Sea Bass Steamed with Pickled Plums and Ginger

| January 6, 2010 | 0 Comments

When contemplating what’s for dinner, fish comes to mind often in our household because we’re trying to eat healthy.

One of my favorite childhood memories from living in Singapore is of eating out at seafood restaurants and being served whole fish that had been steamed with pickled plums (the Japanese call them umeboshi) and covered with thinly j[JM1] ulienned strips of ginger. The plums are pickled and then jarred in a sweet and salty liquid for preserving. Before serving, the fish was topped with thinly sliced spring onions.

Sea Bass Steamed with Pickled Plums and Ginger

I was an adventurous eater as a child, so being served a whole fish—head, eyes and all—did not intimidate me. But the aroma and taste of the fish was inexplicably intoxicating. It’s an odd mix of salty flavor from the pickled plums mixed with sweetness from the pickled plum juices that enhanced the delicate sweet flavor of the fish itself. I think this is what the Japanese refer to as umami, kind of like the flavor of fish sauce. Anyway, whatever you call it, I call it delicious.

When I prepare this dish at home, I will visit the local Asian fish market (Ocean Star Seafood in Salem or Om Seafood if I’m in Portland), where I know I can get whole fish. I’ll usually look over the fish case and select either a red snapper or sea bass, depending on which looks freshest.

The best way to steam a whole fish is to use an Asian steamer. They’re very inexpensive, wide enough to accommodate a whole fish, and usually have two layers of steaming compartments so that you can steam many things at once. They’re particularly handy for steaming live Dungeness crabs or lobsters.

Sea Bass Steamed with Pickled Plums and Ginger

  1. A whole firm fish like sea bass, striped bass or red snapper
  2. 1 teaspoon (5 ml.) of toasted sesame oil
  3. 3 or 4 pickled plums (depending on the size of the fish) and 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) of the pickling liquid from the jar that the plums are preserved in
  4. 1/4 cup (60 ml.) of finely julienned strips of ginger
  5. 2 spring onions sliced into 2-inch-long thin strips
  • Bring the water in your steamer to a boil.
  • Clean and rinse the fish and pat dry. Cut 3 deep scores diagonally in the flesh on each side of the fish so that the flavors from the pickled plums seep in.
  • Lay the fish in a shallow dish that will fit in the steamer. Take the seed out of each plum, tear up the flesh and rub it over the exposed side of the fish, spreading the plum pieces as evenly over the fish as you can. Don’t worry about rubbing the plums over the other side of the fish as the juices from the plum and juices from the fish will mingle in the shallow dish when steaming and be absorbed by the side of the fish laying on the plate.
  • Sprinkle the julienned strips of ginger evenly over the fish and then drizzle the tablespoon of juice from the pickled plums and the sesame oil over the fish.
  • Place the shallow dish containing the fish in the steamer and steam for 30 minutes over high heat.
  • When done steaming, garnish with the sliced spring onions and serve immediately.


— Vic

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Category: Seafood

About the Author (Author Profile)

Victor Panichkul is a journalist and writer by training; a cook, wine lover and photographer by passion; and a lover of the outdoors since moving to Oregon more than 10 years ago. He is a native of Bangkok, Thailand.

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