This steamed whole sea bass, also called branzino, is my husband’s favorite fish dish. He grew up eating seafood. So when he says this is his favorite fish dish, he knows what he’s talking about. It’s the holiday season here in the U.S., so I bought my fish from Costco during its Thanksgiving seafood roadshow (here in D.C., they have the roadshow just before major holidays). But I’ve seen many grocery stores, like Whole Foods and Harris Teeter carrying them regularly.
Sea bass or Branzino is one of the best types of fish to steam, along with striped bass, rockfish, flounder, groupers, grass carp, etc. These types of fish have mild flavored tender white meat and few bones, which make them great for steamed recipes.
The technique in this recipe is extremely simple and the entire dish can be done within 30 minutes even for first timers. Steaming the sea bass preserves the fish’s juicy, delicate, and sweet meat. The sauce is not overpowering and enhances the fish’s natural umami.
Active Time: 10 min
Total Time: 30 min
- 1 sea bass (branzino), about 1-1.5 lbs; cleaned and scaled
- ½ to 1 teaspoon kosher salt depending on the size of the fish
- 1 small ginger, about 1-2 inch long; cut into thin long wedges
- 2 scallions, separate the white and green parts; cut into long thin slices (julienned)
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce; see notes for more detail 1
- 1 teaspoon Chinese black vinegar; see notes for more detail 2
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil; preferably oil with mild flavor and high smoke point
- Remove the fins from the fish and clean the inside. Pat the fish dry with paper towel. Depending on the size of the fish, make 3 or 4 cuts (1-1.5 inch long) on each side of the fish (about 1 inch apart).
- Sprinkle kosher salt on the fish, and gently massage the salt into the cuts and the belly. Then let the fish rest on the counter for 10-15 minutes. Let the salt do its magic.
- While the fish rests, boil water over high heat in a steamer or a large pot (I use a large cast iron wok with a steamer rack). While waiting for water to boil, prepare the ginger wedges and scallions slices accordingly.
- Then insert one ginger wedge into each cut on the fish. Insert a few ginger wedges inside the fish’s belly. Then spread the rest of the ginger wedges on a plate and put the fish on top of the wedges. Surround the fish with prepared white parts of the scallions.
- When the water boils, carefully transfer the fish plate to the steamer or the steamer rack. Cover and let it cook on high between 6-8 minutes depends on the size of the fish (for a 1 lb fish, no more than 6 minutes). DO NOT over steam otherwise the meat will become hard.
- While the fish steams (or before), prepare the sauce by mixing together 1 tbsp soy sauce and 1 tsp Chinese vinegar.
- After the fish is done steaming, turn off the heat and remove the lid immediately. Then slowly pour the sauce over the fish.
- In a small pan, heat 2 tbsp vegetable oil until very hot but not smoking. Then lay the julienned green parts of the scallions evenly on top of the fish. Next pour the hot oil over the scallions. You know you are doing it right when you can hear a sizzling sound while pouring the hot oil.
- Here I used San-J gluten free soy sauce. But any light soy sauce (not the kind for coloring purpose) can do the job. Kikkoman, Pearl River Bridge （珠江橋牌）, Lee Kum Kee （李錦記）are some of the common Asian soy sauce brands. You can find them in most grocery stores and super markets.
- I used Chinkiang Vinegar (镇江香醋) here. It’s a type of Chinese black vinegar. For some reason, I have not seen this type of vinegar in non-Asian grocery stores. You can substitute it with balsamic vinegar. If using balsamic vinegar, cut the amount by half to ½ teaspoon.