Steamed Whole Fish with Ginger, Scallions, and Soy

Eric Wolfinger


  • One  1 1/2-pound whole white fish, cleaned with head and tail intact
  •   Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • One  2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely julienned
  • 1/4 Cup  light soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon  rice wine
  • scallion, white and light green parts only, julienned
  • cilantro sprigs
  • 1/2 Cup  canola oil

This is a simple way to prepare whole fish, yet one that few Western cooks have mastered. In the Vietnamese culture, a properly steamed fish is a benchmark for chefs, and those who can't do it right are considered to be bad cooks. A perfectly steamed fish has flesh that is just cooked at the bone, never dry. Typically, whole fish are not served with the liquid in which it was steamed, which is too fishy tasting, and any sauce is added at the end, after the fish has been cooked. In this classic Chinese preparation, the fish is topped with scallions, cilantro and ginger, then doused with hot oil, which releases the flavor of the aromatics into the flesh of the fish.


Rinse the fish in cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Season the fish inside and out with salt and pepper. Place the fish on a heatproof plate that is both large enough to accommodate it (a glass pie plate works well) and will also fit inside your steamer, bending the fish slightly if it is too long. Stuff half of the ginger inside the cavity of the fish and spread the remaining ginger on top of the fish.

Pour water into a wok or stockpot and set a steamer in the wok or on the rim of the stockpot. Make sure the water does not touch the bottom of the steamer. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Place the plate holding the fish in the steamer, cover, and steam for about 8 minutes, until the fish flakes easily when tested with the tip of a knife. While the fish is steaming, in a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, wine, and 1 tablespoon of water. Set aside. When the fish is ready, carefully remove the plate from the steamer and pour off any accumulated liquid. Lay the scallion and cilantro along the top of the fish. In a small sauté pan, heat the oil over high heat until it is hot but not smoking. Remove the oil from the heat and pour it directly over the scallion and cilantro to "cook" them. Drizzle the soy mixture over the fish and serve immediately. 


Reprinted with permission from Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan, copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.


Calories per serving:

423 calories

Dietary restrictions:

Low Carb Sugar Conscious, Dairy Free, Egg Free, Milk Free, Peanut Free, Tree Nut Free, Shellfish Free, Alcohol Free

Daily value:



  • Fat 121g 186%
  • Carbs 8g 3%
  • Saturated 12g 60%
  • Fiber 2g 6%
  • Trans 0g
  • Sugars 1g
  • Monounsaturated 72g
  • Polyunsaturated 33g
  • Protein 143g 285%
  • Cholesterol 340mg 113%
  • Sodium 3,866mg 161%
  • Calcium 112mg 11%
  • Magnesium 245mg 61%
  • Potassium 2,506mg 72%
  • Iron 5mg 29%
  • Zinc 3mg 20%
  • Phosphorus 1,280mg 183%
  • Vitamin A 48µg 5%
  • Vitamin C 7mg 11%
  • Thiamin (B1) 0mg 21%
  • Riboflavin (B2) 1mg 34%
  • Niacin (B3) 28mg 141%
  • Vitamin B6 1mg 62%
  • Folic Acid (B9) 191µg 48%
  • Vitamin B12 11µg 179%
  • Vitamin D 21µg 5%
  • Vitamin E 22mg 111%
  • Vitamin K 156µg 195%
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