Thai Steamed Fish with Lime Sauce

This my take on pla kapong neung manao, an incredibly popular Thai fish. It consists of steamed fish served with a bright, punchy sauce made with lots of lime, garlic, chillies, fish sauce and other fragrant aromatics. It’s the perfect combination of sour, savoury, sweet, spicy and umami.

Traditionally, the recipe calls for barramundi. As it’s incredibly difficult to source in the UK, I’ve gone with whole sea bass instead. I fully get that cooking whole fish can be intimidating! I recommend giving it a go, but if you’re not quite ready to take the plunge, this recipe works beautifully with fillets as well.

  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1x
  • Category: Fish



For the fish:

  • 2 x 400g whole sea bass, scaled and gutted or 4 x 160g sea bass fillets
  • 2 lemongrass stalks
  • 3 inch piece fresh root ginger, unpeeled and sliced
  • 4 large kaffir lime leaves

For the sauce:

  • 125 ml good-quality chicken stock
  • 3 tbsps palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
  • 5 large garlic cloves, very finely chopped
  • 3 red bird’s eye chillies, very finely chopped
  • 60 ml freshly-squeezed lime juice
  • 50 ml fish sauce
  • 10 g fresh coriander, finely chopped


  1. Heat your oven to 180℃/fan 160℃ then prep your ingredients. Having everything ready to go is incredibly helpful, especially when tackling a new recipe.

If using whole sea bass:

  1. Score the sea bass on both sides at 2 cm intervals, cutting 0.5 cm deep.
  2. Using a pestle, or something small and heavy, bash the lemongrass stalks a few times. This technique is called bruising and it helps release the fragrant juices of the lemongrass.
  3. Stuff the belly cavity of each sea bass with one lemongrass stalk, one kaffir lime leaf and some of the ginger slices.
  4. Place the sea bass in a large, deep roasting tin and add a splash of water. Seal tightly with foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through. You’ll know it’s done when the flesh turns opaque and easily flakes away from the bone.

If using fillets:

  1. Arrange the fillets in a single layer in a large roasting tin and add a splash of water. Scatter the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and ginger slices over the fish, seal tightly with foil and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through.

Making the sauce:

  1. While the fish is in the oven, place the chicken stock in a small saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the palm sugar, reduce the heat to low and stir continually until the sugar dissolves. Remove the saucepan from the heat.
  2. Add the garlic and chilli and stir to combine. The residual heat will take the raw edge off the garlic without cooking it.
  3. Add the lime juice and fish sauce and remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir in the fresh coriander and you’re all set. The sauce should be sour, spicy and garlicky, with a touch of sweetness. It should almost smack you in the face – in a good way, of course!
  4. To serve, transfer the steamed fish to a large fish platter, discarding the lemongrass, ginger and kaffir lime leaves (they’ve served their purpose). Top with the sauce and serve with steamed rice – enjoy!



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