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Spicy Sichuan Boiled Fish

Written by Peter Allen on . Posted in food

Sichuan boiled fish proves that boiled fish can get really spicy and delicious. If you think fish is the least delicious meat in comparison to beef, ham, or chicken, then you’re about to be proven wrong by shui zhu yu.

Boiled fish isn’t really anyone’s favorite. I mean, it wasn’t mine for starters, but recently I have been experimenting with ways to make boiled fish actually tasty. I started my little experiment by literally spicing things up with the fish, and everyone who had a taste of it loved it. Just when I thought it couldn’t get better, I discovered sichuan boiled fish.

And yes, it is a delight.

It’s definitely better than what I came up with it. Shui zhu yu speaks to the spicy food lovers out there and is made of marinated fish fillets, shaoxing rice wine, garlic which gives it a pungent smell, chili peppers, and last but not least, the sichuan chili bean paste.

It’s a sichuan cuisine which means it is a truly delicious meal to treat yourself to. So let’s get started on what this dish is all about.

Shui Zhu Yu – A Sichuan Delicacy

After being named the capital of gastronomy by UNESCO, Sichuan’s fame has skyrocketed. Truth be told, this province deserves every bit of that spotlight. Its food doesn’t just taste good—it’s typically quite healthy too. Sichuan is a province in China, and one sichuan food that’s practically in every restaurant in the country is the shui zhu yu, which loosely translated means water boiled fish.

Yet that descriptor is not entirely true in regards to how this dish is made. Sure, there’s water and the fish may be boiled, but usually, the fish has been marinated before being boiled later on. This dish also contains cooked veggies, peppers (how else would it be spicy if there were no peppers?), and hot oil drizzled over the top.

The challenging aspect of cooking boiled fish lies in preparing the broth.

You will require quite a number of spices: chili beans sauce, dried red chilis, and so on. To make authentic Sichuan boiled fish, the spices are crushed and fried, and that might make breathing in your kitchen a bit hard. Not to worry though; you can simply adjust the spices to your needs when cooking and still come up with a hearty broth.

For your fish, you can use catfish, cod, sea bass, tilapia, snakehead fish, or my favorite (and just what our spicy boiled fish recipe is going to contain)—grass carp. The fish is sliced into tiny strips to keep it as tender and fresh as possible and also to reduce the cooking time to a just couple of minutes.

I bet you just cannot wait to learn how to make this mind-blowing meal to satiate your buds, so let’s delve into the awesome art of preparing this Chinese spicy fish. The dish does not require whole fish but fish fillets, so let’s get started on how to make fish fillets at home.

How To Make Homemade Fish Fillets

This is an easy but important process of this dish that shouldn’t be overlooked. You might have wondered how you could come up with the right fillet—well here it is. Oh, and get your gloves on. Trust me, you should.

Note: If this is just too much stress and you want to really save time, then go out to the store and buy some good fish fillets.

STEP 1: Bleed out the fish and remove the head.

This is done to preserve the fish when it is a fresh catch. Put your chef’s knife or boning knife on the bottom side of the fish and make a shallow cut, then break the spinal cord by tearing its head backward. Peel the mouth towards the gills and leave for some minutes to bleed out.

Once the fish has bled out, cut the head from the point the mouth meets the gills. It might require a bit of effort to cut through the spinal cord. Keep the fish on ice until you are ready to descale it to prevent it from going bland.

STEP 2: Scraping the scales.

This can also be performed upon purchase from the fishmonger before step 1, or even done after the fish has been filleted (step 4). Use the back of your knife to scale the fish, scraping from the tail of the fish to its head, employing long strokes. You could choose to forgo scaling the fish all together, but I would heavily suggest you don’t.

Step 3: Gutting the fish.

To cut open the stomach and gut the fish, run the chef’s knife from the tail of the fish towards the direction of the head. Open up the fish and remove the guts, rinsing carefully with cold water to remove every trace of them. Then, using your knife, cut off the tail and discard it.

STEP 4: Cutting the fillet.

This cut should begin at base of the tail. With a smooth motion, gently work the knife in a straight line along the backbone. The cutting may be done more than once. Avoid cutting through the rib cage of the fish when separating the fillets.

STEP 5: Skinning and de-boning

Using tweezers, carefully extract the bones from the fillet. Remove the thin belly portion from the fillet as it cooks easier than other parts and has an higher fat content. You can use this portion to make your stock. Place your fillet with the skin side facing down, then cut along where the skin meets the flesh, grabbing the skin while you slice.

Sichuan Boiled Fish Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 to 1 ½ pounds of homemade or purchased fish fillets.
  • 1 tablespoon of cornstarch or potato starch mixed with a cup of water.
  • 1 teaspoon of salt, or more to taste.
  • 2 ½ tablespoons of shaoxing rice wine or dry Sherry.
  • 4 cloves of thinly sliced garlic.
  • 2 bulbs of green onions, white and green separated.
  • 2 cups of shiitake mushrooms. You can substitute with any other quick-cooking vegetables like cabbages, celery, bean sprouts or leafy greens.
  • 1 inch of ginger, peeled and sliced into strips.
  • 2 stars of anise, or more to taste.
  • 1 medium bark of cassia, broken into smaller bits (optional).
  • 1/2 teaspoon of white pepper, ground.
  • 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn.
  • 1/3 cup of dried red chili pepper, seeds removed and chopped.
  • Half cup of cooking oil.
  • 2 to 2 ½ tablespoons of dou ban jiang (Sichuan fermented Chili bean sauce)
  • 2 teaspoons of ma jiao or huajiao (green and red or regular pepper).
  • 1 ½ cups of water.
  • 1/2 tablespoon of sesame seeds for garnishing.
  • 1 scallion, chopped.
  • 3 cups of chicken stock (or water).
  • Half of a cinnamon stick.

Instructions:

  • Cut the fish fillet diagonally, seasoning with shaoxing rice wine, salt, ground white pepper, and corn starch (which tenderizes the fish and prevents pieces of it from falling out), mixing thoroughly. Set the mixture aside to marinate for about 15 to 20 minutes. Boil a little water in a wok and cook mushrooms or any vegetable of your choosing.
  • Heat up 2 teaspoons of cooking oil in the wok, then sauté the dried red chili pepper and your green (or red ) Sichuan pepper and cassia bark for about 2 minutes, until it loses its color. Discard the cassia bark, setting this aside.
  • Heat up 1 teaspoon of cooking oil in the wok. Stir fry your garlic, ginger, the whitish part of your green onions, spicy chili beans sauce (dou ban jiang), cinnamon stick and star anise for 2 minutes, until you can smell the aroma. Then add half of both the Sichuan peppercorn and the dried red chili pepper and sauté them until you smell the aroma.
  • Increase the cooking heat and pour the chicken stock and water into the wok, stirring well. When it comes to a boil, add your fish gradually into the wok. Cook the mixture for about 3 to 4 minutes and stir gently.
  • Scoop everything into a bowl and garnish with scallions and sesame seeds. Heat up 2 and a half teaspoons of oil and sauté the leftover Sichuan peppercorn and dried red chili peppers.
  • Pour the hot oil containing the Sichuan peppercorn and dried red chili peppers on the top of your finished entrée. Your tasty water boiled fish is ready!

Cooking notes:

  • If like me, you’re a fan of spicy food, then you can sprinkle some chili powder and Sichuan peppercorn powder on the surface before turning the hot oil over it.
  • For the non-fishy folks, chicken, beef, pork and other quick-cooked meat can do just fine for you, though there may be differences in the cooking time.
  • Also, the reason for the abundance of oil is to pull out the various flavors of the ingredients. Now you can grab some chopsticks and eat up your yummy fish.

This spicy fish soup is truly a blessing to our kitchens. The many flavors used in cooking boiled fish make the Sichuan boiled fish a  favorite.

Peter Allen

Peter Allen

Peter's path through the culinary world has taken a number of unexpected turns. After starting out as a waiter at the age of 16, he was inspired to go to culinary school and learn the tricks of the trade. As he delved deeper, however, his career took a sudden turn when a family friend needed someone to help manage his business. Peter now scratches his culinary itch on the internet by blogging, sharing recipes, and socializing with food enthusiasts worldwide.

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