Would you eat a fish that’s blue?

The other day when I was at the Asian market, I randomly decided to be a good Chinese girl and attempt to steam a fish at home, Cantonese-style. If you’ve ever eaten with my family (or any Cantonese family), you already know that steamed fishes are one of these standard dishes that everyone born in Hong Kong is pretty much required to love. (If you don’t like steamed fish, you bring shame to the family!!) You start eating steamed fishes with the adults pretty much the same time you start to eat rice (instead of mushy rice porridge). By the time you’re entering elementary school, you’re already picking through tiny fish bones like an expert and you’ve already figured out which parts of the fish you like the best. For the record, my favorite parts are the collar area, the skin, and the air sac (yes, you can eat it). To this day, every time my parents visit, they insist on taking my sister and I to a nearby Cantonese restaurant to eat steamed fishes because they know we don’t make it at home. Well…I’m about to prove them wrong!

The art of selecting the right fish to steam has always been a mystery to me. So, standing in the midst of all the options at the seafood section of Sunset Super, I decided to call my dad. He recommended anything in the ‘cod’ family that ‘looked fresh’. Avoid ‘carp’, although it wasn’t clear to me why except my dad made a gross noise when I told him they had carp there too. How can a fish ‘look fresh’? From what I could gather, it means the skin is still shiny, the eyes are still clear not cloudy, and it general ‘looks good.’

Once I got off the phone, the fishmonger started trying to sell various fishes to me, including this blue fish. By ‘blue fish,’ I do not mean a fish with a blue price tag or even blue skin – the flesh of this fish was actually tinted electric blue! When I asked the guy why it was blue, all he would say was ‘It’s good for you! It’s like vegetables! The more colors, the better!’

Hmm. Interesting.

Rounding up all the science I’ve learned in grad school, I quickly decided that 1) fishes are, in fact, not like vegetables and 2) blue fishes are too sketchy even for me. And I eat the air sacs!

In the end, I took home a cute little 1.5 lb black cod with clear eyes. Sorry to steam you, little cod! But you certainly were quite delicious! (For those with issues with eating things that’re looking back at them, you can also steam fish steaks or fillets).

1 whole fish, cleaned and scaled (1.5 lb is pretty good for 2 people along with a side of veggies)
2-3 heads of scallions, julienned or chopped
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled (scrape with a spoon – trust me) and julienned
soy sauce, preferably the kind for steamed fishes available at Asian markets
sea salt
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Setup your steamer and start heating the water. Since I don’t own one, I use a wide-mouth wok as the base and balance a bamboo steamer with cover on top of it. You can also use a large skillet or wok and put a little metal stand (available at most Asian markets) inside it , on which the dish can sit. As long as you have about 1-2 inches of boiling water underneath your dish without the water actually touching the dish, you’re good to go.

Meanwhile, rinse the fish and its insides briefly under cold running water. Pat dry gently with paper towels. Season both sides of the fish as well as the insides with small pinches of sea salt.

Place on a shallow dish with curved sides (to catch all the liquid). Drizzle with vegetable oil.

Once the steamer is boiling, carefully place the plate with the fish inside the steamer and cover. Cook for about 20 minutes for a small (1-1.5 lb) fish and longer for larger fishes. Once you can insert the tip of a knife easily into the thickest part of the fish and the flesh looks opaque, the fish is done. Carefully remove the dish from the steamer – this part is trickier than it sounds and may result in some scalding fingers if you’re not careful.

Scatter the scallions and ginger all over the fish and drizzle with as much soy sauce as you like. Oh, and the soy sauce will mix with the fish juices and make for a great ‘dip’ for the fish flesh, as well as a great ‘sauce’ for your rice

(Pair this with some simple greens sauteed in garlic and white rice and you’ve got a great dinner for 2!)