My Thai: Sweet and Sour Steamed Fish

Leela Punyaratabhandu

This recipe is a testament to how good things often come out of unfavorable situations. Basically, I was renting a place by the beach in eastern Thailand. Having seen the fully equipped (well, almost) kitchen, I thought I'd take advantage of the fresh fish I could get from the seaside market by making the classic Thai steamed fish with lime, garlic, and chilies.

Not until I had arrived back from the market with the necessary ingredients to make the dish did I realize that this kitchen came with everything except a knife. I couldn't chop up the garlic. I couldn't cut open the limes. I couldn't slice off the top of the plastic "nipple" of the bottle of fish sauce I'd bought in order to open it. It was a sad situation.


I could have let out an incredulous scoff, flailed my arms about in frustration, and wondered out loud what kind of lousy kitchen had not one knife in it. But I was too hungry.

Thank goodness I had a few packets of Thai sweet chili sauce which came with some grilled chicken I'd bought the day before that I didn't use. There were also a few packets of soy sauce lying around. I tore those packets open, mixed the contents together to create a simple sweet, sour, and salty dressing. I poured the dressing over the fresh fish and steamed it. Less than 30 minutes later, I ended up with a beautiful, delicious steamed fish with a sweet and sour sauce that was a combination of the dressing and the juices released from the fish. The sauce alone was so good I could eat it with steamed jasmine rice, sans the fish, and call it a great meal.

I knew right away that this was something I'd make again and again.


Over the years, I've tweaked the recipe until it became what it is today. Not much has changed, though. The key ingredient, Thai sweet chili sauce, still serves as the base of the sauce. I've just come to prefer oyster sauce to soy sauce. But other than that, the essence of the recipe remains the same: 6 simple ingredients, done in less than 20 minutes.