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Steamed Fish Recipe (Chinese Steamed Fish)

Chinese Steamed Fish

(Chinese recipes, prepare authentic Chinese food now!)

I love Chinese-style steamed fish–fresh-from-the-tank live fish steamed with soy sauce and topped with shredded ginger, scallions, and cilantro leaves. To me, nothing tastes as satisfying as steamed fish with white rice, drizzled with the soy sauce from the steamed fish. Sometimes, I can just eat bowls and bowls of white rice with the soy sauce. Chinese steamed fish is just so delicious!

I am going to be biased on this: I personally think that fish is best eaten steamed. (Yes, sashimi and sushi lovers, you can protest now). It’s mostly a personal preference; I love the texture of a perfectly steamed fish–the flesh is tender, silky, and oh-so-delicate.  Certain kind of fish is highly priced for its exceptional steamed texture, for example: my favorite “Soon Hock” fish, a fresh water fish commonly found in Malaysia. To me, the best part of steamed fish is the two pieces of fish cheek. The slightly chewy texture of fish cheeks is simply divine.

As simple as it might seem, making a perfect Chinese-style steamed fish takes a lot of techniques and skills. I am very fortunate to have learned the secret recipe and tricks from a Cantonese chef that would turn your plain steamed fish to Chinese-restaurant worthy. As you can see from the picture above, my steamed red cod (红斑鱼) looks like it’s straight from Shang Palace.

Secret Techniques for Restaurant-style Chinese Steamed Fish

  1. Fresh fish; preferably alive and swimming in a tank.
  2. 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.
  3. 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–from the fish guts if the fish was not cleaned properly–and fishy taste.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

If you love Chinese recipes and wish to make more Chinese-style recipes, head over to my Chinese recipes category to learn more.

Below is my steamed fish recipe. Enjoy!

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91 COMMENTS... read them below or add one

  1. Heidi

    OMG, your steamed fish looks so good. This is my favorite fish at Chinese restaurants in LA area. It’s very expensive to order, even for a tiny fish. Where did you get your fish? Is it alive or frozen? Can’t wait your secrets to restaurant-style steamed fish. Will be back tomorrow.

  2. rakesh anand

    hiya there!
    my introduction –i am of indian origin, born in kenya and am now an americn citizen with an almost obsessive love of sorh east asian food.
    i have downloaded most of your recipies and have made many of the chinese ones.
    i enjoy your honest, uncomplicated recipies that taste better than most recipies out of “speciality” cookbooks.
    am looking foward to your steamed fish recipie –want to compare it to my steamed salmon with black bean sauce recipie.
    i accidentaly found your web site –and am avidly following it’s content now.
    bravo! –and please keep up the good work!

  3. Oh you got my hopes up! I was thinking what a wonderful meal this would make tonight, and then you go and tell me I have to wait?!!

  4. ReggaeMom

    I LOVE your website and ALL your recipes and ALL your pics! I was born in Singapore and now living in the states for almost 20 years. I see so many food that I use to eat when I was a child on your website. Brings back great memories. I have the link to your website on my blog (hope you don’t mnd). My mother LOVES your site. Infact I think she reads your blog more than mine! Thank you for the beautiful pictures and yummy receipes!

  5. Jennifer

    Steamed fish is a Chinese dish that I wish to eat more often, but steamed fish requires fresh fish, which is very hard to come by…your steamed fish looks so good I can taste the freshness of the fish. Yummy.

  6. NYMY

    Steamed fish is Chinese-people favorite, but most Americans and westerners will frown upon when they see the whole steamed fish, with bones, head, and tail. However, once you get over it, Chinese steamed fish is probably one of the best cooking styles for fish. The taste is so clean and tasty.

  7. Hi all – thanks for your comments.

    Rakesh – thanks for your sweet note. I love steamed fish with black beans sauce too, but I prefer the one with soy sauce.

    Laura – the recipe is posted now. Hopefully you will come back and check it out.

    ReggaeMom – that’s too funny that your mother read my site more than you. I am glad to have readers like you (and your mother).

    Noob Cook – I don’t like sashimi because I don’t like the texture of raw fish. It’s just cold and the texture is…you know. :P

    Andrea – what is Lenten?

    NYMY – correct, a steamed fish is a waste without the head. I mean, the cheeks. ;)

  8. I had no idea about the rock sugar! Thank you for your great tips Bee!

    Oh, and “Lenten” refers to Lent, a Christian/Catholic period spanning the 40 days preceding Easter. Usually, every Friday during those 40 days, those observing Lent will fast from all red meat and poultry. Therefore, they only eat fish and vegetables, so this recipe is perfect!

  9. Looks stunning.

    Steaming, is an excellent way to cook fish because it allows the fish to retain its natural wonderful flavor!

    I will definitely attempt to utilize these techniques!

  10. Chinese steamed fish is a favorite of both my husband and I! We do try to recreate it at home but never really had a recipe…now we do thanks to you!!! I’m so excited to try this out! Thanks :)

    I agree…the cheeks are the best part!

  11. I would love to steam my fish on the exact same day the fish is “caught” from the tank but it’s hard for worker bees. Lucky for those “Stay-at-home” pple though ;p

  12. Tiga – you are in Singapore now, so it’s OK, you can eat very fresh steamed fish outside. ;)

    Joey – that’s great! I hope you like the recipe. Please adjust the soy sauce and sugar portion accordingly as different brand of soy sauce has different sodium level. Also, sugar might be sweeter in Asia. The sugar in the United States is definitely weaker.

  13. Being Cantonese, we grew up eating steamed fish & yes, we’ll fight over who gets to eat the cheeks & head. Unfortunately where I live, we don’t any fresh soon hock. I tried to steam trout once & it’s not the same. I use LKK soy sauce for steamed fish but now that you have included the recipe here, I’m going to try making my own sauce.

  14. Steamed fish is our family’s favourite. Simple and healthy! Luv reading your “secrets” esp the rock sugar. It really rocks me! ;)

  15. Christine

    Hi, i love yr simple recepi very much and i tried 03 of them ( steam fish, sweet n sour fish and home style taho… – its so easy and tasty.Yummy…….

    Many tks for nice and easy recepi.

  16. Zeenath A. Rahim

    Hi. I live in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I am a reluctant cook. But over the years i’ve learnt to cook out of neccessity.
    Getting good recipes is a real problem as many people dont want to share their knowledge.
    I love going through different websites and visiting blogs. As I am homebound, the internet has become an escape. A wonderful journey that I undertake everday. I spend hours reading blogs, entering other peoples worlds, looking into their lives. Its an incredible journey that I am privileged to savour from the comfort of home.
    Your site has had me glued from 9 am this morning. Studying & savouring all the different recipes. its evening now & I hope to try two this evening. Thenaks for sharing your thoughts & your recipes. Its made even more enticing with the excellent photographs.
    Hope to enjoy more of your news & views regularly. Salaams. Zeenath

  17. Zahara

    Hi there, lurve your website…is this recipe okay for silver pompret fish?.. been eyeing this recipe for quite some time…

  18. Karen

    I tried your recipe today and yum! except for my own personal taste, I need to reduce the sugar abit but otherwise, it is just as good as any restaurant steamfish!
    Thanks for sharing!!

  19. MalaysianinCali

    I find this site amazing! I am beginner when it comes to cooking..being a Malaysian Indian guy spoiled rotten by my mum growing up in Malaysia.
    Every time i try a recipe from this site, it turns out awesome and my wife tells me i can really cook(and she is a good cook).
    This steam fish recipe is my 4th recipe i tried from Rasa Malaysia and it turned out to be so tasty..and simple to do.
    There are so many Malaysian restaurant here in the Bay Area,CA and nothing comes close to the authentic taste i get when i try your recipes. I recommend to all my friends that love eating Malaysian food to your website cuz it’s simply awesome. Kudos to Rasa Malaysia…outstanding recipe u guys have here!!

    • Hey fellow Malaysian,

      I am so glad you love the site and love the recipes. Would love to see your creation so please send your pictures to me if you can. :)

      Thanks for spreading the good works about Rasa Malaysia. The more the merrier. :)

  20. Jas

    I made this dish and just ate it. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to make it and it tastes good! Next time, I will use live fish.

  21. Syn Villareal

    my wife loved it. eventhough I don’t have the spring onion and cilantro leaves. I have to use virgin olive oil instead of the sesame oil since she’s concern of her cholesterol level. I need to buy a very nice plate (pyrex) the next I’ll prepare this dish. the one I used cracked. :( but as a whole, my wife and daughter (3yrs old) loved it. Will be preparing this dish on sunday. It will be perfect this time.

  22. Thanks for all your wonderful recipes. I was wondering if you could share with me the recipe for ‘tiger roll cake’. It’s a swiss roll cake with a special skin that looks like tiger skin. It used to be my childhood favourite until I moved to the city to work and hardly found people selling this cake.

  23. Ju

    Hi there,

    I tried out this recipe. I believe I followed it right from top to bottom without missing out anything. It turned out way way too sweet. I am not sure 2 tablespoons rock sugar is working.

    • Ju, the taste depends on your soy sauce. Rock sugar is used to tone down the saltiness in the sauce. My soy sauce is probably saltier than yours, and also my rock sugar may not be as sweet as yours. Recipe is a general guideline for success, the best recipe lies in your own taste buds to improvise and adjust the ratio as everyone uses different brands of ingredients that would render different results. For example: sugar in the US is very weak compared to Malaysian’s version. If you were to use my recipes and do the exact measurement using Malaysian sugar, everything will be too sweet.

      If the sauce is too sweet for you, add more soy sauce.

  24. Cindy

    It is lazy Sunday day today and I tried your steamy fish recipe and must say that the rock sugar really nailed it man!! Love it. I did not add sesame oil and it tasted good to me too. Thanks for sharing!

  25. Evelyn

    Can I substitute regular sugar for rock sugar? I have rock sugar but I don’t have a mortar and pestle to grind it up…. If yes, how many teaspoons should I use?? thank you–

  26. lilian

    Hi, just wondering would it be better to pour the soy sauce mixture first then the hot oil? Would it make a difference?

  27. Atif

    hi am just wondering, i want to try and make this steamed fish.. my only question isthat i am not keen on the shaoxing wine or rice wine. is that like an real alchol ? if it is i wont be able to use it in the recipe for religious reasons.. is there anything else that i can use instead of that??
    thank you..

  28. Gabby

    Made this for dinner tonight. Excellent. I’m sure it’s even better with the rock sugar. Gotta find it. Love your site.

  29. Great. I took a couple of liberties with your recipe (sea bream, 1 tsp honey instead of rock sugar, and flash fried the scallion & ginger plus a little added garlic in the oil before pouring over) but it is a great dish.

  30. DO Ong

    I stumbled upon this blog completely by accident while looking for a steamed fish recipe, and I have to say that I followed your recipe to the letter (well, except for the rock sugar – I used granulated sugar instead) and it turned out so yummy, even my brother (the chef in our family) was surprised! Now I’m hooked on your blog and looking forward to trying some more recipes. Yay Rasa Malaysia!

  31. Judith

    I made this today and it was awesome! Exactly how it is at the restaurants. I used fish fillets instead of a whole fish. THANKs so much

  32. Syahira

    I got bored with chicken and beef. Might try this in a couple of day. Recipe is quite simple, but I’ll replace rice wine with vinegar. And add more chilli. No onion in this?

  33. nimrod

    Hi, this recipe is fantastic. I tried it with Grouper and Pomfret and it was just delicious. However, I only used 1/2 of the amount for the rock sugar, felt that 2 tablespoons of rock sugar is a lot. Please keep the recipes coming, I’m a fan of yours now! (Also Malaysian :P)

    • enbeuu

      over the years, i’ve used Stella Chan’s technique in her book (Out of print) but found on Amazon. I ran out of the bottle of Chinese soy sauce…and don’t know which brand to get again. and have not used the rock sugar mentioned in this one.
      Personally don’t think sweet soy flavors are desired in this dish; but that might be heresy to some.

  34. Mui

    I would like someone suggest a nice soya sauce, sesame oil and black vinegar sauce. I live in uk, not always can find the brand I want….

  35. Yen Yen Lio

    I have made this dish countless of times using the recipe provided.
    My husband and son just can’t get enough of it. It is so delicious!
    Thanks for the recipe :)

  36. Devin

    Rasa Malaysia, I was wondering if you’ve tried Ponzu instead of the soy sauce? I plan to experiment later this week.

  37. Char

    My husband’s Malaysian relatives are here in Australia on holiday staying with us, so this recipe was the perfect solution for Christmas lunch in summer. Thanks Beee

  38. venessa

    This recipe is a keeper….absolutely delish. Hubby loves it. Glad I have all the ingredients. Will be making this again :)

  39. Sharon

    I’ve tried this recipe and my husband loves it.
    What soy sauce brand did you use? I used Yeos. It was good but thinking to improve the recipe further by trying other sauces.

  40. William

    I travel to china often for business. This is my favorite dish when I am there. I just purchased my first wok. How do I steam fish with it?

  41. Steven

    Foolproof, DELICIOUS, perfect recipe. loved the sauce, so i doubled the amount of everything to make double portion of the sauce. Tastes great with steamed jasmine white rice. I ate so much!

    NB: i used just half teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to replace shaoxing wine in the sauce. Turned out great; to those who dont have it at hand I suggest that as a replacement.

  42. Claire

    Hello I have a question, If I use a grouper fish, how can I differentiate a male from a female fish? what is best to use for this dish a male or a female? thank you God bless

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