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Tea-Steamed Red Snapper: Busy Season Dinners




That sign looks trustworthy…

For the past few weeks now, I’ve been stopping at this hidden gem of a grocery on 22nd and 2nd after the weekly yoga session.  Seemingly out-of-place among bagel shops and vintage clothiers, Rosendo’s Fish Market offers fresh fish, organic meats, and free range chickens.  So of course when I see a fish with clear eyes, some good weight to it, and doesn’t look like its malnourished, zombie-fied cousins in Chinatown, I had to buy one.  Forget the fact that the behemoth set me back $40 or that this red snapper was bigger than my forearm…fresh fish at an affordable price in Manhattan?  Sounds fishy (har har har).

Considering where I found Rosendo.  You'll be seeing more of him...literally.

Considering where I found him…meet Rosendo. You’ll be seeing more of him…literally.

I got home and cut the whole thing in 3 parts: the head, tail, and fillets, drenching myself in blood and fish guts in the process (note to self: have the fishmonger dress the fish for you next time).  For the head, I was able to cook Sinigang, a Filipino sour soup, of which I’m still debating if it’s worth posting about since the meal I just made with the tail-end far surpasses it.

Tonight’s Busy Season Dinner is a Tea-Steamed Red Snapper Tail drizzled with hot sesame oil infused with ginger and spring onions.  Typically a Cantonese or Teochew dish, steamed red snapper is not only cheap ($8.99/lb.), I managed to cook the whole thing (while cooking the next day’s breakfast at the same time mind you) within half an hour.  Plus, with a minimal number of ingredients and the healthiness of fish compared to that gut-bustin’ burger you must be chompin’ on, you’d be a fool not to make this dish (or you’re on a particularly difficult audit that doesn’t let you leave until 2 AM in which case, you’re excused).

Onward to epicness!

A wok or large sloping pan that can fit your fish fully
A wire rack or steamer that fits into the pan above

1 Red Snapper tail extending to the midsection, cleaned and descaled (you can definitely substitute filets especially if you can’t find a whole snapper but it just won’t be the same.  If you’re feeling boss, cook the whole fish!)
1 bunch spring onions, chopped on a bias (ie. at a diagonal)
1 large knob ginger, sliced
¼ – ½ a red onion, sliced thinly
¼ cup sesame oil
2 – 3 tbsps. Soy sauce or Tamari
1 spoonful green tea leaves (I used a gunpowder variety from China though you can certainly use other types or even tea bags, just adjust the amounts so you get enough of the aroma in there)
1 tbsp. hot chilli oil/dried chillis ground in oil (opt.)



1)  Place your wire rack into the wok and pour water in just enough so that it reaches about ½ an inch below the rack.  You want this water to steam your fish, not boil it.  Turn the heat up and wait to boil.

Note: I hate when recipes tell me at the very end “…serve with white rice”.  Dude…it takes 15 mins. to make white rice.  You couldn’t tell me any earlier?!  So I’ll do you a favor.  If you want white rice, better start cooking it now.


2)  Meanwhile, chop your vegetables.  For those new to peeling ginger, here’s a handy trick: instead of using a knife or veggie peeler, take a spoon and scrape the skin off, that way, you waste less of the ginger flesh.

Inhale the good $#!+, exhale the bull$#!+.  Green tea from Binondo.

Inhale the good $#!+, exhale the bull$#!+. Green tea from Binondo.

3)  Once the water boils, turn it down to medium high and carefully place your fish on the rack and toss the tea into the water.  Cover it up and set a timer for 12 – 15 mins. depending on the size of your fish.  If you’ve got quite the catch, consider scoring (making shallow diagonal slices along the side of the fish, coz we all know you haven’t scored since your Intern days) in order to cook it evenly.

Not pictured: the nutty aroma that filled the apartment for 2 days.

Not pictured: the nutty aroma that filled the apartment for 2 days.

4)  When the fish is about 5 mins. from being done, take a small sauce pot or pan and heat up your sesame oil on medium high.  Once it begins to smoke a tad bit, toss in all your veggies and smell that goodness fill the room!

5)  Your fish should be ready by now.  Check it by slicing a thick section and ensuring it’s white all the way through.  Plate the fish and immediately drizzle the hot oil on top.  Spoon a bit of soy sauce or hot chilli oil on top, “serve with white rice” (that you already made early enough so you’re not kicking yourself), and reminisce about the days you got home from grade school at 5 PM.


I’ve found that this dish goes especially well with a side of House of Cards.  And remember, once you’re done eating one side of the fish, DO NOT…EVER…flip it over.  It’s considered bad luck (something about flipping something over…or was my Chinese grandmother just pulling my leg?).  Instead, remove the bones and continue eating.  Till the next time we see Rosendo…or at least the other parts of him…eat well!

Filed under: Cook, Recipes

About the Author

Posted by

Paolo Española is a wandering diner in search of a good meal and an ever-elusive identity. He started this blog during a soul-crushing stint as an Accountant and later co-founded Hidden Apron, his side project that’s dabbled in everything from private catering, hosting pop-up dinners, podcasting, and everywhere in between. He is a contributing author to the best-selling cookbook, “The New Filipino Kitchen” and believes that food is a universal language that can solve the world's most challenging problems, help people believe in their own potential, create communities to shared stories, and realize that in Breaking Bread, we Break Boundaries.


  1. Pingback: The Return of Rosendo: Sinigang (Filipino sour broth for Busy Season) | The Errant Diner

  2. Pingback: Upgrade Your Ramen: Red Snapper Ramen (Busy Season Dinners) | The Errant Diner


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