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.
Read more: Naomi Duguid's River Fish Celebration
- Yield:serves 4 to 5
- Active time: 25 minutes
- Total time:40 minutes
- 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
- 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
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.
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.
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).
Serve from the pan or transfer to a platter and serve.