wild caught alaskan cod on marble slab
wild caught alaskan cod on marble slab

How to Steam Wild Cod

July 31st, 2018

How to Master a Delicate Cooking Method for a Delicate Fish

Health enthusiasts listen up: the most nutritious, tasty and clean way to cook Pacific cod is also the easiest — steamed Pacific cod is where it’s at. Similar to poached Pacific cod, where you cook the fish in simmering (but not boiling) liquid, steaming fish also requires liquid. But with this cooking method, steam — created once the liquid passes its boiling point — carries heat to the fish and cooks it through in a gradual, gentle fashion.

Steaming is perfect for any type of fish, but especially appropriate for delicate, flakey ones like cod. And while it can seem complicated, it’s not; it’s actually quite simple.

First, Prepare the Pacific Cod

It’s important to dry your fish using paper towels or a clean kitchen towel, focusing on removing as much liquid and dampness as possible. The drier your fish is, the more moist it’ll be on the inside when you’redone. Once your fish is dry and prepped, you can begin seasoning it with salt and pepper, or whatever spices you choose.

Invest in a Good-Quality Steamer

While you could improvise and use a standard pot to steam your cod, the process is easiest with the right tools. There are a few choices in the steamer department; you could go the bamboo steamer route (those wooden steamer bowls with lids that you always see with dim sum; or you could opt for a high-tech, digital food steamer. These products range in price, size and quality, so it’s really a matter of preference, but they allow you to  easily steam your fish, and other foods, with minimal effort, minimal mess and maximum flavor.

But the type of steamer won’t matter, unless you consider its size. It must be big enough to allow the vapor to circulate around the food, which will cause the fish to cook evenly throughout. If your steamer is too small, you’ll be left with an uneven cook. Size matters.

What’s Better, the Stovetop or Oven?

You can steam fish either on a stovetop or in an oven. Each method has its own perks and requires a few, unique specifications.

To steam fish on a stovetop, a steamer, or traditional pot with a steamer rack nestled above the boiling water will both get the job done. The pot or steamer will need to be covered so that the steam is contained inside and circulates around the fish to cook it evenly and efficiently.

On the flip side, you can also steam fish in the oven with no steamer required. All you need is some aluminum foil or parchment paper. Tear off a sheet of foil or oven-safe paper, approximately 15 inches in diameter. Place your fish in the center of the sheet, and then top off with a tablespoon or two of your liquid of choice (water, broth, wine etc.). Seal the foil or paper to create an enclosed pouch, and bake that on a baking sheet in the oven so that the fish can steam and cook in its own juices.  

Choosing Your Liquid

Guess what? You can practically use any liquid you’d like. Milk, why not? Chicken broth, absolutely. Soy sauce or sake, delicious. Each type of liquid base provides a different flavor profile and results in a slightly different texture.

Generally speaking, a milk base or any liquid made with butter will have a creamier, richer flavor. A clear broth or water-base will have a lighter flavor. And while a small amount of vinegar or citrus can add a major flavor boost, be careful not to use too much acidity or else you’ll end up with a ceviche as opposed steamed fish.

Cooking Time is Crucial

The beauty of the steaming method is that it’s pretty hard to mess up. There is no flame and no intense heat, only warmth from steam, so it’s impossible to burn your fish. It is, however, possible to overcook if left to steam for too long. As a rule of thumb, steam your wild fish for 15 minutes, or until it flakes easily with a fork and looks opaque in the center. A thinner cut of fish may only take 8-10 minutes and everyone’s stove and oven are different, so just keep an eye out and check the texture once every 5 minutes before you perfect your process.

This Steamed Cod with Ginger and Scallions recipe from Martha Stewart is a bit more involved, but equally feasible, even for a beginner.

If you’re looking for a flavor and ingredients-packed recipe, this Fish Steamed with Ham, Mushrooms, Ginger, Garlic & Scallions from Fine Cooking is perfect. The combo of ham, ginger, garlic and shiitake mushrooms is heaven, and when your cod is steamed with sherry, sesame oil, peanut oil and soy sauce the result is a flavorful but incredibly healthy fish dish that never disappoints.

Interested in steaming other types of fish? Check out How to Steam Salmon.