There are many traditional foods eaten for the Chinese Lunar New Year celebration, but one of the most impressive looking is a whole steamed fish. Fish is considered a lucky food for this holiday as its Chinese pronunciation is the same as the Chinese word for surplus, signifying the wish for abundance in the coming year.
This fragrant steamed fish dish, from Snoqualmie Casino’s 12 Moons chef-de-cuisine Jack Wynne, is blanketed in green onions and fresh ginger and then splashed with smoking-hot oil to unleash all the aroma of the shredded vegetables.
Striped bass, trout, red snapper, or any high-quality small to medium-sized fish works well. “Fish fillets can be used if the sight of the fish head on the plate makes you squeamish or you don’t have a steamer big enough for a whole fish,” Wynne says. If using fillets, then salmon and larger fish like halibut can be used as well.
Chinese and Japanese cooking are both very concerned with finding balance, Wynne says. “The best way to find that balance is just through experience and getting to know your ingredients intimately, as well as knowing how to balance those flavors,” he adds. With 30 years’ of kitchen experience, Wynne knows his ingredients well. “Sweet and sour balance each other, and salt and bitter balance each other. Adjusting those two scales to meet in the middle is the goal of any recipe that seeks balance.”
Mushroom-flavored soy sauce is a common ingredient in Chinese cooking, Wynne says. It is a dark and dense variety that is higher in sodium than other soy sauces. Because of these qualities, Wynne says it is best used in restrained amounts and in conjunction with some sort of sugar. The combination of dense soy flavor with hints of mushroom brings the umami of both ingredients. At 12 Moons, it is used in Mongolian and chow mein sauces.
Splashing super-hot oil over ingredients at the table is common in Chinese cooking, especially formal banquets and special occasions. Commonly also called “boiling oil” in recipes, it fills the room with the aromatics of whatever ingredient it was splashed over. Wynne says that at 12 Moons, they do this in the kitchen right before the dish is walked out to the table to avoid any possible injuries to guests and staff, but the sizzling and aroma of ginger and green onion is still wafting off the platter when it arrives at the table.
Whole steamed fish
Feeds 3-4 people
- 1 cleaned whole fish, 3-4 pounds, or several 1-pound fish
- 4 ounces green onion, cut into 4-inch sections and shredded thinly, then soaked in ice water to curl until needed
- 2 ounces fresh ginger, peeled and julienned as thin as possible into 4-inch shreds, taking advantage of the threads that run the length of the root
- 1 red bell pepper, julienned as thin as possible and soaked in ice water to curl until needed
- ½ cup canola or peanut oil
- 2 ounces fresh ginger, roughly chopped
- 4 ounces green onion, cut into 4-inch lengths
- 4 tablespoons Chinese Shaoxing rice wine or Japanese sake
- 3-4 cilantro sprigs (optional)
Seasoned soy sauce for fish:
- 1 tablespoon Chinese Shaoxing rice wine or Japanese sake
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Pearl River Bridge mushroom soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Gold Plum Chinkiang vinegar
- ½ tablespoon Red Boat fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons granulated white sugar
Mix all of the ingredients for the seasoned soy sauce together until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
Clean the inside cavity of the fish to make sure there are no membranes or residual blood. Scrub gently with a brush if needed, making sure not to damage the fragile flesh. From inside the cavity cut through the rib bones on one side of the spine and continue that cut all the way to the tail, but do not cut all the way through. Use scissors if needed for the ribs to make sure you don’t cut the fish in half. Rub the whole fish with 4 tablespoons of Shaoxing wine or sake and stuff the cavity with the roughly chopped ginger and green onion. Allow to marinate, refrigerated, for 30 minutes, up to 4 hours.
Prepare your steamer. Once the water is boiling place the fish on the serving platter splayed out and back up with the ginger and green onions still in the cavity to provide some support and give the fish some shape. Place in the steamer and let steam. Time will vary depending on the size of the individual fish. The meat should separate easily from the spine. 12 minutes for a 1-pound fish, 15 minutes for 1.5-pound fish, 18 minutes for 2-pound fish, 20 minutes for 3-pound fish.
Right before the fish is done, place the canola or peanut oil in a pot and heat until just starting to smoke. Once the fish is cooked, carefully remove from the steamer and cover with the shredded ginger and green onion, place on the table for serving, and carefully splash the heated oil over the whole platter. Pour the seasoned soy sauce over, coating as much of the fish as possible. Garnish with the shredded red bell pepper and cilantro sprigs and serve with steamed jasmine rice and the vegetable of your choice (Wynne recommends gai lan or steamed baby bok choy with oyster sauce).
If you would rather let them do the cooking, visit 12 Moons at Snoqualmie Casino. With a variety of Asian-inspired dishes, 12 Moons has something for everyone, including a spectacular view of the Snoqualmie Valley.