Steamed 'King Fish' In Light Soy

This pink-skinned, tilapia-looking fish that I often see swimming in aquariums at the wet section of supermarkets is actually a Red Tilapia, a hybrid. They are a cross between tilapia species namely the Florida Red, Taiwan Red, Blue tilapia and Nile tilapia. Some refer to this as King Fish, Red Nile fish or Pearl Fish.

Until recently, I thought all along that I was eating a more exotic, high-grade breed of fish since it is far more expensive than the humble tilapia that is widely available in the market. At P250/kilo from Puregold supermaket, this hybrid is bred locally and in countries such as UK, Thailand, Taiwan, Bangladesh and Jamaica.  And last weekend, I bought two medium-sized swimmers to steam at home for a light dinner.  Its meat is white, with good flavor and softer texture than the regular black variety. I haven't tried this fried nor grilled though.

Steaming this fish twice in the past, the sauce I made tastes different each time. Though I prefer the ones served with Tao-so in Chinese restaurants, I'm still unable to describe and identify the components of that thick, light brown paste that usually top the steamed fish -- my wild guess is it's partly made of garlic and salted black beans. Admittedly, I tried to copy my mom's version with light soy sauce, I think I'm getting close...well, almost...try and try as they say.

Maybe you're probably tired of my whining for having 'crazy weeks' several times already, but it's true. As most stay-at-home-moms and working moms would attest, this was one of those weeks where some days were just not enough to accomplish what needs to be done for the day. And quick-fire dishes are always a lifesaver come meal times. You may want to check out my previous post, and the crazy rice recipe that started this string of easy-to-cook dishes I plan to share with you. I only hope that some will find it's way on your tables in the days ahead.

One fine steamer from Oster, this double-deck steamer (I only used the base, as pictured above) was a wedding gift and I almost forgot I had this.  I highly recommend this cool equipment, as it is practical, convenient, and so easy to use.

Even if I have a month's worth of material to blog about, I can only manage to post one for this week, and I randomly chose this one. This steamed fish is something that did not take much of my time to prepare, 28 minutes to be exact, so it's perfect for a light and satisfying meal for the whole family.
Steamed King Fish in Light Soy

1 medium-sized King Fish / Red Tilapia (approx. 1/2 kilo)
Rock salt
Ginger slices (jullienne), leave a few strips for the sauce
2 tablespoons Vegetable oil / Peanut oil
Fresh Leeks or Spring onion, and Wansoy (coriander), chopped
3 tablespoons light soy sauce (I used 1 tbs. regular soy sauce + 2 tbs. Kikkoman 40% Less Salt, with the green label)
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon black vinegar (optional)
5-6 tablespoons water
Sesame oil
Score the fish across on both sides, allowing it to be cooked through while steaming. There is no need to marinate the fish and lightly rubbing a small amount of rock salt/sea salt all over it at least 30 minutes is enough to add some taste to it.

Insert some strips of ginger inside the head and stomach to neutralize the 'lansa' or fishy smell, and moreso to add that ginger essence and spice to the fish as it cooks. I placed the fish in the clear dish, set my steamer as instructed, and turned the dial to 20 minutes. The bigger your fish, the longer it cooks. What I do to check is after the minimum time of 20 minutes, I pierce the top part to see if the meat is all white and thoroughly cooked, if not, I extend steaming time to 5 minutes more.

This is how the fish will look like right after steaming. 

If you don't have an electric steamer or large bamboo steamers like the one used to cook dimsum, you may do this the old-fashioned way, stove-top, with a large kawali or wok with lid. 
Put a cup or two of water in the wok and place any round metal rack that can pose as a base or stand for your heat-proof plate that holds the fish. Make sure the water does not go over the top of the rack and the whole plate fits inside when covered. 
Pre-heat to smoking point before you put in your fish, cover, and turn down fire to low once it boils. Check only once after 20 minutes to see if cooked. Extend steaming time as needed.

While the fish is steaming, heat a small saucepan with a teaspoon of oil. 
Sautee some strips of ginger until lightly toasted, set fire to low. 
Slowly pour all the ingredients -- soy sauce, sugar, water, vinegar, water, pepper, and drops of sesame oil. You can also mix in the leeks or spring onion in the sauce at this point, or leave them as garnish later. Simmer for a minute. Set aside.
As I always say, all my measurements are approximate whenever I cook, and so, feel free to adjust to your taste and tweak the combination as you please. You may omit the black vinegar altogether.

Sizzling hot oil poured over the steamed fish...I forgot to top this with leeks before the oil was poured, and instead used spring onions to garnish (see bottom photo).

Before you take out your fish from the steamer after it's done, heat the vegetable or peanut oil in another small pan.
While the oil is heating, carefully remove your fish and plate it, topped with shredded leeks.
Once the oil reaches smoking point, grab the pan and slowly pour the piping hot oil over across the steamed fish. You will instantly hear the fish sizzle and smell the aroma of the leeks as you pour over the oil.  I learned this from my mom and grandfather as they often do this oil trick on any steamed fish.  But still, I cannot fully understand what it really does to the dish -- they say it sears the meat, rids it of any fishiness (is there such a word?) or lansa left after steaming, and seals in the flavors. I later learned that this technique is commonly done in Cantonese cooking.

Lastly, pour over the light soy sauce and garnish with wansoy (I did not have any at that time). Serve immediately.

Steaming fish, or any seafoods for that matter, is best with a fresh catch. You can really taste the natural sweetness and succulence of the seafood, and get the most out of it's nutrients as compared to frying them. You can replicate this recipe using any white fish like lapu-lapu (black grouper) or red snapper, or even with crabs and shrimps.

Be sure to catch a live King Fish the next time you go to market.

Source:  http://www.aquaticcommunity.com/tilapia/red.php


  1. My mom has the same recipe!! Did our moms use to make this together? hahaha...Quick-fire recipes passed on from our mothers to daughters!! I like your version though, with the brown sugar. My mom doesn't make it with sugar, although I think this extra ingredient will give it more of a flavour balance.

  2. I believe they attended the same chinese/cantonese cooking class! :D adding a little sugar really makes it more flavorful for me


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