Steamed Whole Red Snapper

I get it.  Many people find it unsettling to see their food “looking back at them,” but fish is fish—filleted or whole—and eating whole fish is both economical and delicious.

My husband, Brandon, is a lover of whole fish.  He especially loves smaller fish, like mackerel and anchovies.  We often buy a couple, rub them down with lemon, salt, and pepper, and just throw them on the grill.  These fish are particularly delicious and extremely high in omega-3s.  They are also low in mercury and are delicious on their own or on top of a salad.

Last weekend, we decided to go a little larger and buy some red snapper.  We had been wanting to try a recipe for steamed whole fish in Martha Stewart’s Cooking School cookbook, and the red snapper at our local Whole Foods looked really good (i.e., clear eyes, firm flesh, and no fishy scent).

Martha’s recipe had some Thai-inspiration—which I am absolutely partial to; I LOVE Thai food—and the end result was flaky and yummy.  It was also easy to prepare, easy clean-up, and super healthy.  We will certainly be making this again.

Steamed Whole Fish

Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cooking School


  • 1 Fresh Whole Firm-Fleshed Fish (such as red snapper, black bass, striped bass or flounder, 2 1/2-3 pounds—Because my fish monger had smaller fish, I used two 1 1/2-pound fish), cleaned and scaled (have your fish monger do this)
  • 2 large lemongrass stalks (2 ounces), woody ends removed, split lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro, plus sprigs for garnish
  • 1 piece (2 inches) fresh ginger, peeled and cut into julienne to yield 1/4 cup
  • 1 to 2 limes, zested (2 tablespoons) and each lime halved
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (such as nam pla)
  1. Fit a wire rack in the bottom of a large roasting pan (17 1/2 by 12 inches) and add about 1 inch of water (it should come just below the top of the rack).
  2. Place pan over two burners on stove and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Meanwhile, rinse fish well inside and out, scraping off any loose scales, and pat dry.  Rest the fish on a shallow platter large enough to hold the fish.  Tuck the cilantro, half of the lemongrass, and a third of the ginger inside the cavity.  Scatter the remaining lemongrass and ginger along with the lime zest, garlic, and shallot over the top of the fish and around the platter.  Squeeze half of 1 lime over the fish and drizzle with fish sauce.
  3. Set the platter on the rack in the pan and cover the pan tightly with parchment-lined foil.  Steam over medium-high heat until the fish is cooked throughout, about 10 minutes per inch of thickness (25 minutes for a 2 1/2-inch-thick fish).  Test by inserting a sharp knife into the flesh near the backbone; the flesh should be opaque and offer little resistance.
  4. Remove the foil and lift the platter from the pan, being careful not to spill the juices.  Garnish with cilantro.  Serve immediately.
  5. Serves 4.

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