This Thai steamed fish recipe combines perfectly balanced Asian flavours with gentle steam cooking to create a truly delicious dish. Serve alongside steamed rice and Asian salad, to create a delight for the eyes and tastebuds.
This whole steamed fish is certain to be a winner with your friends and family. So let's get cooking!
We love the classic Thai flavours in this whole snapper recipe. The fish is seasoned with soy and mirin, rubbed with chilli jam, and steamed in a bamboo basket over a wok until perfectly cooked (see our homemade steamer method below). This fragrant dish has a nice hint of spice from the chilli jam then the cucumber Asian salad combines to cool the palate.
Elements of this dish can be prepped ahead of time. And you can switch out the homemade chilli jam for store-bought to simplify the recipe.
Marinated whole fish -
- 800g whole fish - the fish needs to be gutted, scaled and trimmed you can ask your fishmonger to do this for you. We chose a whole snapper for this recipe, which is perfect for marinating and a great fish to steam. A white fish with firm textured flesh works best for this recipe. So chose a fish that is sustainable and available in your region. And aim for around 800 grams as the fish needs to fit in a large steamer.
- Light soy sauce
- Mirin - A sweet Japanese rice wine that is easily available and balances out the flavours in the marinade.
- Sesame oil
- Limes - cut into quarters for serving.
Homemade chilli jam -
The flavours in this Thai chilli jam are amazing and once cooked and cooled it will last in your fridge for a couple of months. This also makes it great for preparing ahead and just having it ready to add to the dish. But to simplify this recipe you can absolutely buy a Thai chilli jam to use with the fish.
- Dried red chillies
- Dried shrimp - if you can't find these at your local supermarket check out your nearest Asian food store.
- Shallots - sometimes referred to as French shallots.
- Tamarind paste - (or tamarind concentrate/ puree) This is the more fluid, dip like variety that you find in jars, made from tamarind pulp which comes in solid block form. You should be able to find this in most supermarkets but you can also make it at home from tamarind pulp.
- Fish sauce - A classic Thai ingredient that should be available at your local supermarket.
- Palm sugar
- Shrimp paste - or prawn paste is really popular in South East Asian cuisine and should be available in the Asian section of most supermarkets.
- Oil - canola or vegetable oil will work well.
Asian cucumber salad -
This fresh little side salad really brightens up this dish and helps cool it down. Simple to make, it can be prepared earlier in the day and stored in the fridge until ready to serve.
- Cucumber - the English telegraph variety.
- Red chilli
- Fresh kaffir lime leaves - popular in Thai cuisine these aromatic leaves have a spiced-citrus flavour and are normally found in the fresh herb section of your supermarket.
- Fresh mint leaves
- Fresh coriander/ cilantro leaves
- Spring onions / scallions.
Find the full list of ingredients and quantities in the recipe card below.
Preparing a whole fish.
To prepare your fish you can ask the fish monger to remove the guts and gills and they may even scale it for you.
If not, to gut a fish: use a sharp knife to make a cut along the belly of the fish and pull out the guts. Cut around the gills and pull them out as well.
To de-scale a fish: Use the back of a knife and work from the tail towards the head, scraping off the scales as you go. We suggest you do this outside to prevent mess or in a sink with running water.
Then using a pair of scissors to trim off the fins.
Rinse the prepped fish under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
Now you are ready to marinate and cook your fish.
How to make a whole Thai steamed fish
There are 3 simple steps to creating this whole steamed fish dish:
- Marinate the fish
Once the fish has been cleaned and prepared. Use a sharp knife to make four diagonal cuts across the thickest part of the fish on both sides. This will create even cooking and allow the flavours to permeate the flesh.
To make the marinade combine the soy sauce, mirin and sesame oil in a bowl. Place the whole fish on a heat-proof dish. The dish needs to be deep enough to hold the fish and marinade but also able to fit inside a large bamboo steamer.
Pour the marinade over the fish and allow to sit for 20 minutes, turning the fish occasionally.
- Add the chilli jam
Once marinated rub the chilli jam into the the fish, making sure the jam gets into those cuts you created in the fish earlier. Then place the fish and heat-proof dish into the bamboo steamer and place the lid on top.
- Steam the fish
Add 10cm of water to a large wok or pot (make sure your bamboo steamer fits on top). Over a high heat bring the water to a boil then reduce to medium heat, you want the water to maintain a consistent simmer. Place the bamboo steamer over the wok of simmering water and steam to 15-20 minutes, or until the fish is cooked. To check the fish is cooked, use a fork to pull at the thickest part of the fish, the flesh should be opaque and flake apart easily.
HINT - 10 cm depth of water should be adequate but keep an eye on the water level while steaming.
Can you steam fish without a steamer?
Yes, absolutely you can create a homemade steamer.
To steam fish without a steamer, place a heatproof dish or plate on a raised rack inside a large pot or wok. Make sure the water level is below the base of the rack and bring the water to a simmer. Place the prepared fish on the plate, cover the pot with a lid, and let the steam do its work. As less water is added to the pot for this method, you do need to keep an eye on the water level and have boiling water on stand by ready to top up the water if necessary.
To tell if a whole fish is fresh check that the eyes are clear, the gills should be bright red and it shouldn't have a strong fish smell. If in doubt don't buy it and look else where.
Chilli jam adds an amazing flavour boost to your cooking. Try smearing it over a whole chicken prior to roasting, or over a whole fish like we have in this recipe. It even works great added to stir-fried vegetables.
Ready to wow your family and friends with this delicious Thai whole fish recipe? Happy cooking!
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Our goal is to share simple, tasty dishes created by Chef Shane and partner, Sara. Using Shane's understanding of flavours and knowledge of food, to teach and inspire you to create delicious food everyday and gain a new level of confidence in the kitchen. Sara understands what it's like preparing weekly dinners for a busy family of five and likes to create dishes that are easy, full of flavour, that the whole family will enjoy.
Thai steamed fish
- 800 g Whole snapper gutted, scaled, trimmed (see note 1)
- 100 ml Light soy sauce
- 50 ml Mirin
- 20 ml Sesame oil
- 2 Limes cut into quarters for serving
Homemade Thai Chilli Jam (See note 2)
- 8 ea Dried red chillis
- 2 teaspoon Dried shrimps
- 10 cloves Garlic Peeled
- 4 Shallots (French shallots) Peeled, cut into chunks
- 2 tablespoon Tamarind paste (or concentrate) See note 3.
- ¼ teaspoon Salt
- 1 tablespoon Fish sauce
- 3 tablespoon Palm sugar Grated
- ¼ teaspoon Shrimp paste
- 125 ml Canola oil
Asian Cucumber Salad
- 1 Cucumber
- 1 Red chilli Deseeded, thinly sliced
- 4 Fresh kaffir lime leaves Cut into thin strips
- 15 g Fresh mint leaves Chopped
- 15 g Fresh coriander leaves Chopped
- 2 Spring onion stalks / scallions Thinly slice diagonally
Asian Cucumber Salad
- Using a peeler, peel the cucumber into long ribbons, and place in a bowl. Add the red chilli, kaffir lime leaves, mint, coriander and spring onions, mix well and place in the fridge until ready to serve.
Homemade Thai Chilli Jam
- Cut the dried chillies into pieces with scissors and remove the seeds.
- Heat a fry pan on a high heat and add the dried chillies, toast until smoky and a little charred. Remove and set aside.
- Add the shallots and garlic to the same pan and toast until they are a little charred then remove.
- Using a mortar and pestle grind the toasted chillies and dried shrimps to a powder.
- In a food processor add the charred garlic, shallots, ground chilli and shrimps, tamarind paste, salt, fish sauce, palm sugar and shrimp paste and blitz into a paste. Add a little of the oil if needed.
- Heat a fry pan and add the blended chilli paste to the pan with a little more of the oil.
- Fry the paste on a low heat for 15 minutes stirring constantly. The paste will turn a darker colour as the paste cooks.
- Store the cooled paste in a glass jar in the fridge. It will last a couple of months
Steaming the fish (see note 4 below)
- Rinse the fish under cold running water and pat dry with a paper towel. Use a sharp knife to create 4 diagonal cuts across the fish in the thickest part, on both sides.
- To make the soy marinade for the whole fish, combine the soy sauce, mirin and sesame oil in a bowl.
- Place the fish into a heatproof dish (that will fit inside a large bamboo steamer) and pour over the soy marinade, leave to sit for 20 minutes, turning occasionally. Rub the chilli jam onto the fish, making sure to get in between the cuts. Then place the plate into the bamboo steamer.
- Add water to a large wok or pot, about 10cm deep and bring to the boil over a high heat then reduce to medium heat.
- Place the bamboo steamer over the wok of simmering water. Steam covered for 15-20 minutes. To test if the fish is cooked, using a fork, pull at the flesh at the thickest part of the fish, it should pull away easily.
- Remove the steamer basket from the wok and carefully lift the fish onto a serving platter. Pour the remaining liquid from the heatproof dish over the fish.
- Serve with the cucumber salad and lime cheeks.