Serves: 2 to 3
4 large garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro stems plus cilantro leaves for garnish
2 teaspoons chopped Thai chilies or more to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of freshly ground white or black pepper
750 grams-1 kilogram (1½-2 pounds) whole head-on black bass scored on both sides in 1-inch intervals
2 tablespoons chicken broth
Lime juice, optional
1 lime, cut into thin rounds
Pound garlic, cilantro stems and chilies lightly with a wooden pestle in a clay mortar until a coarse paste forms. Add 2 tbsp lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and ground pepper. Mix with a spoon to combine. (Alternatively, pulse in a mini-processor until a loose paste forms.)
Place fish on a plate that will fit inside the bamboo steamer basket with some wiggle room; pour paste over fish. In a wok or wide pot, add water to a depth of 1 inch. Bring to a boil. Transfer fish on plate to basket. Set basket over pot and pour chicken broth over fish. Cover; steam fish until cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes.
Transfer fish to a serving platter using two large spatulas. Spoon juices from plate in steamer over fish. Drizzle fish with lime juice, if desired. Garnish with lime slices and cilantro leaves. Serve with rice.
Delicate fish and aromatic infusions – the first course calls for a yin-yang of punchy fruit with lively acidity. Austrian gruner veltliner, an under-appreciated white, gets my vote. If I could have a second vote, it would be good-quality South African chenin blanc. Beppi Crosariol