Cantonese steamed fish

This recipe post is a belated one, as I meant to post it last week in time for Lunar New Year, but better late than never, right?

Steamed fish is a traditional part of the Lunar New Year meal, thought to symbolize good luck. My blogger friend Rebecca reminded me that there is a Chinese saying, “年年有魚, 年年有餘,” in which the word “fish” (魚) is a play on word for 餘, which translates to “abundance.” The clever phonetics in the language offers a meaningful expression to wish one a surplus (of wealth, happiness, good fortune…) for the new year.

Notably, the fish should be served whole with the head and tail attached, to represent a positive beginning and end for the months to come. We could all do with a change of fortune for 2021, so here’s the perfect recipe to help bring that on.


Adapted from The Woks of Life.

Servings: 1 whole fish | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 15 minutes


  • 2 scallions
  • 2 tablespoons ginger
  • 1 small bunch cilantro
  • 1 ½ tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 1 whole delicate white fish (sea bass, grey sole, flounder, fluke, tilapia, or haddock)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil


1) Cut the scallions into 2-inch lengths, and cut the pieces in half lengthwise. Julienne them thinly. Thinly slice about 15 g of ginger, and julienne them. Give the cilantro a rough chop. Set the aromatics aside. 

2) Combine the light soy sauce, salt, sugar and hot water in a small bowl and mix until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Set aside. 

3) Prepare your steaming set-up, and fill with 1-2 inches of water. Bring to a boil.

4) Rinse your fish, and carefully lay it on an oblong heat-proof plate that will fit into your wok or steaming setup. Carefully place it in the steamer, and adjust the heat to medium. The water should be at a slow boil that generates a good amount of steam, but not so high that the water evaporates too quickly. 

5) Cover and steam for 7-10 minutes depending upon the size and thickness of your fish. Check for doneness using a butter knife. If it falls easily through the thickest part of the fillet to the bottom of the plate, the fish is done. 

6) Turn off the heat, and carefully drain any liquid on the plate. Spread about ⅓ of the scallions, ginger, and cilantro on the steamed fish.

Prepare the sauce.

Heat a wok or small saucepan to medium high heat, and add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Add the remaining ⅔ of the ginger, and fry for 1 minute. Add the white parts of the scallions and cook for 30 seconds.Then add rest of the scallions and cilantro. The mixture should be sizzling. 

Add the soy sauce mixture. Bring the mixture to a bubble, and cook until the scallions and cilantro are just wilted, about 30 seconds. 

7) Pour the sauce over the fish. Ready to serve.

🧑🏻‍🍳 Cook notes

As mentioned the recipe, this dish is meant for a white fish. I personally like to use sea bass, but grey sole, flounder, fluke, tilapia, or haddock are other popular options.

Remember to serve the fish whole if you want to do it the traditional way. You’ll have to watch out for bones but this is how you get all the good luck!

18 responses to “Cantonese steamed fish”

  1. oh my…. im not sold on eating anything where you can see the eyes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Looking into your soul… 👀


  2. Yum! There’s the saying in Chinese, “年年有魚, 年年有餘,” in which the word “fish” (魚) is a play-on word for 餘, which translates to “abundance.” It’s the clever phonetics in the language that offers a meaningful expression to wish one a surplus (of wealth, happiness, good fortune…) for the new year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I vaguely recalled this but didn’t have all the details. I’m going to add this tidbit onto the post if you don’t mind 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I bet it’s tasty, but those eyesssss

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Did you know that fish eyeballs are considered a delicacy? 👀 At least you don’t see the pupils on this one, haha.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I did not know that – but it’s good to learn every day! I’m sure they are delicious 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Seems delicious Jess, thanks for putting this up!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You describe cooking process so good and vivid that I want this fish so badly now😀 Sounds very delicious. Will save the recipe. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading! If you ever find yourself at a Chinese restaurant around Lunar New Year, this is the dish to order 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ok. Thanks for the tip. I think I might try the recipe next week. 👍🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Oooh I’ll try this today!

    Liked by 1 person

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