Perfect Chinese Steamed Fish


  • 1 live fish (about 750 gm (1.5 lb) or less)

(The fish types commonly used include:
Tilapia, cod, sea bass, red snapper, yellow tail snapper, halibut, trout and even salmon. White fish are the norm. In China it's common to use carp.)

  • 5 cm (2 in) ginger (peeled and cut into thin strips)
  • 1 stalk scallion (cut into 5 cm (2 in) length, and then cut into thin silken threads)
  • Some cilantro leaves
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 tablespoon shaoxing wine or rice wine

Steamed Fish Soy Sauce Mixture:

  • 4 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons shaoxing wine or rice wine
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 3 dashes white pepper powder
  • 2 tablespoons rock sugar (grind into powder form) or to taste


  1. Clean the fish properly  and pat dry. Blend the soy sauce mixture in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Lay the fish on a plate and drizzle 1 tablespoon shaoxing (or rice) wine on top of the fish. 
  3. Top the fish with 1/2 of the cut ginger strips.
  4. Heat up a wok with enough water for steaming. Wait for the water to boil. As soon as it boils, adjust the boiling to a medium rate and  place your fish inside the wok, propped up with a small inverted bowl or a couple of wooden blocks (meant for steaming). Cover your wok tightly and time for 8 minutes.
  5. As soon as the fish is done steaming, transfer it out from the wok. 
  6. Discard the fish water and ginger strips. 
  7. Lay the remaining ginger strips on top of the fish.
  8. Heat up a pan over high heat and add 2 tablespoons of cooking oil, swirl around until it’s hot. Pour the hot oil over the steamed fish. You will  see the  pop and hear a sizzling sound
  9. Put the pan back onto the stove, add the soy sauce mixture and stir well. As soon as the sauce bubbles up and boils, pour the soy sauce over the fish. 
  10. Top with scallions and cilantro leaves and serve the steamed fish immediately with white rice.

Techniques for Restaurant-style Chinese Steamed Fish

  • Fresh fish; preferably alive immediately prior to preparation.
  • 8-10 minutes steaming time. 8 minutes for a smaller fish or 10 minutes for a bigger fish. Use your best judgment, and don’t forget to set your kitchen alarm.
  • Discard the fishy and cloudy fish “water” after steaming. Contrary to common belief, it doesn’t add  flavors to a steamed fish dish. If any, it will leave a bitter and unpleasant fishy taste.
  • Rock sugar. Wonder why the soy sauce is so good that you can just eat plain steamed rice with the soy sauce mixture?  Rock sugar is the secret.
  • Use oil. Heat up some oil in your wok and pour it over the fish before adding the soy sauce. It gives your steamed fish that perfect sheen before you top it with the soy sauce mixture.