Steamed Whole Fish

It seems many people find fish hard to cook — or fear it’ll be ‘smelly.’ But both are so far from the truth! To me, baking or grilling fish is one of the easiest (and healthiest) dinners possible, and I’ve never suffered a fishy-smelling kitchen. If you’re game to try for the first time, the simple overall cooking concept is to slick with oil and bake at high heat for about 10-15 minutes.

Prefer more specific directions to bake a piece of fish?  To bake Arctic Char, Salmon – basically any reasonably thick (1/2″ or more) fillet — all you do is this:

  • Preheat oven to 450. Place a thick piece of Arctic Char or Salmon (or any fillet) on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or foil; if 1 end of fish is thin, tuck it under.
  • Generously salt the fish and sprinkle with fresh pepper to taste.
  • Slick on some olive oil – just enough to barely cover entire fillet.
  • Sprinkle on a bit fresh or dried herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary, etc)
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.

If you want something ‘fancier’ you can find many fish recipes on my Lo-Co Recipe page; here are a few quick links to blog posts with recipes and directions:

While preparing fish using any of these methods is easy, quick and delicious, steaming a whole fish is another story. While steamed whole fish is terrifically healthy and an amazing presentation for serving guests (you cook the fish right in the dish you’ll serve it in!) it can be a bit more complicated … leftovers and bones can emit that fishy smell.

But it’s so worth it. And really fun to do with guests. We steamed a whole red snapper with our friends Chris and Dave on the eve of Christmas Eve this year – it was a fun to prepare together, and incredibly tasty.

I’d tried steaming a whole fish once before using a bamboo steamer and following David Tanis’ Steamed Whole Fish recipe – and though it was delicious, it was a fail in concept as I had to make it using a fillet as a whole fish didn’t fit in my steamer. (Read my The Trick To Steaming Whole Fish post about Mr. Tanis’ reply to my twitter query!)

After unearthing a very large pan with both a lid and a rack insert from my ‘magic closet’ I realized I now had the tools to try steaming a whole fish again. I re-read Mr. Tanis’ directions and actually watched (I never do this!) a Martha Stewart video that’s embedded on her Steamed Whole Fish page – and essentially prepared it using Martha’s recipe. The recipe is on that page too; I created a PDF of Martha’s recipe.

First, I bought a 2 1/2 pound wild-caught whole red snapper. I asked my favorite fish monger, Pagano’s, to prepare it as Martha’s video suggested: they descaled it and removed the fins and tail, so all I had to do was rinse and dry it, then lay it on the serving platter I was going to cook it on. It was helpful to watch Martha’s video, but they natter on for a long time about other things, so here’s a tip: they start talking about this fish recipe at about 3 minutes into the video; at about 6 minutes in they talk about the ingredients and at about 7:50 they talk about the fish preparation. Frustratingly, they never talk about serving it, which would have been incredibly helpful…

Then, I made my ‘mise en place,’ following what Martha and her accomplice did at about 6 minutes – because her actual written directions don’t explain/follow what they do in the video (sigh, I hate when that happens). This takes a while and you’ll want to do this before taking your fish out of the refrigerator! Then we added the ingredients to the platter and placed the platter (carefully) onto the rack set inside the very large roasting pan with an inch of boiling water we had set to go on the stovetop. If you look closely, you can see the steam rising above the top of the platter! Then we covered the roasting pan with its lid (if like Martha you are using a roasting pan with no lid, you’d cover the fish with parchment THEN tightly cover that with foil – you can’t have foil touching the fish!)

Twenty-five minutes later, (about 10 minutes per pound) and straight out of the pan, it looked like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then pulled the fish from the bones – and served it like this (you’ll notice only cilantro and scallions atop the fish – the ginger and lemongrass and other ingredients were just ‘aromatics’ – they don’t get served!):

 

 

 

 

 

 

With this of course (yes, that’s all that was left of the first bottle of white wine we drank while cooking the fish!):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s worth watching the Marta Stewart video for pointers, and here’s the full recipe in a PDF format, Steamed Whole Fish, that I modified to include directions they left off the website recipe. Give it a whirl – wrap up the bones tightly or they will smell (better yet, make fish stock – but who am I kidding, I’d never bother!)  And of course, always best to do all your slicing before you drink the wine. (That was a lesson learned the hard way for me.)

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