The Arc Magazine: Taste
CD Baby

Feast is the genius behind lots of wonderful dinner parties, wine tastings, farm and vineyard excursions, intimate weddings, region and product inspired tasting dinners, and all sorts of other celebrations that require passionate food.


Article and recipe by | Photos by published | february ‘09

Ginger Scented Steamed Whole Fish

ginger scented steamed fish


  • 2lb whole white-fleshed fish such as snapper or rockfish
  • 2 tbsps. of Kosher or sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 3/4 inch long piece of fresh ginger
  • Red chillies, such as japones
  • 18 inch wide aluminum foil or parchment paper or a bamboo steamer big enough to accommodate your fish


  • 1/4 cup slivered scallions or leeks
  • Sesame seed oi
  • Peanut oil
  • Sugar
  • Lime


Pre heat oven to 400 degrees. Begin the preparation of rice to accompany the fish dish.

scoring and salting the fishScale the fish by running a knife from the tail to the head several times until the body is free of scales. If your fish is not yet gutted, do so by cutting along the belly, with a very sharp knife from the gills to the tail. Hold the fish under running water while you empty the cavity and rinse until you can see the inside of the rib cage. Wash the fish and pat it dry. Score the fish on both sides by diagonally slicing (with a very sharp knife) every two inches from head to tail. Do not be afraid to cut through the bone. Sprinkle both sides and the cavity with salt and pepper and set aside.

ginger, chillies and leaksPeel the ginger (using a teaspoon to remove the skin and get into the awkward corners of the root helps). Cut your peeled ginger into thin matchsticks. If using, finely chop the chillies and wash the leeks or scallions thoroughly, first cutting them vertically to expose any trapped sand or dirt. Slice them into thin matchsticks and set aside.

If you have a bamboo steamer large enough to accommodate your fish, use it. Otherwise, we'll improvise by placing the fish is in a closed pouch in the oven to steam in its own juices. In French this method is know as cooking en papillote, or in a pouch. When the food lets off steam the parchment puffs up. If desired, the food can be brought to the table en papillote, cut open and peeled back to remove the food at the table. Cooking en papillote renders moist, tender results and keeps all of the flavorful juices comfortably mingled together. It is also a tidy, simple and healthful way of cooking.

En papillote assumes the use of parchment paper. I recommend parchment over foil because foil is too stiff to puff under the steam and is much harsher on our environment. However, if that's what you have you may use it with success. In either case, roll out a piece long enough to wrap the fish and fold over on the sides and along the top to create a sealed envelope.

readying the fish for the ovenPlace your parchment paper on a baking sheet, sprinkle with half of the ginger, leeks or scallions and chill peppers and place the fish on top. Place the other half in the cavity and on top of the fish, especially around the scores. Fold the parchment or foil like an envelope around the fish, leaving a bit of space for the steam to build up.

The fish is done when the flesh is opaque and flakes with a fork. Bake the fish at 400 degrees for 20 minutes to be sure of doneness. Remove the fish from the oven and carefully slide the papillote from the baking sheet to your platter. If you'd like to remove your fish from the papillote before bringing it to table carefully open the pouch, first cutting steam vents and then unwrapping the fish. Be careful both of hot steam and juices. Gently slide your fish onto a platter and pour the remaining juices on top.

the final dishThe fish is delicious as is. If you would like to add a finishing touch, heat several tablespoons of sesame and peanut or chilli oil in a small pan until barely smoking and then poor them over the fish to sear and dress the skin and add extra flavor. A quick salad of extra slivered leeks, ginger, lime juice and chillis, left to macerate while the fish is cooking makes a refreshing garnish.

Serve the fish immediately with hot jasmine rice and chopsticks. Chilli oil and sautéed pea-vines might also be appreciated.


How to buy a good fish and reject a bad one

fresh fish

Take the fish and stick your nose where the head was. If you wish that you hadn't done that, send the fish back. Run your finger along the bloodline inside the belly, head to tail, and smell it. If you smell anything but seawater, send it back.

If your fish arrives with a head, examine the eye. The Japanese will tell you to judge freshness by the convexity of the ball. If the eye is round and clear, rejoice and touch the skin: A fish just from the ocean will ooze a clean slime like egg white. If it is slimy rejoice twice and proceed.

Never buy a farmed fish.

If your fish is of the fatty spawning variety, like wild salmon, and gutted, pinch the belly between your thumb and forefinger. It should be thick, about an inch think, never less than a half, and it should be firm, too firm to roll back and forth to the left and right. It should feel substantial, rubbery and fleshy, like a big piece of string cheese and the same glossy white color. A fish that passes the caliper test was healthy when it was caught, just beginning its fasting fight upriver. A fish that fails was at the end of its life and starving, dying, when it was caught. You are not a vulture. The belly fat is gone and so is the flavor. Send the fish back.

If your fish passes the belly fat test, put your finger at the creature's tale. Run this finger along the belly towards the gills. Now look at your finger. If it is clean, your fish is fresh; it was recently caught , not out of the water very long. If on the other hand, you see more than one or two scales, or worse, spy them jumping off of your fish's belly and are now covered, face, arms, and apron, in glittering scaly sequins, your fish is old. Dead too long. No thank you. Send it back.

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