Naomi Duguid's River Fish Celebration

[Photograph: Richard Jung]

Steamed whole fish makes for a virtuously effortless dish with instant presentation points, especially when topped with a psychedelic melange of ginger, chiles, and herbs as is the River Fish Celebration in Naomi Duguid's Burma. The whole snapper (or trout) is coated with a warming and floral paste of ginger, galangal, garlic, and lime before being tossed in a light broth spicy with chiles, cilantro, and even more ginger and garlic. Really, the only trick here is finding a pan (with a lid) big enough to fit a one 1/2-pound fish. My 12-inch skillet was just a bit too small, so I had to squash the tail a bit to make it fit. If you've got a wok and a large lid, you should be set.

Why I picked this recipe: Once again, this dish looked downright gorgeous when I first flipped through the book. I really couldn't say no.

What worked: This fish is the best kind of celebration food: bright, colorful, a total breeze to prepare.

What didn't: Perhaps it was my imperfect steaming set-up, but I found that I needed to use more water (up to 1/2 cup) and cook the fish a few minutes longer for flaky flesh and a drizzleable sauce. I also wanted a heavier hand with the salt, both on the fish and in the sauce.

Suggested tweaks: I wasn't a huge fan of the lime skin in the sauce. Next time I'd probably juice the limes and add the zest separately.

Reprinted with permission from Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid. Copyright 2012. Published by Artisan. Available wherever books are sold. All rights reserved.

Naomi Duguid's River Fish Celebration

About This Recipe

Yield:serves 4 to 5
Active time:25 minutes
Total time:40 minutes
This recipe appears in: Naomi Duguid's River Fish Celebration


  • Aromatic Rub
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced galangal
  • 1/2 lime, including skin, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • Fish
  • 1 1/4 to 11/2 pounds cleaned whole firm-fleshed fish, such as snapper or trout, rinsed and dried
  • 3 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 red cayenne chiles, minced, or 4 dried red chiles, broken in half
  • 8 to 10 coriander stalks
  • About 1/4 cup hot water


  1. 1

    Combine all the rub ingredients in a mortar or mini processor, and pound or process to a coarse paste. Rub the fish all over with the paste and set aside for 15 minutes.

  2. 2

    Place a wide shallow wok or a heavy skillet that is big enough to hold the fish over high heat. Add the oil, heat for a minute, then lower the heat to medium. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

  3. 3

    Toss in the chiles and raise the heat to high. Add half the coriander, place the fish in the pan, cover tightly, and lower the heat to medium-high. Cook for about 4 minutes, then add the hot water. Bring to a boil, turn the fish over, add the remaining coriander, cover, and cook for another 3 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked through (the flesh should be opaque and should flake when pulled with a fork).

  4. 4

    Serve from the pan or transfer to a platter and serve.

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