It has been such a long time since the last time this dish is prepared at home. One of the reasons is that my mother does not do grocery shopping herself anymore – our cook lady does. My mother is convinced that she does not know her fish, hence we don’t get to enjoy steamed fish as much as we would like.

Steaming fish gets real fancy in local Chinese cuisine when a particular type of fish is used, silver pomfret (ikan bawal putih). Silver pomfret is shaped like butterfly and V-shaped tail and flat body, a type of seawater fish, mainly found in Indian ocean. They can grow up to 4 kg, but due to overfishing, they can only be found in the market in less than 1 kg per piece. In this region, it is considered one of the most expensive fish. It is also very popular in Japan and Malaysia. Because of its high profile, naturally, the best way to serve it is by steaming – using the least amount of ingredients and seasoning possible.

Before steaming, the fish is poached in boiling water to shorten steaming time and get rid of the fishy smell. After that, it is smeared with salt and soy sauce inside out and laid on top of and covered with other ingredients. Hot water is added before steaming to make sure the fish does not dried out.

The fish is at its best when steamed with low heat and just nicely cooked. The flaky meat would then be nicely infused with chilies, garlic and ginger. Served with steamed rice and some soy sauce for dipping.




500 gr silver pomfret
4 (20 gr) garlic cloves, thinly sliced
40 gr ginger, cut thinly, match stick-like
15 gr thai bird's eye chilies
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1/4 cup hot water


Wash the fish and remove innards (if not cleaned already when you bought it). Make diagonal cuts on both sides of the fish. Pat dry
In a large pot, boil some water. Drop the fish into the boiling water and cook for 5 minutes. Remove and set aside
In a large plate (enough to hold the whole fish), arrange mixture of half of ginger, garlic and chilies on the plate. Place the fish on top and sprinkle some salt
Cover the fish with the rest of the ginger, garlic and chili. Sprinkle soy sauce and sesame oil. Add hot water
Steam the fish for 15 minutes under low heat (the water should be boiling already while starting steaming). Check whether it is done by poking the middle part of the fish with chopsticks / fork. If it flakes easily, it is done
Garnish with some chopped coriander and serve with steamed rice

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13 Responses to “Chinese Steamed Fish with Garlic and Ginger”

  1. 1

    Farina — May 9, 2009 @ 2:59 pm

    Yes ikan bawal putih is very expensive and i will never do anything but steam them. This is lovely Jun!

    Farina’s last blog post..Green Beans with Egg

  2. 2

    pixen — May 9, 2009 @ 9:29 pm

    Yep … I do agreed with you. I preferred White Pomfret for steaming and Black Pomfret for deep fried. Very deliciously presented …yummmy. What a beautiful tea cups you have there!

  3. 3

    Tangled Noodle — May 9, 2009 @ 9:37 pm

    I’ve only ever had steamed whole fish at a restaurant. I’ve never tried it at home but this is certainly an inspiration to do so now!

    Tangled Noodle’s last blog post..Noshing on Nostalgia

  4. 4

    lisaiscooking — May 9, 2009 @ 10:54 pm

    I love the idea of a simple preparation for fish. It sounds delicious!

    lisaiscooking’s last blog post..Fettuccine with Artichokes and Chicken

  5. 5

    noobcook — May 10, 2009 @ 3:51 am

    really luv steamed fish. You put so much ginger! =D I really like the oriental looking ladle and bowls, beautiful =)

    noobcook’s last blog post..Food Diary: Bollywood Veggies

  6. 6

    banana blossom — May 10, 2009 @ 5:42 am

    Hi Jun,

    I love pomfret, it’s my favorite fish. I get it here often, but nothing fresh like you have in Medan. Your dish looks delicious!
    Love your mini chinese cloisonne cups too, they are a fine thing.

    banana blossom’s last blog post..Steamed Eggplant

  7. 7

    mycookinghut — May 10, 2009 @ 9:05 am

    I love pomfret. Over here in the UK, I can only get it frozen :( Steam pomfret is the best!

  8. 8

    Pink Parisian — May 11, 2009 @ 2:30 am

    I love steamed fish but unlike many, I dislike the pomfret :) I prefer garoupers

    Pink Parisian’s last blog post..Vietnamese Pho from the street!

  9. 9

    Jun — May 11, 2009 @ 4:33 am

    Yes I totally agree with you.

    I have never had black pomfret before .. I wonder what’s the difference …
    The cups are my mother’s. They are really adorable. From China, obviously. Haha

    Tangled Noodle,
    This is just a very simple version of steamed fish. I went goo-gooing @ Jaden’s and Bee’s (Steamy Kitchen & Rasa Malaysia)

    Lisa Is Cooking ,
    Thank you, Lisa !

    Mother puts ginger in everything. Sometimes it is annoying, but this time she is right in the note.

    Banana Blossom,
    Thank you! I see your have been busy. I hope you can whip up something and post it in your blog soon!

    My Cooking Hut,
    Couldn’t agree more. It is so delicate. But other fish such as tuna and salmon are good too.

    Pink Parisian,
    Really? I love garoupers too … The head is so yummy. ;)

  10. 10

    Nate — May 11, 2009 @ 10:00 pm

    Pomfret is a really, really good fish, especially when its fresh. This is the way Annie’s mum does this fish as well.

    Nate’s last blog post..Pavlova Recipe

  11. 11

    Christelle — May 11, 2009 @ 11:51 pm

    I will make this dish for sure, I love its simplicity and flavours

    Christelle’s last blog post..Kung Po Chicken – quick chinese fix

  12. 12

    Jun — May 15, 2009 @ 4:42 am

    I am a huge sucker on spotting which fish is fresh and which one is not. LOL.


  13. 13

    NAM — November 23, 2012 @ 4:24 am

    Tried this steamed pomfret recipe. It is simple yet good. Thanks

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