My dad is a master at sampling dishes at restaurants, deciding he could do it himself, and going home to replicate (and most times, improving on) said dishes. I’d like to think that I got that culinary gene from him, but in the meantime, at least I get to benefit from the magician finally revealing his secret (recipe, that is!).
Steamed fish fillets, swimming in a ginger-soy sauce and topped with bright julienned scallions, is a prime example of a simple yet intricately flavored dish found on the menus of many Chinese restaurants. There’s just nothing quite like spooning the sweet and salty sauce over a bowl of white rice and flaking apart the tender fish with my chopsticks to make me feel right at home.
NomCat tip for the ingredients:
The Fish: Costco. My parents love to keep it easy, and once they introduced the frozen, individually vacuum-sealed tilapia loins from Costco to us, we never looked back. It’s easy to pull as many (or as few) fillets as you need, thaw them in the sink, and have dinner on the table in 15 minutes, which works perfectly for us coming home from a long day at work. They are packaged by weight, so one $14 bag will have about 10-12 fillets.
From frozen fillet to this in just 15 minutes:
2 tilapia loin fillets, frozen or thawed (you could also use any white fish)
1 bunch of green onions (just the whites, save the greens for another dish)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger (or ginger paste)
The fish can be cooked in two ways: in a steamer or (my favorite) in the microwave. Yes, I said it. The Microwave. Maybe it’s because we were college students not long ago, but I love healthy, homemade dishes that can be prepared by microwave. If you have time, you can thaw the fillets in the sink for about an hour or overnight in the refrigerator. If you’re short on time, fear not! Simply adjust the cooking times – it may even be for the better since the fish will have extra time to soak in the delicious sauce.
We like to eat this with white rice, so you’ll want to start by getting the rice cooker going. If you’re using a steamer (or a steam pot?) to cook the fish, you’ll want to get the water boiling. Then it’s time to show off your knife skills by slicing the whites of the green onion into a fine julienne.
I know, mine aren’t that finely cut. That’s okay too. The finer the cut, the better the scallion wilts as it sits over the hot fish. The wilting helps it lose the bitter onion-y flavor. (So yes, by not cutting very well, I literally tasted my defeat.)
The sauce is pretty easy. Just throw the last 5 ingredients together in a small bowl. You may want to adjust the proportion a bit to your own preference. Some like it saltier, some like it sweeter. It’s okay to make it a bit more potent that you’d expect, because the cooking process will let the juices from the fish mingle with the sauce and dilute (and at the same time, add flavor to) the sauce. Whipping it with chopsticks or a fork will be the best way to break up the globules of sesame oil.
Now just unwrap the fish fillets, give them a quick rinse, pat dry with paper towels, and arrange them in a microwave safe dish. The Pyrex pie pan is unconventional but perfect for this. Drizzle the sauce over the fish fillets, flipping if necessary to coat them. I like to fish (pun intended) out the floating bits of ginger and lay them over the fish pieces. At this point, it is ready to go into the steamer or microwave. For the microwave route, tightly cover the dish in plastic wrap to create a hot and steamy cooking environment. Steam until the fish is opaque and flakes cleanly. Times will vary depending on the method and whether the fish is frozen or thawed. We did frozen fillets in the microwave for about 5 minutes on high.
Be careful when opening the steamer or removing the plastic wrap as the steam will be very hot! The sauce will have settled, so baste the tops of the fillets before topping with the scallion. Bon appetit!