The Genius of Oven-Steamed Fish

The easy way to make a lot of steamed fish at once -- in the oven.

The easy way to make a lot of steamed fish at once — in the oven.


I grew up with Chinese-style steamed fish — both as a focal point of a celebratory banquet meal or an everyday staple made by my Mom on a harried weeknight.

But the one thing I always found challenging was trying to steam a large amount of fish to feed a hangry, hungry crowd.

After all, a stovetop bamboo steamer only holds so much. You could always stack two or three atop one another to steam more fish. But what if you only have the one steamer basket?

Enter a genius solution by recipe developer Julia Turshen in her new cookbook, “Now & Again: Go-To Recipes, Inspired Menus + Endless Ideas for Reinventing Leftovers” (Chronicle Books), of which I received a review copy.

Now and Again

With more than 125 recipes, she shows off her flair for making delicious food a no-brainer in recipes that include”Chicken and Roasted Tomato Enchiladas,” “Pressed Broccoli Rabe and Mozzarella Sandwiches,” and “Applesauce Cake with Cream Cheese and Honey Frosting.”

Her “Oven-Steamed Fish with Crispy Garlic and Red Chile Oil” is so clever because it forgoes the stovetop completely. Instead, the fish — 3 pounds of it — gets steamed in the oven on a baking tray that gets a splash of hot water and a tight wrapping of foil before it goes into the oven.

A load of petrale sole ready to be steamed in the oven.

A load of petrale sole ready to be steamed in the oven.

Once the fish is cooked, it’s garnished with an easy-peasy red chile oil, soy sauce, green onions and shallow-fried garlic slices. Just take care not to brown the garlic too much or else it will turn bitter.

I used skinless petrale sole. The fillets cooked up as all out silky and thoroughly moist as classic Chinese-style steamed fish done on the stovetop.

Use this method, and you can top the cooked fish any other way you’d like: with ponzu sauce, fermented black beans, ginger and garlic, or curry oil.

You can probably even cook a whole fish in this oven-method, too.

With Chinese New Year (Year of the Pig) rolling around on Tuesday, it’s the perfect time to get steaming with some fish.

Serve with steamed rice and stir-fried greens, and you have an effortless meal.

Serve with steamed rice and stir-fried greens, and you have an effortless meal.

Oven-Steamed Fish with Crispy Garlic and Red Chile Oil

(Serves 6)

1/4 cup canola or other neutral oil

6 large garlic cloves, very thinly sliced

Kosher salt

A large pinch of red pepper flakes

3 pounds fish fillets, such as sole, cod, salmon, mackerel or grouper

1/2 cup boiling water

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 scallions, tough roots and dark green tops trimmed off, white and light green parts thinly sliced


Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Line a plate with paper towels and keep it close. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the oil and a slice of garlic. When the garlic slice starts to bubble around the edges, add the rest of the garlic slices. Fry, stirring continuously, until the garlic is light golden brown, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and use a slotted spoon to transfer the garlic to the paper towel-lined plate. Season the garlic with salt and set aside.

Add the red pepper flakes to the oil in the pan and return the pan to medium-high heat. Let the oil cook until the pepper flakes bubble, about 30 seconds. Turn off the heat and let the oil cool while you prepare the fish.

Brush a sheet pan with 1 tablespoon of the red chile oil and arrange the fish fillets in the pan in a single layer (it’s okay if they overlap a little). Sprinkle each fillet with a little water. Carefully pour the boiling water around the fish. Wrap the sheet pan tightly with aluminum foil.

Steam the fish in the oven until firm to the touch and the flesh is opaque and flakes easily when pierced with a paring knife (check by uncovering the pan), about 15 minutes for thin fillets like sole and up to 20 to 25 minutes for thicker fillets like salmon or grouper.

Use a fish spatula or slotted spoon to carefully transfer the fish to a warmed serving platter (discard the cooking liquid or save for another use such as chowder). Whisk the soy sauce into the remaining red chile oil (it’s okay if it doesn’t emulsify) and drizzle evenly over the fish. Top with the reserved crispy garlic and the scallions and serve immediately.

From “Now & Again” by Julia Turshen


Another Julia Turshen Recipe to Try: Kinda, Sorta Patatas Bravas

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  • Wow, this is brilliant! Really neat method — gotta try this. Sounds like a terrific book, too. Thanks!

  • So easy! So delicious! So perfect!

  • Love easy cooking techniques. This looks delicious! Gung hay fat choy!

  • Ben: Happy New Year to you, too! Hope you get to share it around a big lazy-susan with plenty of friends and family. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • I made this from your recipe (only changing by adding more soy sauce…salt fiend here!) and it was fabulous! Such an easy way to steam fish in bulk ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Nabeela: LOL Being Asian, I do like my salt, too! So glad you loved this technique as much as I did. It really is brilliant. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Are the fish floating in liquid by the time they are cooked? If I use frozen cod, should I thaw it first and wipe dry? Thank you for your expertise.

  • CC: There will still be some liquid in the pan after the fish is cooked. Just use a slotted spatula to remove the fillets to a serving dish, leaving behind the liquid. If you are using frozen fish, do defrost it first and wipe dry. Enjoy!

  • I have made this dish many times and including for a discerning cousin who was visiting. It is purely delicious and has greatly increased my appreciation for Chinese cooking techniques. Cant wait to make for a friend whoรขโ‚ฌโ„ขs an excellent cook!

  • Hi Haley: This technique is just genius. No more trying to squish a whole fish into a small steamer. No more need even for a steamer basket. I’m so happy this recipe has became a regular in your recipe rotation, and has even won over the most finicky of eaters. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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