Bak­ing whole fish eas­ier, tastier than steam­ing it

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE - By SARA MOUL­TON As­so­ci­ated Press

The Chi­nese like to fea­ture whole steamed fish on the menu of their New Year’s feasts. Said to sig­nify to­geth­er­ness, abun­dance and long life, it’s a dish with sym­bol­ism that is as im­por­tant as taste. In­deed, you’re sup­posed to leave the bones, head and tail in­tact, a way to help en­sure that the new year will be a win­ner from be­gin­ning to end.

When buy­ing fish, many West­ern cooks tend to opt for the ease of fil­lets. The prospect of buy­ing, prep­ping and debon­ing a whole fish might seem not just novel, but also daunt­ing.

So here I pro­pose bak­ing your whole fish rather than steam­ing it, and wrap­ping it in foil to keep it moist. It’s much eas­ier to cook it this way. It also has the added ben­e­fit of cre­at­ing an in­stant sauce.

But let’s start at the be­gin­ning. You’re at the store check­ing out the fish on dis­play. How can you tell if a whole fish is fresh? Its eyes should be clear, not cloudy, and its gills should be brightly col­ored, red or pink.

Once you’ve picked your win­ner, ask the fish­mon­ger to clean it for you. He’ ll clip off the gills, scrape off the scales and re­move the guts. If you don’t plan to head home right away, ask for a bag of ice to place next to the fish, which will keep it cold.

Baked whole fish for Chi­nese New Year

Can’t find 1- to 1 1/2-pound whole fish? Buy three smaller ones (about 2/3 to 3/4 pound each) and re­duce the cook­ing time to about 15 min­utes.

Start to fin­ish: 1 hour (30 min­utes ac­tive)

Serv­ings: 4 Two 1- to 1 1/2-pound whole striped bass, branzino or trout, gut­ted, scaled and gills re­moved 4 cloves gar­lic, thinly sliced 2-inch chunk fresh gin­ger, peeled and cut into match­sticks

3 ta­ble­spoons low-sodium soy sauce

2 ta­ble­spoons un­sea­soned rice vine­gar 1 1/2 ta­ble­spoons se­same oil 2 to 4 ta­ble­spoons ser­rano or jalapeno chilies, with seeds and ribs

4 scal­lions, white and green parts, cut into thin strips

1 cup chopped fresh cilantro, leaves and stems

Heat the oven to 400 F. Line a shal­low bak­ing dish large enough to hold fish with foil.

Lay both fish on the counter. Work­ing in 1- to 2-inch in­ter­vals, use a sharp knife to slash both sides of each fish per­pen­dic­u­lar to the back­bone (a 20-de­gree an­gle down the rib cage). Trans­fer the fish to the pre­pared bak­ing dish.

In a small bowl, com­bine the gar­lic, gin­ger, soy sauce, vine­gar, se­same oil, chilies, scal­lions and cilantro. Stuff some of the mix­ture into each slash on the fish, as well as into the cav­ity (most of the sea­son­ing should go in the slashes). Cover the pan with foil and let the fish sit at room tem­per­a­ture for 20 min­utes.

Then bake the fish on the oven's mid­dle shelf for 20 to 24 min­utes, or un­til the fish is just cooked through (you can pierce it eas­ily with a knife).

To serve, use a small knife to gen­tly scrape off the skin, then use a spoon to lift off the fil­lets (they will come up in chunks), and trans­fer one to each of 4 serv­ing plates. Pour some of the juices from the pan over each por­tion.

Nutri­tion in­for­ma­tion per serv­ing: 270 calo­ries; 110 calo­ries from fat (41 per­cent of to­tal calo­ries); 13g fat (3 g sat­u­rated; 0g trans fats); 165mg choles­terol; 550mg sodium; 4g car­bo­hy­drate; 1g fiber; 1g sugar; 35g pro­tein.

Sara Moul­ton is host of US public tele­vi­sion’s Sara’s Weeknight Meals. Her lat­est cook­book is Home Cook­ing 101.


The baked whole fish from a recipe by Sara Moul­ton.

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