Sea Bass Steamed with Lemongrass and Chile-Coconut Broth

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

For decades now, steaming has been one of the preferred cooking techniques of the health-and weight-conscious, which might explain why even accomplished home cooks overlook it as an effective way to transmit flavor to vegetables, fish, and poultry. Steaming cooks fish so cleanly, without the use of butter or oil, that even captured in vapor, the flavor of the aromatic ingredients take to the fish here. And steaming is less aggressive than even poaching would be, though this aromatic broth could be used as a poaching liquid. Serve Gingered Green Beans alongside this dish. You will need a bamboo basket steamer.


For the lemongrass, the bulb end is where most of the flavorful and aromatic volatile oils are to be found. Just give a sharp, crushing rap with the flat of a knife to release them.

Nightly Specials

Perch, Tilapia, and Flounder all steam very well and can be used instead of sea bass. You can also make this with shrimp and/or scallops. Cooking times vary, based on the size of the shellfish.

The steaming technique has almost endless applications. For example, you can take this dish in a Southwestern direction by omitting the coconut milk, lemongrass, and ginger, adding some cider vinegar, crumbling a dried chipotle pepper into the broth, and adding 1 teaspoon ground cumin. Serve the fish as it is here, passing flour tortillas alongside.

Serves4 as a main course

Cooking Methodsteaming



Total Timeunder 30 minutes

One Pot MealYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Cooking for a date

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, healthy, lactose-free, peanut free




Taste and Textureherby, juicy, light, salty, savory, spiced, umami, winey


  • ½ cup bottled clam juice
  • ½ cup dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • ½ cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 or 3 lemongrass stalks, crushed (see Note)
  • 2 tablespoons peeled, minced ginger
  • 1 dried chile or ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup chopped scallions, plus more for serving
  • 12 large shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and discarded
  • 1 small bok choy, halved and sliced lengthwise into wedges
  • 1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste, or to taste (many supermarket brands are available)
  • Lettuce leaves, for lining the steamer basket
  • Four 8-ounce boneless sea bass or striped bass fillets, skin on
  • Fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Coconut-Scented Basmati Rice


  1. Pour the clam juice, sherry, soy sauce, and coconut milk into a heavy-bottomed saute pan or pot the same diameter as your bamboo steaming basket and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat so the liquid is simmering and add the lemongrass, ginger, chile, scallions, mushrooms, bok choy, and curry paste. Continue to simmer gently for 15 minutes to let the flavors mingle.

  2. Arrange a layer of lettuce leaves in the steamer basket to keep the fish from touching the raw bamboo. Season the fillets with salt and pepper and arrange them on the lettuce in the steamer. Set the steamer over the simmering liquid, cover with the bamboo cover, lower the heat, and steam gently until the fish is cooked through, 8 to 9 minutes.

  3. Remove the steamer from the pot. Use tongs to remove the bok choy and mushrooms from the liquid and divide them decoratively among 4 dinner plates or wide, shallow bowls. Arrange the fish fillets on top of the vegetables on each plate. Pass the rice family style from the bowl.

  4. Use tongs to fish out and discard the lemongrass and ladle a little of the broth over the fish on each plate. Scatter some scallions over each and serve.

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