I Loves You, Whole Porgy


Wild local fish like flounder, stripers and bluefish are in season — all good stuff, in my opinion, to steam whole, Chinese style. This weekend as I was gathering ingredients for a 6-person dinner party, I familiarized myself with another: the wild local porgy. A small fish by nature (not many grow over 6 lb, according to this fact sheet), its mild, sweet flavor lends itself well to a light preparation such as steaming. Once cooked, its flesh was moist and very delicate. Its light gray skin was thin and not too fatty, altogether quite delectable to eat in bites along with the flesh — as long as you don’t mind the little bones. I found the species’ small bone factor a decent enough trade-off for its fine flavor, though I’m used to detecting and discarding small bones in my mouth.

Porgies (or porgys?) were abundant at the Greenmarket in Fort Greene Park on Saturday, though I’m not sure how many of them were actually sold. Apparently there has been a great increase in the species’ population in the Northeast, which might account for why they were so inexpensive — $4.99/lb at the Greenmarket. And at the Red Hook Fairway, where I later ventured, they were being sold for $3.99/lb. When I asked the fishmongers at both locations to describe the fish’s taste, they both compared it to red snapper (one of my favorite white-fleshed fish).

Since friends I was shopping with at the Greenmarket were puzzled by the thought of what to do if they brought home a whole fish, I thought I’d provide a recipe for this whole steamed method. It’s certainly not my own, and Eating China also tells a good recipe for it here. But it’s a common dish to find in any good Chinese banquet-style meal. With the help of my uncle, we began by scoring the 2 lb fish thrice on each side, lightly salting it, and stuffing some thinly sliced ginger and a drizzle of sesame oil inside its cavity. Into a steamer for ten minutes, then the fish was turned onto a serving plate and buried beneath a salad mound of finely sliced scallions and ginger. As a final, important step, a couple tablespoons of sizzling hot vegetable oil is poured over the fish, followed by a couple tablespoons of soy sauce. The result is a finished platter for communal serving.

Side note: this recent article in the times tells you how to scale, fin and gut fish — handy!

Chinese Steamed Whole Porgy

1 2lb whole porgy, scaled, gutted and cleaned
1 tsp salt
3 scallions, thinly sliced lengthwise
1-2 Tb ginger, thinly sliced in strips
2 Tb cooking oil
1 tsp sesame oil (optional)
2 Tb soy sauce

Rinse fish thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels. With a sharp knife, make 3 vertical, equally-spaced scores on each side of the fish’s body, going in diagonally rather than straight down. These can be shallow and about 2 inches long, depending on how large the fish is. Place a few of the ginger slices inside the fish’s cavity, along with the sesame oil. Salt the fish on each side.

Heat up a steamer (or in a crunch, a large, lidded pan, pot, or Dutch oven elevated by a bowl and with a layer of 2 inches of water on its bottom) until the water is starting to boil. Place fish inside on a plate and cover. Let cook for about 10 minutes. Remove carefully, and slide fish onto a serving platter. Spread the sliced scallions and remaining ginger on top of the fish. Heat up cooking oil until bubbly, and pour over the fish from end to end. Pour soy sauce over fish. Serve immediately with a large spoon for spooning out chunks of fish and seasoning to individual plates.

Cost Calculator

2lb whole wild local porgy: $7.98
3 scallions (at $0.50/bunch): $0.25
2 Tb ginger: $0.20
Soy sauce, sesame oil, cooking oil, salt: $0.20

Total: $8.63

Health Factor

Three brownie points: Sticks of melted butter or elaborate sauces never did make much sense to me with fresh, white fish. By surrounding it with other fresh ingredients like aromatics, in this case scallions and ginger, you’ll have a cleaner, lighter taste — and much fewer calories. It won’t satisfy a complete meal on its own, but it’s one of the lightest ways to make a standout dish that deserves the attention of being served last.

12 Responses

  1. Aoife

    My mom steams whole fish in the microwave by adding liquid and covering it tightly with plastic wrap. Superquick and easy!

  2. cathy


  3. Deborah Dowd

    ONe of my favorite summer recipes is a whole fish (sans head for me!) stuffed with citrus and whatever herbs you have from your garden (or the market), sprinkled with sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil and cooked in foil on the grill. And I love bluefish- some are put off by the fishy taste, but that is why I like it, and so avid fishermen we know bring their spoils to us!

  4. pete

    yeah, my mom microwaves it too–throw some ginger and scallion up top, a little bit of soy sauce and god knows what else, and there it is.
    I’m under the impression that you can avoid the small bones but cutting the fish a certain way (vertically? horizonally? diagonally?) though I’m not sure which way for which fish.

  5. mary

    You must try it broiled. Put a little lemon on top, salt, pepper and oregano or beat olive oil with lemon and the seasonings. Broil on both sides til slightly charred. Do not over cook. Poke in the center and as soon as it loses the gray color by the bone you are done.
    Serve with fresh lemon. It is moist, delicious and you will swear you are on a Greek island.

  6. Shajan

    So I was Google searching ways to prepare a small 1 lb Porgy that my girlfriend has purchased for us to enjoy this weekend, and viola I found your amazing blog! I favorited and Facebook shared it immediately. It is so nice to find blogs like yours on the web, promoting health conscious and responsible cooking that promotes social change.

    I particularly perked up from your url name, as I live in Queens, NY and put much effort into eating at home.


  7. Evan

    i love to catch porgies. I give most of them away but i cook them too.
    I love em
    beer battered
    panko fried
    oven roasted greek style- scales on, lots of salt, pepper, garlic , oregano, basil, bay leaf
    Grilled- soy marinade
    grilled scales on plain with dipping sauce
    porgy fish cakes
    porgy gefilte fish
    pickled porgy
    steamed whole porgy
    fried whole crispy porgy vietnamese, chinese too
    porgy in fish chowder

    Evan 🙂

  8. Rebecca

    Nice site, thanks.

    You can usually get fresh, whole fish including porgy in Hmart in flushing on sale for 1.29-1.49 / lb. The fish are smaller, the way we like em at around 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 lb each which is nice for single ppl cooking or for small side dishes.

  9. Rebecca

    oh and you can get a whole bunch of pre-sliced scallions pretty cheap or whole ones very cheap

  10. Jennie Smith

    Wow…I just made your recipe with a whole porgy I bought at the farmer’s market this morning, and man, was it good!!! I live in the Miami area and got the porgy for $3/lb. I got a massive fish for $5. I followed your recipe to the letter and I have to say that it was really and truly an excellent fish and an excellent dish. For $3/lb, I think I will start buying porgy over the hog snappers I usually get!

  11. carol

    Have never had porgy before but was able to get a 3lb one for $2.00 a lb. off a boat in McClellanville,SC . Looking for a recipe I found your web site. Love it! We have steamed red snapper and was so good. Thanks for this recipe. Can’t wait to try it tonight.

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