Though I love any type of seafood, one of my favorite dishes is fish–usually a whole one, pan fried and topped with a spicy, flavorful sauce and served with rice. I’ve enjoyed numerous variations of this dish in Thai, Malaysian, and Chinese restaurants, and I always knew it could not be that difficult to make, but just how simple I didn’t know until I stumbled upon this recipe in Fuschia Dunlop’s Land Of Plenty (a cookbook featuring typical Sichaunese dishes).
Sure, there a a few specialized ingredients required like Shaoxing rice wine, Chinkiang black vinegar and Sichuanese chili bean paste, but a quick trip to the Asian store will set you up with all you need to make this simple and delicious dish. Though the recipe called for carp, sea bass, or trout, I used rockfish, and it turned out amazing. The only thing I will do differently next time is to lace it with some added chilies because the only heat is coming from the chili bean paste (which was not hot enough for my tastes).
Try this dish–PLEASE!!! You will not be disappointed.
Fish Braised in Chili Bean Sauce (dou ban xian yu)
1 carp, trout or sea bass (about 1 1/2 lbs.), cleaned, with head and tail attached
3/4 Tsp. salt
1-2 Tbsp. Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry
4 Tbsp. Sichuanese chili bean paste
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh ginger
1 Tbsp. finely chopped garlic
1 1/3 cup chicken stock
1 Tsp. white sugar
1-2 Tsp. light soy sauce
1 1/4 Tsp. cornstarch dissolved in 1 Tbsp. cold water
1/2 Tsp. Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar
3 scallions, green parts only, finely sliced
1.) Use a cleaver or sharp knife to make 4 or 5 shallow diagonal cuts into each side of the fish, and to pierce its head (this releases more flavorful juices). Rub the fish inside and out with the salt and Shaoxing rice wine and leave to marinate while you assemble the other ingredients.
2.) Season the wok, then heat 1/3 cup of oil over a high flame until smoking. Dry the fish with paper towels and fry it briefly on each side, just long enough to crisp up the skin (The fish can be briefly deep-fried instead if you have enough oil handy). Remove and set aside. Rinse and dry the wok.
3.) Return the wok to a medium flame with 4 tablespoons of fresh oil. When it is hot, add the chili bean paste and stir-fry for 20-30 seconds until the oil is red and smells delicious. Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry for another 20 seconds or so until you can smell their fragrance. Then pour in all the stock, turn up the heat, and bring the liquid to a boil. Season the taste with the sugar and soy sauce.
4.) Gently place the fish into the wok and spoon some sauce over it. Turn the heat down, cover, and simmer for 8-10 minutes until the fish is cooked and has absorbed some of the flavors of the sauce. Turn the fish once during the cooking time, spooning over some more sauce.
5.) When the fish is done, gently transfer it to a serving dish. Add the corn starch mixture to the sauce and stir briefly until it thickens. Add the vinegar and scallions, stir a couple of times, and then pour the sauce over the fish.
(serves 2 as a main course)
from Land Of Plenty (Authentic Sichuan Recipes Personally gathered in the Chinese Province of Sichuan) by Fuchsia Dunlop.