First published 2013. Updated 2019.
This restaurant style Chinese Steamed Sea Bass is a popular recipe in many Chinese homes for special occasions, and most certainly, during the reunion dinner on the eve of the Chinese New Year.
A whole fish, complete with its head and tail, makes a pretty impressive table centrepiece. Not unlike the holiday roast in many Western cultures.
Symbolism plays a big part in Chinese culture and is observed when devising a celebratory menu. Fish is always present as the Mandarin word for fish (yú) sounds like over abundance. Therefore, the fish dish symbolizes the desire and wish for much prosperity and wealth.
When a fish is served with its head and tail intact, that denotes the wish for a good beginning and end to the New Year.
You can read more about Chinese New Year celebrations on the Chinese New Year recipe page here on LinsFood.
Chinese Steamed Sea Bass Recipe
This is an extremely easy recipe to make at home. The marinade/flavourings is a matter of preference, keep it simple, as I’ve done here or not.
I’ve gone for just soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil to flavour the fish, allowing the delicate fish meat to be enjoyed to its fullest. However, you could, if you like, add oyster sauce to the marinade, fermented beans (taucheo) and even miso paste, for a bit of an umami kick.
Don’t know the difference between light, dark and sweet soy sauce? Click here to read more.
How to Steam your Sea Bass
If you don’t have a steamer, especially one big enough to hold a whole fish, improvise.
- Use the biggest wok or deep frying pan you have.
- Place either a small metal trivet or a small saucer in it. If you’re using a saucer, invert it.
- And fill it with water to about 5cm/2″ high.
- Cover it tightly, either with a lid, or use foil.
⇒ That’s your makeshift steamer. See the images in the recipe card.
Not keen on whole fish?
If you are not keen on a whole fish, the same recipe can be made with fish fillets, ready prepared by your fishmonger. I know many folks who can’t stand the idea of looking at the fish’s eyes on the dinner table! So make the whole recipe with some white fish fillets, just as tasty, and less fiddly.
How to serve the Chinese Steamed Sea Bass
More Chinese Recipes on LinsFood
More Singapore and Malaysian Chinese Recipes on LinsFood
Chinese Steamed Sea Bass
- a steamer or a makeshift one using a large saucepan
- 1 whole sea bass about 300g/10.5 oz
- 6 pak choi bunches
- 2 medium tomatoes
- 2 spring onions scallions
- 5 cm (2 in) long fresh ginger
- 1 mild red chilli
- freshly ground white pepper black will do too
- fresh coriander cilantro, chopped for garnishing
- 1 Tbsp sesame oil
- 2 Tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry, or 1/2 tsp vinegar
- 1 Tbsp sesame oil
- Make 3 diagonal slashes on both sides of the fish to help with the cooking.
- Mix the marinade ingredients and marinate the fish with half the marinade while you get all the other ingredients ready. Be sure to rub it in between the slashes you made.
- Clean and cut the stems off the pak choi, leaving them whole.
- Slice the tomatoes.
- Thinly slice (julienne) the spring onions, ginger and chilli, as in the pictures.
- Decide on the dish that you are going to cook and serve the fish on. It doesn’t matter if the head and tail hang over the edges. Line the dish with the tomatoes, followed by the pak choi.
- Place the marinated fish on the vegetables.
- Tuck a few ginger strips in the slices you made. Top the fish with half the aromatics – the spring onions, ginger and chilli strips. Keep the rest to top the finished dish with.
- Drizzle the rest of the marinade all over the fish and aromatics.
- Sprinkle some pepper, then steam the fish for 10 minutes. If you are using a makeshift steamer, the water wants to be simmering, not boiling. Check that the fish is cooked. You can do this by just lifting the meat off the bone with a butter knife or something similar. The meat should be completely opaque. If not done, give it another 2-3 minutes.
- Chop up the coriander (cilantro) while waiting for the fish to cook.
- When the fish is done, heat the 1 Tbsp of sesame oil in a small frying pan on medium heat. When smoking, quickly fry the rest of the spring onions, ginger and chillies for 10 seconds and pour this aromatic oil all over the fish.
- Top with the coriander and serve immediately.