This is a simple way to prepare whole fish, yet one that few Western cooks have mastered. In the Vietnamese Cuisine, a properly steamed fish is a benchmark for chefs, and those who can’t do it right are considered to be bad cooks. A perfectly steamed fish has flesh that is just cooked at the bone, never dry. Typically, whole fish are not served with the liquid in which it was steamed, which is too fishy tasting, and any sauce is added at the end, after the fish has been cooked. In this classic Chinese preparation, the fish is topped with scallions, cilantro and ginger, then doused with hot oil, which releases the flavor of the aromatics into the flesh of the fish.
How to Prepare a Whole Fish
Most markets sell fish that have already been scaled and gutted. If a fish has not been cleaned, you can ask the fishmonger to clean it for you. When we serve a whole fish at the restaurants, we also trim off the fins because the fish is easier to serve without them. With a pair of scissors, cut off the fins from both sides of the fish, from the belly, and then the dorsal fins (the ones running along the back). Finally, trim the tail by cutting it into a V shape and score the fish.