Steamed Pomfret with Salted Vegetables (Chew Zhao Zheng)

Did you have one of those autograph books back in primary school? You know, those where your classmates would pass around so their friends could write stuff about themselves for keepsake?

I had a new one every year and passed them to everyone in my class, the handful of acquaintances from other classes and several (favourite) teachers to “scribble in some words” either about themselves or to draw something pretty in it.

I remember the long lists of things people would write about themselves.

  • My name:
  • My address:
  • My DOB (date of birth):
  • My best friends:
  • My ambition:
  • My favourite………… etc etc

That list of favourites could span from colour, to animal to brand, to songs, to food to anything they can conjure up.

And for me? I’d always fill in favourite food as: steamed fish.

I know, what a killjoy for a 10 year old, right? My friends wrote steak, KFC, burger, spaghetti. And I liked steamed fish? But I really did! Steamed pomfret would make me really happy as a kid. You could steam it plain with soy sauce topped with fried garlic and I would have 3 bowls of rice for dinner that night. My favouritest way of having steamed pomfret, though, is Teo Chew style. Or as we call it “Chew Zhao Zheng” (or literally Teo Chew Steam). Teo Chew is a dialect and location in China, if you’d like to know. I call it Chew Zhao because that’s the Cantonese way of saying Teo Chew, as my mom’s family say it. In Mandarin, the same words are pronounced as Chao Zhou. Confusing, I know. 😛

I made something like that recently. My only disappointment was not having any rice vermicelli on hand because I always always steam the fish on a bed of rice vermicelli so that the juices get absorbed into the noodles. It’s yummy beyond reason. BUT… I had none that night so pretend you see some underneath my fish. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like fish steamed plain, but with noodles underneath it’s deliciousness is elevated to a higher plane. (ooh… that rhymes!)

So I basically do this:

Prepare my pomfret. It’s already scaled by the fish-monger. The ends of the tail and fins are trimmed, though most people don’t bother. I wouldn’t except this fish was given to me by my mom who cleaned and trimmed it for me (I have 3 more in the freezer! My dad’s friend who lives by the port gives him tons of these to thank him for some favour and I’m eternally grateful for them).

Yes the lighting changed. It gets dark so early these days. Anyway, for me, the essentials for steamed fish are ginger slices, tomatoes & either sour plums or salted vegetables (always always slice your salted vegetables then soak them for 15 to 20 minutes. I didn’t soak them long enough and they were sallltay!). Anything else is extra. I had some lemongrass stalks leftover from my lemongrass chicken recipe. Sometimes I add cubed silken tofu and reconstituted dried shitake. I usually have a bed of reconstituted rice vermicelli but didn’t have any that night. I’ve added black fungus, salted eggs, century eggs, mung bean noodles, chilli paste, fermented beans, miso paste… basically, this can go any direction. I’ll share other ways of doing this in the future. Promise.

And so I just laid the ingredients in and around the fish. Here, I placed the lemongrass strands under the fish for a bit of lift to get better heat circulation. Then I got my steamer (basically a deep wok with a wooden stand) filled  with water and get that boiling before placing the dish in to steam. I usually get it on a rolling boil before covering the lid and then reducing it to about medium heat. It will continue to bubble.

After about 15 minutes, I’d start checking. I use a chopstick and poke through the centre of the fish. More like stab the fish. If the chopstick goes in easily and smoothly, it’s done! I fried up some garlic and scattered it over the finished fish together with the oil. Yummeh. Oh, and don’t be like me… go easy on the salted vegetables if you use them. Mine was a tad too salty. :-/

I’ll share more steamed fish recipes in the future. As I said, I have 3 more sitting in the freezer waiting for me. I’m already thinking of ways to cook them.

xoxoxo, Jayne

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)

Steamed Fish with Salted Vegetables (Chew Zhao Zheng)

The recipe below contains optional additions that are traditional in a Chew Zhao Zheng, which is they way I absolutely love and make very often.


1 pomfret, scaled
3 slices of ginger
1 tomato, cut into 8 wedges
1/4 cup sliced salted vegetables, soaked for 20 minutes
2-3 stalks lemongrass
silken tofu, cubed (optional)
2 large dried shitake, reconstituted & sliced (optional)
50gms rice vermicelli, washed and soaked in water until slightly softened (optional)

fried garlic with oil

  1. Prepare your steamer by filling it with water and let to come to a boil while you prepare your ingredients.
  2. Lay the softened vermicelli into a heat-safe bowl that fits your fish well, with high sides so juices will not spill out.
  3. Place the lemongrass stalks on the vermicelli followed by the fish.
  4. Scatter in the rest of the ingredients, except the garlic and oil.
  5. Once the water in the steamer comes to a rolling boil, place the bowl in.
  6. Steam for 15 minutes then start checking for doneness.
  7. Once ready, sprinkle on fried garlic and oil.


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