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My family loves fish, and every year there seems to be a particular and way of preparing it that emerges as our favorite of the year. In 1997 our fish of the year has been none other than the absolutely divine, yet simple, steamed sea bass with ginger, garlic and a tasty sesame and soy sauce. We have made it countless times not only for ourselves, but also for numerous friends who came to our home for dinner.
An adaptation of a common Chinese recipe with an added punch, this delicious fish is very easy to make, healthy to eat, and at the same time, can make an impressive presentation. Prep time takes a mere ten minutes or less, cooking time not much longer and without the need for doting attention. I usually have the fish all ready to go before dinner guests arrive - sitting on a lovely serving dish with a little bit of depth to hold the sauce and to catch juices that steam out from the fish, with the aromatics arranged prettily on top. About fifteen minutes before dinner, I merely need to turn on the burner under the steamer pot, spoon the pre-mixed sauce over the fish, gently lower the dish into the steamer, cover and set the timer for ten minutes (or longer if it is a very thick fillet).
When the buzzer sounds, green onions slivers are sprinkled on the fish and it is steamed another minute longer. Then, with mitts on, the hot dish is carefully lifted out of the steamer and brought to the table. The white, succulent flesh of the sea bass contrasts beautifully with the dark sauce it swims in, further textured and colored with the aromatics. Of course, freshness is the key to the success of this simple dish. The sea bass should be of top quality and freshness and always use fresh garlic and ginger. The type of soy sauce and sesame oil matters, too, and a little sugar is important as a harmonizing agent to pull the flavors of all the ingredients together. My favorite soy sauce to use for this dish is a naturally brewed, premium dark soy imported from Taiwan under the label "Kimlan." There are a few different grades with differing sodium levels and prices - the best being their "super special" at a hefty $4 or more for a small 20 oz bottle. It is worth the price, especially when you will be using it on a fish that can cost you close to $10 a pound.
- This recipe yields 4 servings with plain steamed rice and other dishes in a shared family-style meal.
- 1 lb sea bass fillet - (about 1" to 1½" thick)
- 1 piece ginger - (1" long)
- 4 to 6 garlic cloves
- 1 green onion
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil 
- ½ tsp powdered dried red chile
- ½ tsp rice vinegar 
- 2 tsp sugar
- Place the fish in a 2- to 3-inch deep heat-proof serving dish that fits inside the rack of a stacked steamer.
- If you do not have a steamer, use a pot large enough and deep enough to accommodate the dish for steaming.
- Peel the ginger and slice into thin pieces.
- Stack several pieces at a time and cut into fine slivers.
- Peel the garlic cloves and slice into thin oval pieces.
- Arrange both evenly over the fish.
- Cut the green onion into 2-inch segments, using both the white and most of the green parts.
- Then cut each segment lengthwise into fine slivers.
- Set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, powdered chile, vinegar and sugar.
- Stir well to blend.
- Spoon over the without dislodging the garlic and ginger.
- Bring 2 inches of water to a boil in a steamer pot before placing the dish holding the on a rack above it.
- Or, if substituting with a large pot, fill with 1 to 1½ inches of water, place a trivet, inverted bowl, or a vegetable steamer rack with the handle removed, inside the pot to lift the dish holding the fish from the bottom of the pot.
- Bring to a boil, then cover and steam over medium heat for about 10 minutes (steaming time will depend on the thickness of the fillet).
- Then reduce heat to low, lift the cover and wait for the hot burst of steam to dissipate before sprinkling the slivered green onion over the top of the fish.
- Replace cover, return heat to medium and steam 1 to 2 minutes longer, or until the fish is cooked through.
- ↑ Use pure sesame oil that has not been mixed with other oils (check label for ingredients). I am partial to the more pronounced aroma of black sesame oil.
- ↑ Instead of rice vinegar, I sometimes prefer to use a little more of the milder Chinese black vinegar, whose musky flavor mixes wonderfully with the dark soy sauce. Skip or cut back on the powdered dried chile if you wish the to be mild tasting.