STEAMED FISH WITH LIME & CORIANDER SAUCE
Using a Whole Fish
Thai Name: Plaa Neung Manao (literally “Fish Steamed Lime”) ปลานึ่งมะนาว
This steamed fish dish is a snap to make and is served all over Thailand using ocean and freshwater fish.
For this recipe I used a whole red snapper – it looks great as a presentation piece for when you have a dinner party. The head and bones in the fish also impart a deeper flavor that you lose when using fish fillets. Using either a whole fish or fish fillets makes for a delicious dish.
The Thai name for the dish highlights the use of lime to brighten the flavor of the fish, plus fish sauce for a salty and savoury taste, chillies and garlic for spice and sugar to temper and balance out the spice.
- 1 whole fish with head and tail intact. The best choice is a firm fleshed white fish such as red snapper, sea bass, sea perch or whatever fish you can get with the body intact that will fit in your stove top steamer.
- If you are buying fish whole from the market, look for clear eyes, red gills and a briny smell – signs of recent habitation in the water and a fresher taste. Scrape off the scales from the fish body. Cut open the fish along the belly and remove the internal organs. Rinse the fish well in running water. Score the flesh of the fish several times along the body at even intervals on each side so the steam penetrates the flesh. You can see an example of this preparation in the photos below.
- 1 stalk lemongrass – we trim off the outer layers, bash the lemongrass to release the flavor and stick it in the mouth of the fish to perfume the fish – it also looks really cool. We will retain the outer layers of the lemongrass to serve as a base so the fish doesn’t stick to the steamer – it makes it easier to remove when placing the fish on the serving plate.
- 3 garlic cloves, minced, about 1 tablespoon (15 ml measuring spoon)
- 6 small Thai chillies, minced, about 1 tablespoon (15 ml measuring spoon)
- 3 tablespoons lime juice (45 ml)
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce (30 ml)
- 1 teaspoon white cane sugar (5 ml)
SET ASIDE THIS GARNISH
- coriander / cilantro leaves, about enough to fill 1/2 cup or a small handful
FLAVORING THE FISH
- lemongrass, 1 stalk about nine inches / 23 cm long, the tough outer skin removed (but do not throw away these outer layers). Bash the lemongrass to release the flavors inside and reserve for putting inside the fish to flavor it. We will use the lemongrass outer skin as a base to place on the steamer basket so the fish does not stick to the surface.
- steamer – I use a stainless steel steamer because it is easier to clean versus a bamboo steamer
- knife for cutting lemongrass and other ingredients
- cutting board
- measuring spoons
- bowl for combining sauce ingredients
- spoon for stirring sauce ingredients
- spatula for lifting cooked fish from the steamer to the serving plate
- serving plate
- Mix the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.
- Reserve the coriander / cilantro leaves as a garnish to toss over the cooked fish.
Note to the chef: You may adjust the contents of the sauce to suit your own palate. If your preference is for less incendiary sauces, you can lessen the number of chillies, use chillies lower in spice or add more sugar. If you tone down the chillie heat in the sauce, you can adjust the other ingredients accordingly so they are in balance by adding less of each. The prevailing flavors should be sour/tangy and spicy.
COOKING METHOD STEP BY STEP
Whole Fish Method
- Prepare the fish as detailed above.
- Cut off the root and upper third off of 1 stalk of lemongrass so it is about nine inches / 23 cm long. Peel the outer couple of layers to get rid of the woody covering and retain these layers. Bash the trimmed lemongrass stalk with a cleaver or knife blade. This releases the essential oils inside the lemongrass. Place the trimmed lemongrass inside the fish to give it a perfumed and lemony flavor. Depending on the size of your lemongrass stalk, you may have to fold it so it remains inside the fish cavity.
- Your steamer has a bottom part for putting in the water for steaming, a middle part for placing the fish or other food and a top. Place the outer layers of the lemongrass evenly across the bottom of the steaming basket and place the cleaned fish on top of these lemongrass stalks.
- Place your steamer pot atop the stove and add enough water so the water level is about an inch below where the steamer basket rests. This will keep boiling water from leaping up and overcooking the bottom of the fish. Turn the heat under the cooking pot to medium high. Once the water boils, place the fish on steaming basket inside the steaming pot. Add the cover and steam for 10 minutes or until done. The thickness of the fish body will determine when the fish is fully cooked so this time may vary – fortunately, steaming is a very forgiving way to cook so don’t worry about checking the fish every ten seconds.
- You can check that the fish is fully cooked by poking a knife through the fish; if it remains opaque in the center by the fish skeleton and spine, steam for a few more minutes until the fish is a uniform color all the way through. I like to check to see if the fish is completely cooked by cutting along the spine of the fish and looking at the fish meat next to the bones – if it is an even white color, the fish is cooked. You can see in the photo below I inspected the fish along the spine and lifted up a flap of the fish to make sure it was not in the sushi stage.
- In the example pictured in this recipe, I also kept the small flipper near the fish head on the fish – when this flipper becomes loose, it also shows the fish is cooked thoroughly.
When the fish is cooked to your liking, remove the fish from the steamer and place on a serving dish. Spoon the sauce over the fish. Scatter the coriander leaf / cilantro leaf on top as a garnish.
Serve warm with steamed jasmine rice.
Serves two persons as part of a multi-dish Thai meal.