Steamed fish is cooked by the application of steam. Heat sources are not applied directly to the fish itself but to a liquid that will boil, producing steam. Steamed fish is popular among people who are following a health conscious diet as it adds no extra fats or oils to the fish as some other cooking methods do. Steamed fish is also less likely to succumb to cooking errors such as overcooking, resulting in dryness or burning.
Foods that are steamed are cooked in a fashion that prevents the food from coming in direct contact with the cooking utensil or container that has the heat applied to it. Many types of steamers are available, including bamboo steamers, pans with raised, perforated inserts, and steamers designed to be used with almost any pot or pan. They can be wire mesh, or metal perforated with a grid of holes, or in the case of bamboo steamers, made from woven plant fibers.
Certain types of fish are more suited to steamed fish dishes than others. White-fleshed, delicate textured and flavored fish species such as roughy, whitefish, and sole tend to be better for steaming than very strongly flavored and firm fleshed fish species. This is a generalization, however and there is no hard and fast rule. Salmon, for example is a very strongly flavored fish that is well suited to steaming. Fish may be steamed whole or as filets or even steaks.
The steamer insert or pan holds the fish above a liquid, usually water, and a cover is placed over the assembly, the tighter the better. Heat is applied, causing the liquid to boil, which produces steam. The steam bathes the fish, cooking it. Steamed fish may take slightly longer to cook than fish cooked by other methods because the steam is limited by its maximum temperature. Steamed fish tends to cook more evenly than fish cooked by other methods as well and is characterized by a moist, flaky, texture.
Fish cooked by steaming gain little in flavor from the cooking process, unlike fish cooked by many other methods. While water is usually the liquid used to steam fish, sometimes aromatics like herbs, crab boil seasonings, lemon, or wine are added to the liquid, imparting subtle, delicate flavors to the fish. Other things may be added depending on the region, as steamed fish is found in many cuisines from all over the world. In some oriental recipes, whole fish are stuffed with ginger and other aromatics before cooking. The fish itself may be marinated ahead of time or topped with citrus or herbs while cooking as well.