In America, we don't seem to steam food very much, but it's one of the great techniques of cooking. In Asian cuisines, steaming is very, very important and probably as popular as frying or baking.

If you visit a typical home kitchen in southeast Asia, there aren't a lot of appliances. You might just have a single charcoal burner or a single gas burner. So to prepare a meal, you're either making one thing at a time or working in layers. When you're steaming, you can cook a whole meal on one stove at one time. You can have your fish in there and maybe something above it in another tray and then maybe something wrapped in banana leaves above that. You steam it all at once.


  • 1 whole tilapia or striped bass or trout (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 teaspoon-1 tablespoon Thai chiles, green, fresh, chopped according to heat tolerance
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons pork stock (optional, but highly recommended)
  • 1 teaspoon superfine white sugar
  • 1 pinch white pepper, ground
The first thing you do is get a nice hot steamer going. We typically use a Chinese-style round steamer, but you could use just a pot with a rack in it.
Score the fish every inch, from back to belly, down to the backbone. Then place it on a plate that will fit inside your steamer. Pour the remaining ingredients directly on top of the fish, making sure to distribute evenly.
Turn the steamer on to a hard boil. Put the fish in and cook about 12-15 minutes, depending on size. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve. The sauce should be sour, salty, a little sweet and as spicy as you want it to be. Adjust to taste using the ingredients in the recipe.
With the steaming technique, you're not stepping on the flavor of the fish by frying it. You're not adding that element of oil flavor or fry flavor. You just have that pure flavor of the fish itself.