This is a foolproof way to steam fish. You can use striped bass, black bass, Mediterranean sea bass or even branzino; ask your fishmonger to remove the bones but leave the head on. You can buy one large fish or several smaller ones. The cooking times will be shorter for smaller fish, but use the method in the recipe to check for doneness. Fermented black beans are available in Chinatown, but in a pinch you can use black bean paste, which is available at most supermarkets.
1 fennel bulb, sliced 1/4-inch thick, green fronds reserved
2 whole star anise
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp sugar
1 4-lb (2-kg) striped bass or other small whole fish, butterflied
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sake
1 tbsp minced peeled ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp minced white part of scallions
1 tbsp fermented black beans
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup vegetable or fish stock or water
Sliced scallion greens
Dried tangerine peel
Combine fennel, star anise and stock in a skillet over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until fennel is tender. Remove lid and continue simmering until liquid is almost evaporated, 3 to 5 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper and reserve.
Peel off tangerine rind, removing any white pith. Cut rind into 1/2-inch strips. Place on a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with sugar. Microwave for 2 to 4 minutes or until peel is dehydrated. Reserve. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with a piece of oiled parchment paper. Place fish on its side on parchment and open the belly flap. Season the cavity with kosher salt. Combine soy sauce with sake and brush the inside of the fish. Chop ginger, garlic, scallions and black beans with 1 tbsp oil until pasty. Spread the paste inside the fish, then layer braised fennel and any liquid on top. Drizzle with remaining oil. Close the belly flap and pour stock over fish.
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes. Check if the fish is done by opening the belly flap with a spatula. If innermost flesh by the spine is white, the fish is fully cooked.
Garnish with chili oil, sliced scallion greens, fennel fronds and dried tangerine peel.