Easy Steamed Tilapia Chinese-Viet Style Recipe

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Written By Hot Thai Restaurant

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Imagine a dish that effortlessly blends the delicate flavors of the sea with the aromatic essences of Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine. Steamed tilapia, a beloved staple in both culinary traditions, offers just that—a light, healthful meal that’s as pleasing to the palate as it is to the eyes. This method of cooking, revered for preserving the natural taste and texture of the fish, is a testament to the principles of simplicity and purity in Asian cooking.


In line with the simplicity mentioned, gather the fresh ingredients needed to create this delightful steamed tilapia dish infused with both Chinese and Vietnamese flavors.

Fish Preparation

  • 1 whole tilapia (about 1 to 1.5 pounds), cleaned and scaled
  • 2 stalks green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 slices of fresh ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 inch ginger, julienned
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 Thai chili, sliced thinly (optional for extra heat)

Required Tools and Equipment

Before you begin crafting this flavorful steamed tilapia dish, ensure you have the proper tools and equipment on hand to make the process smooth and enjoyable. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Steamer Basket or Steaming Set: This is essential for cooking the tilapia. A traditional bamboo steamer works beautifully, especially if you’re aiming for authenticity. Alternatively, a metal steaming rack set in a deep pot can also be used.
  • Wok or Large Pot: Depending on the steamer setup, you might need either a wok or a large pot in which you can fit the steamer basket or rack. Make sure the lid covers the pot or wok completely to trap steam effectively.
  • Mixing Bowls: Have a few small bowls ready for mixing the sauce and the spices.
  • Sharp Knife: A sharp knife is crucial for finely chopping ingredients such as green onions, ginger, and garlic, which will layer flavors into the tilapia.
  • Chopping Board: To accompany your knife, a sturdy chopping board provides the perfect surface for prep work.
  • Measuring Spoons and Cups: Precision is key in cooking, especially for balancing the flavors of the sauce. Use measuring spoons and cups to get the quantities just right.
  • Heat-resistant Spatula or Tongs: These tools will help you handle the fish safely and check doneness without breaking the delicate flesh.

With these tools and equipment ready, you’re all set to start preparing your steamed tilapia with ease and confidence, ensuring that every step from prep to presentation is handled expertly.


Now that you have all your tools handy, let’s get started on preparing your tilapia. This process will ensure that your fish absorbs all the incredible flavors you’re about to introduce.

Cleaning the Fish

Begin by rinsing your tilapia under cold running water to remove any debris or scales. Make sure you check both the inside and outside of the fish. Once rinsed, pat the fish dry with paper towels, ensuring it’s completely free of excess moisture. Using a sharp knife, make shallow diagonal cuts on both sides of the tilapia, which will allow the marinade to penetrate more deeply. Place the cleaned fish on a plate set aside for marinating.

Marinating the Fish

For the marinade, you’ll need to prepare a mixture that brings out the best in this dish. Start by mincing two cloves of garlic and grating one tablespoon of fresh ginger. Then, slice two green onions finely and roughly chop a handful of fresh cilantro. In a small bowl, mix together these ingredients with two tablespoons of soy sauce, a tablespoon of sesame oil, and a teaspoon of sugar to balance the flavors. Whisk this mixture until the sugar dissolves completely.

Lay your fish flat in a secure dish and pour the marinade evenly over it, ensuring it seeps into the scores you made earlier. Gently rub the marinade into the fish with your fingers, reaching into the cuts and the cavity for thorough coverage. Cover the fish with cling film and let it marinate in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld beautifully. This brief waiting period will infuse your tilapia with a delicious taste that reflects both Chinese and Vietnamese culinary essence.

Cooking Directions

Now that your tilapia is marinated and your steamer is set up, it’s time to cook! Follow these straightforward steps to perfectly steam your fish and prepare a delicious sauce that complements its flavors.

Steaming the Tilapia

  1. Prepare Your Steamer: Fill your wok or pot with enough water to reach just below the bottom of the steamer basket. Bring the water to a boil over high heat.
  2. Arrange the Tilapia: Place the marinated tilapia in the steamer basket. If your fish is large, ensure it lies flat or is slightly curled so that it cooks evenly.
  3. Steam the Fish: Cover the steamer with a lid and let the tilapia steam over medium-high heat. The cooking time depends on the thickness of the fish, usually about 10-12 minutes. The fish is done when it flakes easily with a fork and reaches an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C).
  4. Check for Doneness: Insert a fork into the thickest part of the fish to check if it flakes easily. Be careful not to overcook, as this can dry out the delicate flesh.
  1. Combine Ingredients: While the fish is steaming, prepare the sauce. In a small bowl, mix 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of finely chopped cilantro.
  2. Cook the Garlic and Ginger: Heat a small saucepan over medium heat and add 1 teaspoon of oil. Add 1 minced garlic clove and a teaspoon of grated ginger, sautéing until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.
  3. Finish the Sauce: Pour the soy sauce mixture into the saucepan with the garlic and ginger. Let it simmer for about 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the sauce thickens slightly.
  4. Serve: Once the tilapia is done steaming, carefully remove it from the steamer. Drizzle the warm sauce over the fish and garnish with additional chopped cilantro and thinly sliced green onions for an extra burst of freshness and flavor.

Serving Suggestions

After your tilapia has been perfectly steamed, embracing both Chinese and Vietnamese flavors, it’s time to serve this delightful dish in a way that complements its light and aromatic profile. Here are some thoughtful serving suggestions to elevate your dining experience:

On a Bed of Rice

Serve your steamed tilapia over a fluffy bed of jasmine or basmati rice. The subtle fragrance of these rice varieties makes an excellent base that absorbs the savory sauce from your fish, enhancing the overall flavor of your meal.

Side of Stir-Fried Vegetables

Pair the fish with a side of stir-fried vegetables. Choose vibrant veggies like bok choy, bell peppers, and snap peas. Quickly stir-fry them with a touch of garlic and a splash of soy sauce to keep the flavors consistent with the main dish.

Fresh Herbs and Lime

Accentuate the freshness of the dish by offering additional fresh herbs like basil, mint, or extra cilantro on the side. A wedge of lime can be squeezed over the fish before eating, adding a zesty note that highlights the dish’s flavors.

Noodle Option

For a heartier meal, serve the steamed tilapia with a side of vermicelli or rice noodles. You can lightly season the noodles with sesame oil and soy sauce, and sprinkle some chopped green onions to tie all the elements together.

Simple Salad

Consider a simple salad with a light vinaigrette to round out your meal. A mix of cucumber, carrot ribbons, and a hint of chili, dressed with rice vinegar and a touch of sugar, can offer a refreshing contrast to the richness of the steamed fish.

Each of these serving suggestions aims to respect and amplify the delicate flavors of your steamed tilapia while providing a balanced and visually appealing meal. Choose one or combine a few to create a memorable dining experience that transports you right to the heart of Asian cuisine.

Make-Ahead Tips

Preparing a delicious meal often involves good timing and organization, especially when you’re aiming to impress with a dish as delicate as steamed tilapia with Chinese-Vietnamese flavors. To simplify your cooking process and enhance the flavors of your dish, here are some effective make-ahead tips:

Prepare the Marinade

The marinade is central to infusing the tilapia with the vibrant flavors characteristic of Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine. You can mix the marinade ingredients—garlic, ginger, green onions, cilantro, soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar—ahead of time. Simply combine these in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. This not only saves you time before cooking but also intensifies the flavors as they meld together.

Ready the Sauce

Similar to the marinade, the sauce benefits greatly from a little resting time. Prepare your sauce mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, garlic, and ginger beforehand. Keep it refrigerated in an airtight container. When ready to serve, gently warm the sauce to enhance its aromatic qualities, making it a perfect complement when drizzled over the freshly steamed tilapia.

Chop Herbs and Vegetables

Finely chop all herbs like cilantro and slice the vegetables such as green onions the night before. Store them in separate airtight containers in the refrigerator. This not only speeds up the final preparation but ensures that everything remains fresh and vibrant, ready to garnish your dish at a moment’s notice.

By incorporating these make-ahead tips into your meal preparation, you ensure a seamless cooking experience that allows you to enjoy both the process and the meal with minimal stress. These steps help in maintaining the freshness and integrity of flavors that this dish proudly showcases.


Now that you’ve got everything you need to whip up a delicious steamed tilapia with a Chinese-Vietnamese twist why not give it a try for your next meal? It’s a fantastic way to dive into the fresh vibrant flavors of Asian cuisine right in your own kitchen. Remember the joy is in the journey from prepping your ingredients to the final delicious bite. Enjoy the process and the flavors you’ll bring to life!

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