June 2, 2010

Catch of the Day (Literally)

Steamed Sea Bass

What is better than steamed sea bass? Homemade steamed sea bass. What's better than homemade steamed sea bass? Catching it after a beautiful day of fishing! For B and my two year anniversary, we put on our sea legs and sailed out for a 5-hour sunset-enhanced fishing trip on the Brooklyn VI. Four and a half hours into our Lower Bay excursion, B finally caught a handsome black sea bass. The next evening, we steamed the fish using a variation on the traditional Chinese steamed fish recipe that I learned from Cooking Channel star Ching-He Huang during the LUCKYRICE Talk & Taste cooking demos. More pics, the recipe, and comprehensive food adventure on the next page!


"Yo, ho, yo, ho, a pirate's life for me," B sang as the Brooklyn VI slipped away from Sheepshead Bay. Surrounding me were gritty, beer-bellied, middle-aged men; some quiet veterans brought their own fishing rod and bait, while others just came with a macho attitude.

Fishing is a great experience that anyone can enjoy, but the sport nonetheless caters to a more masculine crew. Their most comfortable place to sit was on a bucket (you can forget about the sun chairs on any lido decks), there were no Lysol wipes in sight, and you're forced to dip your hands into a muddy bucket of slimy clam bait throughout the day (which I enjoyed, but that's just me).


The most exciting moments on the trip were definitely the "reeling in" battles. The photo above captured an epic battle between the gigantic striped bass and the fishing line. He's clearly not giving up without a fight!

"Fishing...let’s call it what it really is–tricking and killing." -- Demetri Martin


To the chagrin of many experienced fishermen aboard, the largest striped bass (28"+) was caught by a young teenage girl. One of the hecklers (see above: left photo, guy with black cap in background) shouted to me, "YOU'RE NEXT!" I grimaced and dryly replied, "No pressure." For the next four hours, the only thing that I caught was seasickness.

Fishing in Lower Bay, NYC

Despite my queasy stomach, the view was still enough to take my breath away. The sun set slowly beneath the water and in its wake cast a beam of sparkles that made it difficult to focus on my line. At times I felt a small tug or two, but when I pulled back my bait, I was greeted with just partially devoured clam.

Around 9PM, once the sun had completely disappeared over New Jersey/Staten Island/whatever that land mass was, I had to retire. The fun turned to not-so-fun. The goosebumps on my arms and legs were frozen in place (it gets quite cold surprisingly fast out there) and I felt incredibly nauseated from the figure-8 boat motion. I crawled into the ship's interior and tried to focus on the dim glimmer of the Manhattan skyline from a window.


Shortly after my lame defeat, B actually caught the black sea bass! His patience and prayers to the pirate/sea/beer gods finally paid off. The size of the sea bass was no where near that of the monstrous striped bass, but that didn't deflate him. When getting his catch measured, a staff member commented that while the striped bass had a lot of meat on their bones, the sea bass would be a lot tastier in the end.

Plus, I don't even think we have enough freezer space to store any more than that fish!

Now, onwards to the cooking part of the adventure...


Since the sea bass was already descaled and gutted, the only thing I had to really do was cut thin slits along both sides for the ginger stuffing. This simple step really add a nice heat to the flesh.


Instead of a bamboo steamer, we have a tiered stainless steel steamer that we purchased in Chinatown. The only plate that was small enough to sit between the fish and the vented platform was my beloved Thomas Keller Homage dessert plate from Raynaud Porcelain Limoges. I crossed my fingers that it would be okay. Fortunately, it was. If you were to attempt this at home, make sure you use a heatproof plate or dish.


This particular rendition of steamed sea bass tasted better than all of the others that I've had, partially because we caught it ourselves and also because the recipe called for a delightful ingredient: boiling beer. Mmmm...


One sea bass is perfect for two.


There you have it! The fish turned out beautifully. The meat was soft and moist; its sweetness was enhanced by the zesty and hoppy sauce. Steamed fish usually pairs well with just a simple bowl of white rice. I also like sauteed greens, such as spinach or bean sprouts as a side dish. Tonight, we decided to follow it with a less traditional, but more Memorial Day appropriate side: corn on the cob.

Black sea bass is also a sustainable seafood option, according to the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch guide. So if you get a chance this summer, venture out on your own fishing adventure and cook your catch of the day! It sure beats buying yet another boring fillet at Whole Foods. The Brooklyn VI charges $45-55 per adult, depending on when you want to go. Rod rentals are $5 and slimy clam bait is provided.

Steamed Sea Bass in Hot Beer and Ginger Lime Sauce
Adapted from Ching-He Huang, Chinese Food Made Easy
Follow along easily through her fantastic YouTube clip
Prep time: 15 min / Cooking time: 10 min / Ready in: 25 min
Yields: 2 servings


Steamed Sea Bass

1 (1.25 pound) whole wild sea bass (the head should STAY ON), scaled, gutted, cleaned and skin vertically scored (3-4 times per side)

1 piece fresh ginger (about 3-4 inches long), peeled and thinly sliced into long strips

3 stalks of scallions, sliced into long strips

4 shiitake mushrooms, sliced into thin strips

2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine (this is a crucial ingredient: you can find Shaoxing rice wine at any Asian food market or substitute with dry sherry)

Equipment: bamboo or metal steamer with a diameter comparable to the fish's length (a little tail can curl up if you need some room)

Hot Beer and Ginger Lime Sauce

2 tablespoons peanut oil (vegetable or canola oil can substitute)

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 lime, but just the zest

12-ounce bottle of Chinese beer (we used Singha beer and it worked wonderfully)

2 tablespoons light soy sauce (I used 1.5 tablespoons of regular soy sauce and added some water)

1 stalk of scallions, sliced into long strips

Handful fresh cilantro leaves and stalks, coarsely chopped (optional; we both don't really care for cilantro, so we opted out)


1. To make the bass: Tuck some strips of ginger within the scores of the skin. Then stuff a mix of ginger strips, scallion strips and shiitake mushroom strips into the cavity of the fish. Set aside the remaining ginger, scallion and mushrooms.

2. Set the bass on a heatproof plate and pour the rice wine or sherry over it. Take the leftover ginger, scallions and mushrooms and sprinkle it over the top side of the fish. Cover as much of the belly as possible; there's no need to cover the tail or head. Depending on the type of steamer you have, allow the water to boil first. We actually set the plate of fish into the steamer before the water boiled (it does so rather quickly), and it came out great. So either way works.

3. Allow the fish to steam for 8-10 minutes, depending on the size of the fish, until you can easily poke through the flesh with a chopstick. Check to make sure that the center of the eye is white and the meat is opaque white. Turn off the heat and leave the fish in the steamer.

4. To make the sauce: Heat up the peanut oil in a large pan or wok until you see a few wisps of smoke (don't allow it to smoke too much). Carefully add in the ginger (it is going to crackle and pop) and stir-fry it for a few seconds. Try to keep all of the ginger in the oil or otherwise it will burn. Next, add the lime zest and give the mixture a swirl or two. Follow that by the beer and soy sauce. Keep stirring slowly, making sure everything mixes together. As the liquid comes to the boil, add the scallions and (optional) cilantro. At this point, switch off the heat immediately.

5. Remove the plate and fish from the bamboo steamer and set it down on a saucer or fish plate. Then pour the hot sauce over the fish, and serve immediately with some steamed rice.

The best tip for eating steamed fish: eat while it's hot. It's so much tastier that way. Leftovers won't taste good the next day.

My favorite part are the eyes. I've had this food-love since I was a baby; nothing made me happier than having a gigantic fish head all to myself. Other parts of the head are also sublime: cheeks, lips and even the brain (you must crack through its fragile translucent skull in order to get to it). In Chinese culture, nothing is ever wasted. I guess I'm just doing my part, and I am not complaining.

Click for more pics of the fishing trip and cooking process.


Kait said...

What a wonderful treat to be able to enjoy fish that you caught. Great photos.

Jen @Tiny Urban Kitchen said...

Wow, I have never heard of beer as a fish steaming ingredient! Excellent, detailed post!

Yah, I get SUUUUPER seasick on fishing boats as well. That's why I NEVER go. . .

Eva said...

Wow, I love your post! I especially love your photos! Great blog(:

Design Wine and Dine said...

Agree with Eva - awesome post! The pictures and your writing/story is so well done!!! I was looking at 'buying' a whole fish yesterday (came home with some fresh cod filet and squid for calamari) but now this recipe is A MUST! We'll be out fishing soon and I can tell you - we will make this!

Anonymous said...

Great post btw! I came across your blog at a local news source: http://www.sheepsheadbites.com/2010/06/beer-black-bass-bon-appetit/
I am a big fan of fishing at Sheepshead Bay and can't wait to try that recipe!

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