Saturday, May 14, 2011

Whole Fish with Chili Sauce (Doubanjiang quan yu)

Whole Fish with Chili Sauce (Doubanjiang quan yu)

One tradition of Chinese cuisine which differs markedly from that of the West is that of serving fish whole (quan) rather than in steak or filet form.  Due to cultural tradition and economy, game birds, domestic fowl and seafood are often served anatomically intact.  For example, many duck, quail, pigeon and chicken dishes are served with the head combs and beaks still attached, which is generally repugnant to most Westerners.  Chinese American versions of traditional dishes have made allowances for this, and by far the most popular dishes in North America are boneless, fileted and trimmed meat protein.  Whole fish, however, is often offered stateside, but usually requires special ordering in advance.  Any meat cooked “bone in” will tend to be juicier and more flavorful, so the following recipe is highly recommended as a seafood presentation, besides being a fundamental tradition in China.
1-1/2 1/3/4 lb Sheephead, Bass, or Snapper

2 TAB rice wine (marinade)
2 TAB Soy (marinade)
  • 6-8 Tab Peanut oil
  • 1 “ x 1” pc Ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 green onion, entirely minced
  • 1 level TAB chili bean sauce
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2-3 TAB Xiaoshing wine or dry sherry
  • 1 TAB soy sauce
  • 1 TAB sweet soy sauce
  • 1 cup chicken or pork stock
  • Cornstarch Slurry
  • Cilantro, roughly chopped
  • Slivered or shredded carrot
  • sesame oil
Gut the fish or have it gutted and remove gills; wash and thoroughly dry.   Slice 3 diagonal gashes in the side of the fish, both sides.  Marinate the fish in soy and wine, rubbing the marinade into the flesh, gashes and the body cavity.  Let stand for 30 minutes or more.

Prepare flavoring ingredients, mincing garlic, ginger and green onion.  Combine the soy sauces and stock, and set aside.
Heat the peanut oil in a wok; drain the fish and pat dry; dust with cornstarch and shake off the excess.  When the oil just begins to smoke, slowly and carefully slide the fish into the wok, head first.  Use two shovels or spatulas to manipulate the fish, sliding it to the center, then carefully tilt the wok at angles so that the hot oil comes in contact with the head, middle and tail.  Fry on med-high to high for approximately 6 or 7 minutes, adjusting the heat so it doesn’t burn, then slowly turn the fish over.  This is difficult, and care must be taken not to break the partially cooked fish, nor tear the skin.  Roll the fish over slowly using two spatulas or two large chopsticks and a spatula and cook for 6 to 7 minutes.  When the skin is browned and the flesh separates easily when pulled with a fork, it is done.

Turn off the heat and gently slide two spatulas under the fish and put it on a flat plate to drain.
Meanwhile, reheat the oil to med hot (if there is not at least 3 TAB of oil left over from the frying of the fish add to it; if there is too much oil, scoop some out if desired)  When oil is hot, toss in ginger, garlic and green onion.  Toss until it just begins to turn color, then add chili paste and sugar.  Stir fry for 30 seconds or so, swirl in wine, then the sauce ingredients.  When sauce is boiling, add cornstarch slurry a little at a time, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens enough to coat the cooking utensils.  Take the wok off the heat and set aside while you carefully pick up the whole fish with two spatulas and place in on the serving platter.  Pour the sauce over the fish, and garnish.

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