Eric Akis: Fish dish puts steamer to good use

Eric Akis

We all have cooking implements we bought and thought we’d use more often, but instead they end up sitting in a cupboard unused for months at a time.

For me, one is my collection of different-sized bamboo steamers. The last time I used one of them was last August when cooking Asian-style dumplings.

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Seeing those steamers the other day, it reminded me of what I wrote on the topic of steaming a number of years ago. Back then, I noted it was a cooking technique folks forget about, because we are too busy frying, boiling and grilling with other implements to remember to do so.

The funny thing is, I really enjoy the flavour of food prepared in a bamboo steamer, because as it heats and cooks, it is given an appealing, mild woodsy taste and aroma.

That seems particularly true with fish, which was proved again when I decided to put one of my bamboo steamers back into service to cook B.C. ling cod fillets.

Beyond the taste it imparts, steaming fish and other foods in a bamboo steamer also lightens things up, because no oil or butter is required to cook them. Steaming is also a cooking method that yields moist, flavourful results with minimal nutritional loss because good things in the food aren’t boiled away.

Another thing I like about cooking fish fillets in a bamboo steamer is that it happens quickly. That’s because a bamboo steamer kind of works like a convection oven, in that the heat (steam) circulates around the food and cooks it on all sides.

For today’s recipe, I decided to steam my fish fillets surrounded with a range of colourful vegetables. And when it was cooked, I served this bamboo steamer meal for two with a Japanese-style ginger sauce that nicely complemented it. You can also serve the fish and vegetables with rice.

If you don’t have a bamboo steamer, you’ll find them for sale in shops in Victoria’s Chinatown and at most stores that sell an array of kitchenware. The one I used for today’s recipe was 10 inches in diameter.

Steamed Fish and Vegetables With Ginger Sauce

This light and colourful fish dish for two is served with a ginger-rich sauce spiked with other Asian-style tastes, such as soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: six to seven minutes

Makes: two servings

For the sauce

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 tsp finely grated, peeled fresh ginger

1 Tbsp soy sauce

2 tsp rice vinegar

1 tsp granulated sugar or honey

1/2 tsp sesame oil

• sriracha or other hot chili sauce, to taste

1/2 tsp roasted sesame seeds (see Note)

Combine mayonnaise, ginger, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar (or honey), sesame oil and sriracha (or other hot chili sauce) in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate sauce until needed below. Top the sauce with the sesame seeds just before serving.

For the fish and vegetables

2 (5 to 6 oz/140 to 170 g) ling cod fillets (see Eric’s options)

• salt and ground white pepper, to taste

4 small cauliflower florets

1 small carrot, or 2 small snap-top carrots, cut on the bias into 1/2-inch thick slices

1 small to medium rib of celery, cut on the bias into 1/2-inch thick slices

2 baby bok choy, stem ends trimmed, halved lengthwise

1/2 small to medium red bell pepper, seeded and cubed

• salt and ground white pepper, to taste

• cilantro sprigs or sliced green onion, to taste

1/2 to 1 tsp roasted sesame seeds, or to taste

Line a 10-inch diameter bamboo steamer with a round piece of parchment paper (see Eric’s options). Poke a few holes into the paper. Place fish in the steamer.

Arrange the cauliflower, carrot, celery, baby bok choy and bell pepper around the fish. Season fish and vegetables with salt and pepper

Place a skillet or wok large enough to hold the steamer over high heat. Pour in half to one inch of water and bring to a boil.

Put the lid on the steamer, set it in the skillet or wok, and cook six to seven minutes, or until fish is cooked through and vegetables are cooked firm-tender. Sprinkle fish and vegetables with sesame seeds, garnish with cilantro sprigs (or sliced green onion), and serve with the ginger sauce.

Note: Roasted sesame seeds are sold in bags or bottles at some supermarkets. If you can’t find them, cook regular sesame seeds in a skillet set over medium heat until lightly toasted.

Eric’s options: If you can’t find ling cod fillets, other types of cod fillets — and other fish fillets, such as halibut or haddock — can also be used in this recipe. Instead of parchment paper, you can line the steamer with a few leaves of Chinese or Napa cabbage, each poked with a few holes.

Galiano festival celebrates the stinging nettle

Galiano Island’s 12th annual Nettlefest, described as a fun celebration of local wild abundance, takes place from April 4 to 7. Events will fill you with information on topics such as how to harvest stinging nettles, their health and nutritional properties, and ways to eat this wild plant, which has a flavour somewhere between spinach, cabbage and broccoli.

Nettlefest events include nettle cooking workshops, community nettle harvesting, a community potluck celebration and a nettle cooking competition open to those who think they make the best nettle dish. Most events occur in and around Galiano Island’s South Community Hall, 141 Sturdies Bay Rd.

To learn more about and to register for Nettlefest events, go to

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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