Preparing a whole fish at home might sound intimidating, but we promise: this recipes comes together in about 15 minutes.
This recipe was inspired by the steamed ginger and scallion fish at Noyona, a Malaysian restaurant in NYC. This fish is cooked whole, then doused with a sweet, salty, and aromatic sauce that flavors the delicate fish perfectly. Make sure to have some rice ready to go on the back burner, you’ll want something to soak up all the extra delicious sauce on your plate.
How to debone a whole fish
The bone should slip out from the flesh easily once steamed. To remove, use a spoon to lightly separate the head from the filets on the body. Run the spoon tightly against the length of the spine, making an incision. Then push the spoon further into the filet from the spine, the filet should loosen and separate from the spine leaving the bones behind; flip the filet to be skin side down on the plate. Spoon the sauce over the cooked fish fillets. While the head is edible, if you choose to not eat it, remove the bones from the fish by lifting the head, the spine will follow, and discard.
How to eat a whole fish
For a beautiful presentation, we recommend serving this fish whole on a large platter. Don’t attempt to cut the fish with a knife. Instead, use a fork to pull the meat away from the bones. After the first side is picked clean, flip the fish over and repeat on the other side. Don’t forget about the fish cheeks! This cheeks are located on the head of the fish, right behind the eyes. This is the most tender part of a fish.
Where to buy a whole fish
You can find whole fish by visiting your local fishmonger, or by checking out the seafood counter at your grocery store and placing a special order.
Whole Branzino with Soy-Ginger Glaze
Serves 2 | Cook Time: 25 to 35 minutes
- 1 piece ginger
- 2 scallions
- 1 small bunch cilantro
- 1-1.5 lbs whole bone-in branzino, gutted and scaled*
- 2 Tbsps soy sauce
- ½ Tbsp brown sugar
- 2 Tbsps vegetable oil
Prepare the ingredients: Wash and dry the fresh produce. Peel the ginger, then cut into thin strips to get 2 tablespoons. Thinly slice the scallions on an angle, separating the white bottoms and hollow green tops. Pick the cilantro leaves off the stems to get 2 tablespoons; discard the stems.
Set up the steamer & steam the fish: Start by double checking sizes. You want a steamer** that fits the size of the fish on a heat proof plate*** and also fits nicely into a pot with a lid. Once you have everything gathered, place about 1 inch of water in the pot and heat to boiling on high. Meanwhile, rinse the fish to take off any lingering scales. Place the fish on the heatproof plate. Once boiling, carefully place the plate of fish in the steamer. Cover and steam 15 to 20 minutes, or until opaque and cooked through.****
Make the sauce: While the fish teams, in a bowl, combine the soy sauce, sugar, a pinch of salt, and 2 tablespoons of warm water. In a small pan, heat the vegetable oil on medium-high until hot. Add the sliced ginger and sliced white bottoms of the scallions. Cook, stirring occasionally, 1 to 2 minutes, or until slightly softened. Add the soy sauce mixture (carefully, as the liquid may splatter) and half the cilantro leaves. Cook, stirring frequently, 1 to 2 minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has slightly thickened. Turn off the heat.
Finish & serve your dish: Discard any liquid that has pooled on the plate of steamed fish. Carefully remove the fish bone. Pour the sauce over the fish. Garnish with the sliced green top of the scallions and the remaining cilantro leaves. Enjoy!
*CHEF TIP: Not all branzino are farmed the same way. Talk to your fishmonger to see if they were sustainably sourced. Sustainable fishing is critical to protect the Earth’s natural supply of seafood. We partner with Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, a highly respected non-profit organization recognized as an authority on seafood sustainability, and only source seafood that Seafood Watch has rated “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative,” or that has a comparable third-party verified sustainability certification (Marine Stewardship Council, Best Aquaculture Practices or Aquaculture Stewardship Council). The fishmonger can also clean the fish for you if it’s not already done. The scales should be removed and the inner organs should be removed.
**CHEF TIP: Some steamers will be too small to fit the whole fish. You can snip off the tail to make it fit better. If your steamer is still too small you can make a DIY steamer. Use a large, high sided skillet or braiser with a lid and place an empty tinned-fish can inside. Fill the skillet with about 1 inch of water. And there you have it!
***CHEF TIP: Steam the fish in a heat-proof plate or vessel you wish to serve in, as the fish will be too delicate to transfer without falling apart (which isn’t the worst thing!)
****The USDA recommends a minimum safe cooking temperature of 145°F for fish.