1 whole barramundi, about 1.5 lb (you can also use a different kind of white-flesh, mild-flavoured fish such as tilapia or sea bass)
2 stalks of lemongrass, bottom half only
1/2 cup good chicken stock or fish stock (see note)
1 Tbsp finely chopped palm sugar
4 Tbsp lime juice
3 Tbsp fish sauce
1 head garlic, chopped
Thai chilies, to taste, finely chopped
10–15 sprigs cilantro, chopped
1 stalk Chinese celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
Note: The quality of the sauce is tied to the quality of the stock, so make sure you use good quality, strong stock for this recipe! See my recipe for pork/chicken stock here.
Make sure your fish is scaled and gutted, and then score the fish with 3 diagonal incisions on each side of the fish. Cut off the top halves of the lemongrass and smash with a pestle or the back of your knife to release the aroma. Stuff the lemongrass into the belly of the fish. Steam the fish over rapidly boiling water for about 10 – 15 minutes depending on the size of your fish. Test doneness by lifting the middle and thickest part of the flesh up with a fork and it should come off the bone easily.
While the fish steams, make the sauce: In a saucepan, heat the chicken stock until it comes to a boil, and then toss in the sugar, reduce heat, and simmer just until the sugar is completely dissolved. Pour the mixture into a bowl. Add the garlic and chilies and stir for about 15-20 seconds to infuse the garlic flavour into the sauce. Stir in fish sauce, lime juice, and cilantro. Stir gently and then taste test. Make sure it’s sour, and balanced with a hint of sweetness.
Line a serving platter with a bed of Chinese celery leaves. Make sure the platter is deep enough to hold all the sauce. When the fish is fully steamed, transfer it to the serving platter. Gently scoop on all the sauce over the fish, putting most of the garlic and chilies on the top of the fish. Garnish with extra celery leaves on top, if desired and enjoy with some steamed rice!