilapia
- 1 Whole Tilapia;
- 2 – 3 small Scallions;
- 2½ inch piece of Ginger;
- 1 Garlic Clove;
- 1 small pinch of Red Pepper flakes;
- 2 Tbsp. each of Rice Wine and Soy Sauce;
- 4 Tbsp. light tasting Vegetable Oil.
- First, descale and gut your fish, rinsing it well inside, and then pull out the gills.
- Finely chop the garlic and one half of the ginger, then cut the remaining ginger into thin slivers.
- Cut the scallions into 3-inch sections and then slice each of these into slivers like the ginger.
- Cut two diagonal slashes into each side of the fish and splash a little of the rice wine and soy sauce into the cavity. Put some of the chopped garlic and ginger into the body cavity as well, and put the remainder into the gill openings.
- Place some of the ginger slivers onto your steaming platter and place the fish on top.
- Now, steam your fish over high heat for 10 – 12 minutes. When done, remove the fish to a serving plate, spoon over some of the released steaming juices, and leave to rest for a minute or two.
- While the fish is resting, heat the oil to almost smoking over high heat.
- Finally, scatter the remaining ginger slivers on top of the fish, along with the scallion and red pepper flakes. Pour the hot oil over it all and serve immediately.