An Acclaimed Chef-Writer Duo's Guide to Steaming a Whole Fish

An Acclaimed Chef-Writer Duo's Guide to Steaming a Whole Fish
Courtesy of The Washington Post‍

In their new book Food IQ, Daniel Holzman and Matt Rodbard offer tips on how to become a better home cook.

Neither Food IQ nor its ode to a single restaurant nor its esoteric cooking style were intended to be conventional cookbooks. The authors set out to answer questions every enthusiastic home cook would want to know, such as "What kind of onion should I use?" or "Why are knives so expensive?". Furthermore, the authors discuss when it is best to steam, fry, or grill a whole fish depending on its nature. The method for steaming fish is shown here in a classic way.

It has never ceased to enchant Daniel and Matt to steam fish en papillote, cook asparagus, broccoli, and green beans in parchment-paper envelopes. It is possible to experiment with different vegetables and flavor profiles by using different sauces. For example, sake, butter, and soy sauce can be used for a Japanese inspiration, or chipotle, tomatillo, and lime can be used for a Mexican one.

Make sure that all items cook about the same time when you cook multiple items (such as salmon and asparagus). You will have a hard time not overcooking the salmon by the time the butternut squash is soft enough to serve if you cook salmon and butternut squash at the same time. Choose the right ingredients when cooking to avoid overcooking the salmon.

Whole Fish Steamed in Paper

Serves 2

  • 1 (2.25 lb.) whole snapper, cleaned and scaled
  • Kosher salt
  • 6 thyme sprigs
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into three or four pats
  • 0.25 c. dry white wine
  • Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Season the fish skin on both sides with 1.5 teaspoons of salt. Fill the cavity with four slices of lemon and three slices of thyme. Score each side of the fish skin on the diagonal three or four times.

On top of the parchment paper, place the fish, drizzle the oil, and evenly distribute the butter pats. Seal the sides of the paper by rolling them in, then folding them under the fish. Place the entire package on a sheet pan. Fold the long sides up to meet in the middle above the fish. Roll the sides in, then fold them under the fish.

About 25 minutes after baking, the parchment will begin to inflate and brown. Make the package stand out by slicing it open tableside.

The art of steaming a whole fish is a delicate and sophisticated technique that requires precision, patience, and attention to detail. In a recent article, an acclaimed chef-writer duo shared their expert tips on how to master this culinary skill and prepare a delicious, healthy, and visually stunning dish.

The first step to steaming a whole fish is selecting the right type of fish. The authors recommend using a fish with firm, white flesh such as sea bass, snapper, or bream. It is important to choose a fish that is fresh, of high quality, and sustainably sourced. The fish should be scaled, gutted, and cleaned thoroughly before cooking.

The next step is to prepare the steaming equipment. The authors suggest using a bamboo steamer or a metal steaming basket with a lid. The fish should be placed on a heatproof plate that fits inside the steamer, and seasoned with salt, pepper, and a few aromatics such as ginger, garlic, and scallions. The authors recommend adding a splash of Chinese rice wine or sherry to the fish to enhance the flavor and aroma.

Once the fish is seasoned and ready to cook, the steaming process begins. The authors recommend steaming the fish over high heat for 10-12 minutes, or until the flesh is opaque and easily flakes with a fork. Overcooking the fish can lead to dryness and a loss of flavor, so it is important to monitor the cooking process closely and adjust the heat as needed.

Finally, the fish can be served with a variety of accompaniments such as steamed rice, vegetables, or a flavorful sauce. The authors suggest a simple soy-based sauce made with soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar, and sesame oil, or a spicy Sichuan-style sauce made with chili oil, Sichuan peppercorns, and black vinegar.

In conclusion, steaming a whole fish is a delicious and healthy way to prepare seafood that highlights its natural flavor and texture. With the expert guidance of the chef-writer duo, anyone can master this technique and impress their guests with a stunning and flavorful dish.

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