Just before Christmas, I came up with this simple preparation of sea bream – it turned out to be one of the best ways to eat a big whole fish. I immediately twittered about it so at least I wouldn’t forget what basically went in there, but didn’t have high hopes to ever replicate the experience again.
Over Christmas and New Year we had some friends visiting from Germany, and one of the days was already set aside as “play day” – on which we go to the market, buy whatever is fresh and catches our eye, come home and prepare / cook it together and eat. We eat many courses. We eat in the kitchen and in the dining room. We eat for hours. Oh, and we drink wine, do I have to mention that?
Where was I? Yes, play day, and the menu for the day turned out to be with an emphasis on fish, and one of the courses was my try to recreate that Asian inspired steamed fish. And it did work! There is no set recipe for it, but these are the guidelines.
Ingredients: Get a whole, cleaned white fleshed fish that is around 1 to 1,5 kg (Sea bream in my case). This can feed 2 as an only course or up to 6 as part of a multi course menu. The poaching liquid I concocted was about 200ml stock (vegetable in my case, but you could also use fish or chicken), a generous dash of soy sauce, one minced chili (adjust according to the heat you want but definitely check the hotness before cooking the fish) and a dash of lime juice. As additional flavoring I covered the fish with thin slices/sticks of ginger, garlic and leeks. I think ginger and garlic are essential but the leeks can be substituted by scallions. I also stuffed the belly of the fish with parsley, you could substitute cilantro (harder to find in my neck of the woods) or omit it completely. Do not substitute bay laurels, that is a flavor direction that doesn’t fit with the theme of this dish (though I usually always add laurel to my fish dishes).
The main point of the technique is to steam/poach the fish very gently in a sauce, so you need a (slightly) rimmed plate where the fish can fit in (at least the main body part of it) and a pot/pan with a lid that can accommodate this plate. Place a little bowl in the big pan and place the plate on it. Add some water to the pan, paying attention it doesn’t reach the plate (take into consideration that the water will boil and thus throw bubbles later). Make 2-3 rather superficial cuts on both sides of the fish and place it on the plate. Pour your poaching liquid carefully over it. Cover the fish with ginger, garlic, leeks etc. Place the lid over your construction and put it on a medium-high heat on the stove. Let steam and poach for 25 minutes. Wear oven mittens and be very careful when you remove the lid at the end of this time – steam is very hot and can cause burns! Remove the lid carefully but quickly and decisively.
Divide the fish and serve with a spoon or two of the poaching liquid as well as the vegetables. Do not forget to dunk fresh wheat bread into the sauce!