Thai Steamed Lemon Fish Recipe – Pla Kapong Neung Manao (ปลากะพงนึ่งมะนาว)

I still have several whole fish from the fishery port so this time, I cooked something that my family would order whenever we visit a Thai restaurant – Pla Kapong Neung Manao (ปลากะพงนึ่งมะนาว), which is Thai-style Steamed Fish with Chilli, Garlic & Lime, but I did not have lime so I used lemon instead and it tasted equally refreshing!

A red snapper that I steamed (with old ginger, light soy sauce and a drizzle of sesame oil) recently and I still have a few more (Spanish Mackerel and some unrecognisable whole fish) in my freezer.
Hmmm… I should do a Masala Fish Fry and Fish Biryani with those mackerel steaks!

Ginger Steamed Fish Recipe: This red snapper was lying on a bed of ginger slices topped with ginger shreds (amount to your liking). Steamed over high heat for 8 minutes (I uncover the lid after 4 minutes to release “fishy whiff”) and when done, drizzle 2 teaspoons of cooked oil (heat vegetable oil (lard, if you dare!) and a couple drops of sesame oil), 1½ tablespoons premium light soy sauce and a sprinkling of white pepper powder over it. Serve hot with rice.

You can steam almost any white fish this style (whole, steak or fillet form).

Thai Steamed Lemon Fish Recipe – Pla Kapong Neung Manao (ปลากะพงนึ่งมะนาว)
For The Fish:
1kg whole Fish, scaled and gutted.
3 stalks Scallions, cut away the soft top green part.
2 stalks lemongrass, cut away the tough green upper half, bruise the bottom part to release essential oils.
2 stalks lemongrass, bottom half only, sliced thinly.

The usual fish used for this Thai dish is Barramundi, but I cook with whatever fish that is suitable for steaming like Sea Bass, Threadfin, Snapper, etc… etc…

For The Citrusy Soupy Sauce:
1½ cup Clear Chicken Stock (home-cooked or store-bought).
1 – 1½ tbs Palm Sugar, finely chopped (lesser amount if using cane sugar), adjust to taste.
6 tbs Lime Juice (big Thai lime, not calamansi) I used Lemon this time.
2½ tbs Thai Fish Sauce, or to taste.
1½ head Garlic, chopped.
5 Chilli Padi, finely chopped.
10 sprigs Cilantro (wan swee), chopped.
2 stalks Chinese celery (kng chye), cut into 1-inch pieces.

The ingredients’ amount can be adjusted more or less according to your personal taste but so as not to deviate too much from the original Thai version, making sure that this soup lives up to its name – citrusy sour with a hint of savoury sweetness. I know Alfred likes his fiery sour and if I were to invite him, I’ll definitely have to load up on the lime and chillies!

1. Score the fish with 2 diagonal incisions on each side of the fish or like me make slits at the dorsal fin slicing as close to the bone as possible. Stuff the lemongrass into the cavity of the fish. Steam the fish over high boiling water for about 8 minutes or more depending on the size of your fish.

Tip: When fish has been steamed for half way through its cooking duration (in this case 4 minutes since my fish took 8 minutes), lift up the steamer’s lid and immediately cover the steamer again. This is what I do to release the “fishy smell” whenever I steam anything that tends to be “fishy or gamey”. It is a very quick movement.

2. In a saucepan, heat the clear chicken stock until it comes to a boil, add the palm sugar and lower heat, and simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved. Pour the mixture into a bowl and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, finely chop the garlic, chillies, and cilantro, and mix them into the heated chicken stock. Add fish sauce and lime juice to taste, making sure that it is sour with a hint of sweetness.

4. When the fish is fully steamed (eyes popped and flesh is flaky opaque), transfer it to a serving platter bowl already laid with Chinese celery, and place the fish onto the platter. Gently ladle the sauce over the fish, putting most of the garlic and chilies on top of the fish.

5. Serve hot with steamed rice.

Put stalks of scallions and lemongrass under the fish.

Instead of making diagonal incisions on the fish, I made deep pocket-like slits like on both sides of this along its dorsal fin and almost to its belly, and stuffed some lemongrass slices into it. This will help to cook the fish faster and more evenly. This fish took 8 minutes on high heat to be cooked.

I did not have all the ingredients at hand when I steamed this fish but because of the freshness of fish and appetite-perking yummy citrusy sauce, it was still delicious!
KT doesn’t like cilantro so I stuffed them whole instead of chopped and they went into the cavity of the fish.

Alternative: If you don’t like fish, you can substitute with squid or mussels, another favourite Thai seafood of ours especially when I can get those medium-large sized ones with egg-sac intact. Cook according to steps instructed in “Method” above.

Thai-style steamed squid.

Thai-style steamed squid. Click on this photo to be redirected to the recipe post.

There’s two fish recipes in this post if you read carefully. Good things come in pair and with CNY around the corner, there’s no time more befitting than now to wish all my Chinese friends a very Happy Lunar New Year!


Note: Traditionally, we cook fish on the eve and “half eat” it, leaving some for the next day, lunar new year itself, as a symbol of carrying forward (like accounting) the remaining fish as Fish “鱼” and Extra/Surplus “余” are sound-alike-words (homophones) in Chinese.

Happy cooking, eating and bonding! 🙂

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