Steamed Whole Fish with Dried Tangerine Peel and Fennel

steamed whole fish
Steamed Whole Fish with Dried Tangerine Peel and FennelKatherine Whittaker

At Nom Wah Tu restaurant in New York City, chef Jonathan Wu removes all of the bones from whole fish before steaming and serving it family style. Bones or not, remember to transport the fish carefully once cooked, since the meat will be very delicate and flaky. “It's also important to leave leftovers for the next day,” Wu says, “because this signifies that prosperity will overflow [into the new year].”

Steamed Whole Fish with Dried Tangerine Peel and Fennel
This delicate, flaky fish dish is a Lunar New Year specialty. It's steamed whole and covered in dried orange peels, star anise, ginger, and douchi.

For the dried orange peel:

  • 3 tangerines, washed and dried
  • 2 tbsp. sugar

For the fish:

  • 14 cup plus 2 Tbsp. vegetable stock
  • 6 star anise
  • 1 bulb fennel (about 9 oz.), bulb halved lengthwise then thinly sliced, fronds reserved
  • 1 3-lb. whole fish such as porgy or black bass, scaled and gutted
  • 12 tsp. kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (1 Tbsp.)
  • 2 scallions, whites minced, greens thinly sliced (about ¼ cup)
  • 1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced (1 tsp.)
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. (10 g) douchi (fermented salted black soybeans)
  • 2 tbsp. sake
  • 2 tbsp. shiro (white) soy sauce
  • Steamed rice, for serving
  • Chile oil, for serving

Instructions

  1. Prepare the tangerine peel: Using a microplane, finely grate the peel of the tangerines and reserve (do not include any white pith).
  2. In a small saucepan, add ¼ cup water and the sugar; bring to a boil. Add the tangerine zest and remove the pot from the heat. Let cool.
  3. Using a slotted spoon, remove the tangerine peel to a parchment-lined baking sheet; spread into a thin layer. Let rest until dry, a few hours or overnight.
  4. Prepare the fish: In a medium skillet, add the vegetable stock, star anise, half of the fennel, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat, until the fennel is softened slightly and the liquid has evaporated, about 6 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly.
  5. Place the fish on its side and open the belly-flap. Season the cavity and outside of the fish all over with ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Sprinkle the inside cavity of the fish evenly with the minced garlic, ginger, scallion whites, and douchi. Fill the cavity with the cooked fennel.
  6. Line an extra-large steamer basket or insert with a piece of parchment paper and brush the paper with the olive oil. Carefully transfer the fish on top. Pour the sake and white soy sauce into the center of the fish.
  7. In an extra-large pot that can fit the steamer and the fish, add enough water to reach 1 inch up the sides of the pot; bring to a strong simmer, then add the steamer with the fish. Cover the pot with a lid or tight-fitting piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and let steam until the flesh is white throughout, 15 minutes.
  8. On a large platter, add the rice. Add the fish to the platter, using two large spatulas or gloved hands to carefully remove it from the parchment paper. Garnish the dish with the remaining fennel, the sliced scallion greens, the dried tangerine peel, and fennel fronds to taste. Serve with steamed rice and chile oil.