The first meal I ordered on my last trip to Bangkok was this Thai steamed sea bass with lime and garlic sauce. It’s one 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 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 sea bass 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 sea bass with lime and garlic sauce 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. He told me it was to enhance the flavour of the fish and that other aromatics could also be used such as kaffir lime leaves.
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, even at the larger Thai shops in my area, so I used kaffir lime leaves with excellent results.
As with all Thai 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 sea bass 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Place the steamer over high heat and steam the fish for about 12 minutes or until cooked through.
- 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.
- Stir in the chopped chilies followed by the fish sauce and lime juice and coriander and give it a good stir. Set aside
- 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.
- 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.
- Serve immediately and enjoy.