You cannot beat the taste of baked fresh fish. Of all the many ways to cook fish, steaming keeps the flavor in best. Of course, the size of fish you can cook depends on the size of your steamer; if the steamer is small, it limits the size of the fish, and how many, you can cook.
Today I introduce you to paper wrapped baked fish. Though it is baked in the oven, it is actually steamed inside the paper package. The package locks in the flavor and juices, making it richer than traditional steamed fish, and that means maximum deliciousness!
When cooking fish, its freshness is paramount. If the fish is not fresh, no matter how good a cook you are, nothing will save you.
Tips for Judging the Freshness of Salt Water Fish:
A fresh fish has clear, bright eyes. If the fish is not fresh, its eyes will be a dim pale gray.
The fish’s body should have a metallic luster. If there is any discoloration, no need to check its passport; you know it landed a while ago.
Smell the fish. It should have a pleasant sea water smell; similar to the smell of cucumber. If the fish smells unpleasant, not even the best chef can make it better. It is impossible to get rid of, and cooking will be a case of masking the smell and not flavoring. So, if the fish is fresh, you will not need to add cooking wine, ginger or other spices; salt and pepper will suffice.
I have used a 700 g snapper here, but you can also use other more delicate fish. The length of this fish is 40 cm, from the tip of the tail to the mouth. Finding a steamer big enough for a fish this size is difficult, but baking trays are quite common.
The list of all the ingredients for a delicious steamed fish is as follows:
- 1 x 700g snapper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 lemon slices
- 3 teaspoons grape seed oil
- 100g fresh bean sprouts
- 1/3 cucumber
- 1 green onion
- 1 red pepper
- 10 mint leaves
- 35g unrefined palm sugar, which is a kind of raw sugar extracted from the fruit of the palm.
- ½ fresh red chili
- To add spiciness to the sauce, choose a spicy chili such as Bird’s Eye, which is ranked tenth hottest on the world chili list.
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
To Cook the Fish:
First, preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
Preparing the fish is very simple. Remove the fish’s internal organs and gills, and scrape off the scales. Wash the fish inside and out, and pat dry with paper towel.
When cooking meat and vegetables, any residual moisture will dilute the seasonings, diminishing the flavors. Using a large sharp knife, score the fish a few times making parallel slits about 2.5 cm apart. Scoring helps the seasoning penetrate into the fish, and aids the steaming.
Sprinkle the salt and black pepper on both sides of the fish and gently massage it in with your hands. Drizzle the grape seed oil over the fish. Grape seed oil is colorless and light tasting, and will not interfere with the flavor of the fish.
Finally, pop the two lemon slices inside the fish, and it is now ready to cook.
Take two sheets of baking paper 10 cm longer than the fish. Place one on the baking tray and put the fish on top. Cover the fish with the other piece of baking paper.
Fold the long side edges twice, and do the same with the short edges, so you have a nice secure package.
Press the folds firmly with your fingers so that the package is tightly closed.
Put the fish into the oven to bake for 25-30 minutes. As mentioned earlier, if the fish is relatively fresh, baked fish on its own is very tasty, and in no need of additional seasoning.
To eat this dish the Western way, it should be taken to the next level and accompanied with, in this case, a spicy, tangy salad.
To make the salad, first, wash the bean sprouts and remove the tips and tails. Peel the cucumber, cut in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds.
Slice the cucumber finely along the length into stringy strips. Do the same with the red pepper. Wash the green onion and slice along its length Combine all these ingredients in a bowl and scatter with the mint leaves.
Prepare the sauce.
Grate the raw palm sugar into a small bowl and add 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. Put it in the microwave and heat until the palm sugar and soy sauce melt together. Then, add the lime juice and the chopped red chili (seeds removed) to the sauce and mix evenly. I recommend wearing latex gloves when handling the chili.
Take the baked fish out of the oven and carefully open the baking paper at one end to release the steam. Be careful it’s hot! Using scissors, poke a hole in the center of the paper bag and cut it open to reveal the whole fish. Arrange the salad in the corner, and pour the sauce over the fish. Serve the whole fish on the table for everyone to share.