Monday, 5 March 2012

Steamed Whole Flounder (the sizzling Cantonese way)

Whole fish with partially broken tail (see point 4 below)

Just finished a design brief for school which included drawing, in near-microscopic detail, a whole lot of fishes. I see scales and gills and fins everywhere now.

On the bright side, I can properly tell a plaice from a dover sole from a lemon sole and flounders. They are all British flatfishes, with both eyes on one side which makes them look quite odd, and eating-wise, they all have a similar delicate flaky texture. Whether they are more oval or diamond-shaped, or whether they have spots etc help tell them apart, though frankly, the price is the best way to tell them apart. This is why I say, skip the plaice and dover soles, and go for the lemon soles (actually not a sole but a winter flounder) and flounders! A flounder is not only a cheaper option, but also a more sustainable option, and frankly, pretty similar taste and texture-wise. At £5/kg, this freshly caught flounder that I got from Pimlico farmers' market was a bargain!

I steamed the whole fish Cantonese-style, i.e. with hot oil poured over after the fish is steamed; you'll get what I mean by sizzling when you watch the video! (Er it's only 2 seconds but I couldn't resist recording the sound hah.) This step is not just for fun, it's what elevates the dish!

Cantonese-Style Steamed Whole Flounder
serves 2 as a side
1 whole flounder, about 400g
1 tsp unrefined sea salt
1" ginger, finely sliced
1 stalks spring onion, finely shredded
(opt) 1 red chilli, finely sliced
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
3 tbsp good soy sauce (traditionally brewed and fermented)
1 tbsp mix of toasted sesame oil + 1 tbsp groundnut oil
handful of chopped coriander leaves

1. Wash fish and pat dry, then rub evenly with salt and rice wine. Place fish over two chopsticks set over a plate. This will make for more even cooking.
2. Set up a steamer by putting a rack into a wok/pot over boiling water, and set the plate of fish on the rack (make sure it doesn't touch the water). Steam over high heat until just cooked, about 12 min for mine.
3. Carefully transfer the cooked fish to a new plate. You don't want the old plate and the fishy cooking liquid.
4. Scatter the spring onions, chilli and ginger over, then drizzle over the soy sauce.
5. Heat the oil in a pan until smoking, then immediately pour over the fish. Garnish with coriander, and serve straight away with rice.

The fine, flaky flesh of the flounder is really suited to this delicate steaming method. Soy sauce, ginger, spring onions, are all very simple chinese-cooking essentials, but they all come together brilliantly with the fish, and the final step of sizzling hot sesame oil just adds the final flourish. Keeping the fish on the bone also helps to keep it extra moist and tender, much like how meat kept on the bone is juicier. I know it freaks some people out, but growing up in a Chinese household, a whole steamed fish makes quite a common appearance on the dinner table. I tend to relish seeing the head and tail with my fish.


  1. Uhmmmmmm maravilloso plato, me encanta el pescado y esta receta se ve deliciosa!
    Un besito ^^

  2. What a stunning plate of food that i could just eat right now and forever more. All my favourite know me so well!! x

  3. I've never cooked a fish in it's overwhelms me! It doesn't freak me out, I just don't know what to do you eat the skin? Do you cut it open, and put out the meat to eat?
    I have to say, it looks absolutely beautiful, the way you've photographed it (and w/ the added sizzling for effect!) Have a great week Shu Han!

  4. I have never cooked an entire fish but ate one in Nicaragua years ago- was so tasty! This looks like an interesting and yummy preparation.

  5. I love cooking fish like this! Its sooo goooodd

  6. Hi Shu Han!

    This looks like a killer bite. I love fish, and I am sure I d indulge your flounder. The sizzle in the pan clip was fun lol.
    Frying the fish in whole surely has its advantages, mostly flavoure advantage!

    thanks for sharing! =)

  7. Aiyoo! This dish is soo stunning & gourmet looking! I love to eat steamed fish Cantonese-style coz my mum used to cooked it. But never try it myself, actually.

  8. I love steamed fish but cannot always get fresh fish here. Whenever I come across any kind of fresh fish (i.e. not previously frozen), I will steam it either Cantonese or Teochew style....very yummy!

  9. I have never ever steamed fish in my life, but I must say I love the way your flounder looks! It sounds very flavoursome. I think it's also quite cheap here and frankly many cheap fish varieties are delicious (for example horse mackerel).

  10. It looks gorgeous. I've never steamed a whole fish but I like to wrap it in a foil parcel with similar ingredients and then bake it in the oven. I'll have to try your method next so I can make it sizzle with hot oil!

  11. Well, you already know more than me about fish in that case. It doesn't help that names of fishes in French seem very difficult to translate. If I look them up on Wikipedia and then just switch to English I end up with the latin name only which ends up being one of about a million varieties :(

    I steam trout from time to time - I never tried something like this - it looks really tasty :)

  12. Wow, the flavors you've got going on here are amazing and so pretty to look at too. How in the world do you find the time for such fine cooking?!

  13. Wow what a great recipe, and it looks absolutely delicious. I have not tried flounder before. I am motivated to try steaming (I also tend to bake in foil but will try steaming this way next time!)

  14. I'm very impressed with how you cooked this dish. It looks very professional cooked! I wonder what will be your mum's reaction when she sees this post...impressive? speechless? proud?

  15. Whoa, this looks like a pro dish to me. Kudos! Yeah, this kind of fish is very meaty. I used to deep fried it to boil fresh tomato soup.

  16. jana: gracias ;)

    laura: haha those are some of my favourite ingredients too!

    emily: you eat it with the skin, much like how you bake fish. if you don't liek the skin, you can leave it though! haha the added sizzling is not only for effect, it really lifts the whole dish! I hope you get a chance to try cooking whole fish, even if it's not steamed, you can do a roast whole mackerel or something in the oven!

    sarah: thanks sarah, cooking the fish in its whole keeps it more succulent in my opinion! try it one day (:

    eugenia: I agree (:

    helene: hehe I couldn't resist the 2 second video.

    kit: actually quite simple, it's just putting everything together, and takes like 15 minutes to get from kitchen to dinner table!

    biren: exactly! when I get a fresh whole fish, I steam it most of the times, I think that's a very chinese way of looking at fish. they believe the only way to cook fresh fish and not kill its delicate sweet flavour is to steam it.

    sissi: mackerel is my other favourite fish! I think expensive, popular fishes like tuna are overrated!

    corina: it's pretty much a similar concept! I do that when the fish can't fit into my pot. haha.

    charles: oh my god i can imagine how difficult that must be. all those fish names already made me go cock-eyed, if I had to deal with them in french or latin, I think I won't be ready to face eating fish for quite a while!

    farine: actually it's a lot simpler and faster than say, making a tomato and goat's cheese tart ;) hehe. it's really just steaming the fish, pour over sauce and garnish, then pour oil over.

    working london mummy: thanks! I hope it turns out well (:

    zoe: hur hur I don't know, it's hard to impress her! she's one of the best cooks I know, in my opinion at least (:

    kristy: oooooooh good idea..

  17. Oooohhh, steamed fish, my favorite!!:) Love the educational bit about fish, but erm, won't you feel a bit sorry for the fish after spending time drawing so many of them that you can see them everywhere? I would not be able to cook nor consume fish at least for some time if I were to do that, LOL!
    Flounder reminds me of that cute little blue and yellow fish in Disney's Little Mermaid too...oh dear, I need to clear my mind, or I won't be able to eat fish...hahaha:D

  18. Cooking a whole fish yields such an awesome presentation! Majorly gorgeous.

  19. No-one can steam fish like the Chinese. Except maybe SE Asians... I remember what a revelation steamed fish was when I first had it in a Chinese restaurant. And now it's about my favourite way to eat fish. The sizzle just adds to the fun.

    I particularly love the delicate flavours imparted to the flesh by the aromatics. they really build on the subtle sea flavours without killing them totally.

  20. i love this dish and have attempted it once... i'm not a fan of cooking fish at home, due to the smell, but this is something i have thought of doing more of, for the delicious factor, but health as well.

    the sound of the sizzle was amazing!

  21. christy: haha omg i totally forgot little mermaid's friend was the flounder. ohno.

    joanne: thanks! i love how impressive a whole fish looks too, plus it's much tastier.

    the grubworm: the chinese believe that's the best, maybe even only way to go with fresh fish ;)

    angry asian: thank you! haha I ;m glad you enjoyed the 2 second sizzle!

  22. That looks great. I love Cantonese-style steamed fish, my grandmother used to make it all the time. My steamer isn't big enough ><

  23. Nice written!! I have been a big fan of your blogs. thanks best fishing line