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Thai Steamed Fish with Lime and Garlic

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Any meaty fish similar to sea bass or bream can be used for this Thai steamed fish recipe.

The first meal I ordered on my last trip to Bangkok was steamed fish with lime and garlic sauce. I’d tried it many different times in the US and UK but I wanted to see what it was like in Thailand. It wasn’t just the sauce for the steamed fish I was eager to try but the barramundi fish they used as I had never come across it, fresh or frozen in the west. I found barramundi to be very similar to sea bass and equally as delicious.

Thai steamed fish

Photo by Kris Kirkham for my cookbook ‘The Curry Guy Thai’.


Thai steamed sea bass with lime and garlic sauce

Get your ingredients prepared before starting. It will make things go much more smoothly.

Thai steamed sea bass with lime and garlic sauce

With the sauce ingredients prepared, make3 – 4 shallow slices on each side of the fish.

Thai steamed sea bass with lime and garlic sauce

Using a steamer, steam the fish for about 12 minutes or until cooked through. Larger fish will take longer.

Thai steamed sea bass with lime and garlic sauce

The fish is cooked when the meat easily flakes off of the bone. If it is sticking, cook for longer.

Thai steamed fish with lime and garlic sauce is loved all over Thailand so it is no wonder it made its way to Thai restaurants in the west. The sauce is simple but in no way fails to impress with its magnificent flavour.
This is a sour sauce due to the use of all that fresh lime juice. It is put to good use! There is also loads of garlic in this recipe which, being a garlic lover helps make the dish for me.

The second time I tried Thai steamed fish was at a small restaurant across from our hotel in Phuket. At that restaurant, they served many different variations, sometime substituting the garlic for ginger or throwing both ginger and garlic in, in large amounts. I tried them all and was never let down.

At that restaurant, the chef stuffed the cavity with bruised lemongrass stalks. As a result, it greatly enhances the flavour of the steamed fish. Other aromatic ingredients like fresh Kaffir lime leaves are also popular.

Feel free to experiment with this one. 


Thai steamed sea bass with lime and garlic sauce

Bring the chicken stock to a rolling simmer and stir in the sugar. Take off the heat and add the chopped garlic.

Thai steamed sea bass with lime and garlic sauce

Add the remaining ingredients to the hot/warm sauce.

Thai steamed sea bass with lime and garlic sauce

Place the steamed fish on a heated platter and add the sauce as described below.

Those simple but awesome flavours!

I really like the subtle flavour that the lemongrass stalks give this dish. But on the day I made it, lemongrass was nowhere to be found. Not even at the larger Thai shops in my area. So I used kaffir lime leaves with excellent results.

As with all Thai steamed fish recipes, the amount of chillies you use is completely up to you. I used quite a few because I love a bit of spice. Use more or less to taste.

This sauce is sour and spicy. It is also mildly sweet and I used just the right amount of palm sugar for my liking but that is also something you can adjust to your own preferences.

You will see from the photographs that I steamed three sea bass. This recipe is for two but three works too. There is a lot of sauce!

I hope you enjoy the Thai steamed fish with lime and garlic sauce. If you do, please let me know in the comments. I am considering featuring this recipe in a Thai cookbook I’m writing so your opinion would be very much appreciated.

If you enjoyed this recipe, you might like to try some of these Thai favourites:

Thai steamed sea bass with lime and garlic sauce

This steamed fish tastes amazing in the Thai lime and garlic sauce.


Thai Steamed Sea Bass With Lime and Garlic Sauce

Thai steamed sea bass with lime and garlic sauce

This simple steamed sea bass is delicious served with the sweet, sour, spicy and savoury sauce!

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Total Time 22 minutes


  • 2 x 700g (1 ½ lb) sea bass
  • 20 kaffir lime leaves
  • 250ml (1 cup) chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp palm sugar
  • 20 cloves garlic – finely chopped
  • 6 red bird’s eye chillies (more or less to taste) finely chopped
  • 150ml (about 8 tbsp) freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 6 tbsp Thai fish sauce
  • 3 tbsp coriander – finely chopped


  1. Make three or four shallow slits on each side of the sea bass. Place the kaffir lime leave in the cavity and place on a steaming tray. If you have a fish steamer as shown, that is the best option but any steamer that will hold the fish is fine.
  2. Place the steamer over high heat and steam the fish for about 12 minutes or until cooked through.
  3. While the fish is cooking, heat the chicken stock in a sauce pan over medium high heat and bring to a rolling simmer. Add the palm sugar and stir it into the stock until it dissolves. Turn off the heat and then add the chopped garlic. The sharp flavour of the garlic will mellow in the hot stock and become softer.
  4. Stir in the chopped chilies followed by the fish sauce and lime juice and coriander and give it a good stir. Set aside
  5. Check the fish to see if it is cooked through. When checking sea bass for doneness, the meat should easily come off the bone. If it is sticking, steam it for about another minute or so.
  6. Place the cooked fish on a heated platter and spoon some of the solid ingredients of the sauce, like the garlic, chillies and coriander over it. Then pour the remaining sauce over the fish. It is not necessary that the sauce be piping hot. This is more of a salsa than a sauce but I do lime mine to be warm.
  7. Serve immediately and enjoy.

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ray nobile

Friday 24th of January 2020

made it by souse vid method. put fish and all ingredients in a ziplock bag and put it in the water bath at a temps of 57c for 30 minutes. turned out amazing

Dan Toombs

Saturday 25th of January 2020

Great to hear Ray.

Thank you. Dan


Thursday 23rd of January 2020

Hi Dan

This sounds gorgeous will make this and Pad thai for sheila on Saturday

Thank you as always for sharing ...

Just a tip I learnt along the way ....some chefs say the fish is cooked when the eyes of the fish go white !!!

Happy eating


Dan Toombs

Thursday 23rd of January 2020

Thanks Tim

I've heard that one too. I should probably add that bit of advice. Hope you both enjoy the recipe.

Cheers, Dan

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