Steamed or Baked Butterfish (Pomfret) With Thai Sauce

Koki Iino / Getty Images
Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 10 mins
Total: 25 mins
Servings: 2 servings

Butterfish, also known as pomfret or white pomfret fish, is healthy, flaky, and tender when steamed or baked in the oven. This pomfret recipe is very easy to make, and the results are delicious. If you have banana leaves, wrap the fish in a banana leaf before cooking (tin foil can be used as a substitute).

This recipe also includes a special Thai fish sauce recipe that is tantalizing. Enjoy this gourmet meal out of your home kitchen.


  • 2 butterfish (thawed if frozen)
  • 2 banana leaves (2 sheets tin foil if steaming the fish)
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice ( fresh, or lime juice)
  • For the Fish Sauce:
  • 2 green onions (or spring, sliced including the green stem)
  • 1/2 to 1 red chili (fresh, to taste)
  • 3 makrut lime leaves (cut out the hard central stem and only include the soft leaf)
  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves (minced, or 1/2 tablespoon bottled pureed garlic)
  • 1 tbsp. lemon (or lime juice)
  • 2 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup basil (leaves fresh, loosely-packed)
  • 4 tbsp. coconut oil
  • Optional: 1 tsp. butter (adds a rich taste to the sauce)
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • Garnish: lime (slices)
  • Garnish: lemon (slices)
  • For the Toppings:
  • Optional: basil, spring onions, or chilis for garnish

Steps to Make It

  1. Cleaning the fish: Lay it flat on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, slice off about 1/4 inch strip from the underside of the fish—the section between the head and lower fin. Now slide your knife into this cut to open up the inner pocket of the fish. Using your index finger, reach in and pull out the guts from this pocket and discard. Then rinse the fish well with water, set aside, and do the same for the other fish.

  2. Once the fish is clean (or if the fish was previously cleaned), using a sharp knife, score the fish by making vertical cuts (3 to 4) down both sides of the fish. Cut through the skin until your knife reaches the bone/ribs.

  3. Squeeze lemon or lime juice over the fish, then sprinkle with salt.

  4. Cut the banana leaf into 2 "sheets" large enough to wrap the fish individually. Place the fish in the center of the leaf and wrap (as if wrapping a present). To keep the leaf closed, simply turn it seam-side down. If you don't have a banana leaf, wrap with tin foil.

  5. Steaming the fish: Place the wrapped fish directly in a bamboo steamer (or another type of steamer), seam-side up. Once in the steamer, open up the banana leaf or foil so that steam can penetrate the fish. Cover steamer with lid and steam on high heat for 10 minutes. Note: If your steamer is small, you will have to steam the fish one at a time, keeping the first one warm in the oven while you steam the second.

  6. For baked fish: Place the banana leaf-wrapped fish in a glass casserole dish (uncovered) and bake in a preheated oven at 375 F for 12 to 15 minutes. If using tin foil, you can place the wrapped fish (seam-side up) directly on your oven rack, or place in a dish if you're worried some of the juices may escape.

  7. While the fish is cooking, make the sauce by placing all sauce ingredients in a food processor or chopper (if you don't have one, simply mince everything as finely as possible and stir together). Process well.

  8. Pour the sauce into a saucepan and gently heat. You don't need to boil the sauce, just warm it through.

  9. Do a taste test, adding more fish sauce if not salty enough, or more lemon/lime juice if too salty. If it's not spicy enough, add more fresh-cut chili.


  • For Casual Dining: Leave the fish in the banana leaf (just pour off the extra juices). Carefully lift both fish and banana leaf (an egg lifter works well for this), and place them on a plate. Either pour the sauce over or serve it separately, spooning it over the fish as you eat. Garnish with fresh basil, plus spring onions and fresh-cut chili, if desired.
  • For Formal Occasions: Cut a fresh "sheet" of banana leaf. Rinse it off with hot water (this will clean it and brighten the color), pat dry, and place it on a plate. Lift the fish out of the used leaf and place on the fresh one, then pour the sauce over. Garnish with lemon or lime slices, plus fresh basil, spring onion or chili, if desired.

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