Friday, February 5, 2016

Steamed Chili-Garlic Fish

by Sheila Connolly

I like to eat fish. My father liked to eat fish (probably because it was fast and easy to cook, not to mention fairly healthy). He even had a surf-casting rod for the Jersey Shore (not that I remember him catching anything). When we lived inland, he’d track down a fish vendor. I will admit I took one look at some raw tuna he brought home once and said, “that’s not fish!” but that didn’t stop him.

Even though we live in Massachusetts, it’s hard to get interesting fish around here (one of my ongoing pet peeves). All right, I know—fish species have been overfished, which means the boats have to go increasingly far out to sea to find anything, and that means it has to be held for a while, and that means freezing them. I understand, really. And to be fair, the quick freezing process works pretty well. (Except for flounder, which I’ve found turns into a pile of mush very fast when you try to cook the once-frozen kind).

But there are dependable, firm-fleshed, large-flake white fish that are pretty versatile, which means you can use them in almost any recipe you can think of. Think of fish like cod and haddock and maybe hake as a blank canvas with which you can make almost recipe—creamy or crunchy, sweet or sour. And it cooks quickly, as my father knew.

This cod hangs inside the Massachusetts
State House in Boston
Since this is Massachusetts, I vote for cod, followed closely by haddock—we usually get whichever is cheaper at our market, and the prices do vary a lot. (Could I tell them apart in a blind tasting? I doubt it.) But cod is still “our” fish.

This is a quick and tasty recipe that’s great for a cold, damp winter’s night.

Steamed Chile-Garlic Cod
Ingredients (for two servings):

2 8-oz cod (or other white fish) fillets
4 Tblsp Asian sweet chili sauce (also 
   known as Thai chili sauce)
2 tsp rice vinegar
4 tsp soy sauce
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Lime slices (optional)


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

For the glaze, in a small bowl mix the chili sauce, rice vinegar and soy sauce.

Cut two sheets of parchment paper, large enough to wrap your fillets. (Note: it’s hard to get two fillets that are exactly the same size. Don’t worry about it.) Dab a bit of the sauce on each piece of parchment paper, then place one fillet on each sheet and brush with the glaze. Top with the garlic slices (and the lime if you’re using it).

Fold the parchment paper over the fillets, crimping the edges to seal the packets. Place them in a baking pan.

Bake 12-15 minutes (depending on the thickness of your fillets). Remove the pan from the oven, place the packets on a plate and open them carefully (watch out for the steam!). 

Drizzle any of the juices from the packets over the fillets and serve with rice (okay, I got daring—I had some black rice hanging around and I thought it would look pretty with the fish. If you’re wondering, the black rice cooks just like white rice but takes longer.)

Oh, right, there's this new book out this week. 
Notice there's a boat on the cover, which may explain why I just gave you a fish recipe.

A Turn for the Bad is available at

And here's a fish-seller at the Skibbereen
Farmer's Market. Gorgeous (the fish, that is),
aren't they? And it's a treat to watch the
people fillet the fish--fast!


  1. Well growing up with a French Catholic grandmother, a grandfather who loved fish and a mother who loved to cook, Friday was "fish" day no meat. I enjoyed it. I now have children who love fish (thank you family). My daughter is a sushi and salmon girl and my son loves sashimi, shrimp and lobster (hey who doesn't love lobster). Hubby anything as long as it's not the same every time. Thanks for this recipe I'm going to try it and your book too!

    1. My entomologist husband grew up in a landlocked midwestern state and still thinks lobster is some kind of giant bug. I ignore him. But he does eat and even cook fish.

      Hope you enjoy the book (there are even fishermen involved, sort of)!

  2. I make cod and salmon a lot since they are the two fish that I can usually get at a reasonable price. I also like rainbow trout and steelhead trout when I can get them on sale.

  3. We eat a lot of salmon at our house, although I feel guilty about the farm-raised kind. We don't see a lot of trout. I wish!

  4. Remember when fish was an inexpensive meal choice?
    This sounds like an marvelous combination of flavors. And easy peasy!

  5. I bought my copy this week. Saving it to read for "dessert" some day. I love how you take us to rural Ireland!

    We have a cabin on a lake in Wisconsin. Crappies, blue gills, perch and walleyes are the best fish that we can catch there. Bass are okay but they can be a little softer. Northern Pikes are very bony so it is harder for my husband to get all the bones out. But they taste okay. I may have to try this recipe sometime. Thanks!

  6. I love fresh water fish, but truly am not good at cooking it..YET... my husband grew up eating pan fish that wasn't deboned and I have yet to convince him of the obvious benefits of boneless filets for cooking. I want to utilize the parchment technique as it seems the fish would be more steamed. Plus the recipe sounds astounding

  7. Sheila, it is hard to get fresh fish unless you dine at a fishing resort. Sigh. But when it is fresh, yum! And so good for you. This recipe looks tasty. ~ Daryl/ Avery