Enriched with herbs and spices, a gently simmering broth infuses seafood with subtle yet alluring flavor.

By Barton Seaver
October 26, 2018
Greg DuPree

Just like marinating packs meat with bold flavor, steaming perfumes seafood with enticing aromas. In this moist-heat cooking method, fish fillets rest above a small amount of scented, simmering liquid. When the pot is covered, captive aromatic heat gently cooks the seafood. 

Surprisingly simple, this is a practical and fun method for home cooks. Start with your favorite aromatics—ginger, herbs, and citrus peel provide a fresh punctuation mark; spices like cinnamon, clove, and star anise add complexity. Place them in a large pot or skillet with a tight-fitting lid, and add just enough liquid to the pan to measure 1/2 inch. Bring the liquid to a simmer. Set a rack (or build a vegetable “raft” from celery or fennel stalks) above the simmering liquid, and place seasoned fish on top. Cover and steam until the fish is cooked through, about 7 minutes per 1/2 inch of thickness. 

Want to try the technique at home? Here are some of our favorite seafood recipes:

There’s just one more tip you should know—be sure to season fish well with salt before cooking. Unlike poaching, the steaming process doesn’t flavor the fish with any salt.