I'm not sure why steaming fish always scares me. Do I have a problem with high heat and oil? Nope. What about smoking meat for hours? No big deal. Yet, cooking things over boiling water somehow brings out all my anxieties. Perhaps it's the success rate. Too often, the food comes out bland and boring. But it's also the cleanup, which too often takes longer than I'd like. But what if could find a way to steam that was actually easy, perhaps by cooking everything together on one plate?
I realize I'm getting ahead of myself. This process started with a couple fillets of Walleye, an excellent fish from northern Lake Michigan. I wanted to see how the firm-fleshed fish would stand up to an Asian preparation, specially one flavored with ginger and scallions. Steaming was the obvious choice. At the same time, I had picked up some tatsoi at the market, a sturdy green which has a lot in common with mustard greens. I knew the leaves would stand up well to steaming, so I decided to try placing a bed of tatsoi leaves under the fish fillets.
Which brings us to the plate. To simplify the process, I came across this idea of steaming everything on a plate, which would allow all the ingredients to cook happily together. This turned out to be much easier than I had imagined. Instead of a pot, I used my wok. All I needed was a metal ring to set the plate high enough up to not touch the sides. In the end, I just took three feet of aluminum foil, rolled it up, and then formed it into a circle. I poured water in, tossed in the ring, and then set the plate on top. This allowed the steam to come around the sides of the plate to cook the fish. (There are also handy inserts that do this.)
The result is a dish that's incredibly simple to prepare, which can also be customized to your liking. Along with the aromatics, I added a basic sauce made from soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil, though something more assertive would also work. As for the tatsoi, it lent a slight mustard presence that worked well with the mild fish.
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice wine
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled, half minced and half thinly sliced
- 8 scallions, ends trimmed, half minced and half cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 bunch tatsoi (or other greens), stems removed
- 2 Walleye fish fillets, about 6 ounces each (whitefish, tilapia, or catfish would also work)
- Cooked white rice (for serving)
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, minced ginger, and 1/2 of the minced scallions.
Arrange the tatsoi leaves on a 10 1/2-inch heat-proof serving plate, along with the sliced ginger and 1-inch pieces of scallions. On top, add the walleye fillets. Spoon a couple tablespoons of the sauce on top of the fish.
Add 1 inch of water to the bottom of a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok, bring to a boil over high heat, and then reduce the heat to maintain a strong simmer. Meanwhile, roll a 1- by 3-foot sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil into a 1-foot long rope-like piece, then form it into a ring, while keeping the sides about two inches tall. Place in the wok, then carefully add the plate on top. There should be space around the edge of the plate for the steam to come up. (If not, carefully remove the plate, remove foil with tongs, and reshape until it supports the plate above the liquid.
Cover the wok, and let the fish steam until it is fully cooked and flakes easily with a fork, 8 to 10 minutes. The water shouldn't run out, but if it does, add some more in. When done, carefully remove the plate, divide the contents between two plates. Serve with white rice and more of the sauce.
wok, aluminum foil