Why not just cook the fish in a steamer and call it steamed whole fish with oyster sauce? Well, I have this nagging suspicion that this cooking technique was developed by cooks outside Asia where oversized steamers that can contain a whole fish is not a regular cooking equipment in the home kitchen.
So, if you do own a large steamer, go ahead and just steam the fish. Ditch the foil, lay the fish directly on a heatproof plate and steam.
If you don’t own a steamer but you have an oven, and you love the texture of steamed fish, just follow the procedure laid out in the recipe below.
But… fish with the head? Served with the eyes staring at you? This is Asian cooking and, in Asia, we know that value of cooking a fish whole with the bones and with the head intact.
You prefer a sanitized appearance? No head and with all the fish bones removed? You will get a bland dish. Fish fillets have their place in Asian cooking but for steamed fish, substituting fillets means sacrificing flavor for appearance. I really urge you not to go in that direction.
Baked whole fish with oyster sauce
- 1 whole fleshy fish - about 1.5 kg. in weight, scaled and gutted
- ½ head garlic
- 1 onion
- 1 thumb-sized piece ginger
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 2 tablespoons sesame seed oil
- 1 small bunch cilantro - snipped
- 1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley - snipped (optional)
- Rinse the fish, including the cavity, then pat dry with a kitchen towel.
- Score the fish by making 3 to 4 diagonal incisions on both sides, about half an inch deep.
- Season with salt and pepper, rubbing the seasonings into the incisions.
- Finely mince the garlic.
- Cut the onion into very thin slices.
- Cut the ginger into matchsticks.
- Take two large pieces of aluminum foil. One should be about six inches longer than the fish and the other should be three-fourths longer than the first piece.
- Brush a tablespoonful of oyster sauce on each side of the fish.
- Lay the fish on the smaller piece of aluminum foil.
- Scatter the onion, garlic and ginger over the whole length of the fish.
- Cover with the longer piece of foil, pulling up the center to create a “tent”. Gather the edges of the top and bottom pieces of foil and fold inward two to three times. Do this with all four sides of the foil.
- Transfer the fish in the foil on a baking sheet and cook in a preheated 180C oven for 20 to 25 minutes.
- Take the fish from the oven, unroll the edges and carefully peel off the top piece of foil.
- Heat the sesame oil in a small pan until smoking and pour over the fish.
- Sprinkle the snipped cilantro and parsley over the fish and serve at once.