Dry Braised Fish, a traditional Szechuanese dish, is an excellent example that demonstrates some of the know-how of traditional Chinese cooking. This dish takes longer to prepare and make, but its rich and complex flavors signify the best Szechuanese cooking has to offer.
Dry-braising, literally translated from the term in Chinese, 乾燒 (Gan Shao), refers to a method in Chinese cooking that uses relatively less braising liquid at the start, and reduces most of the liquid towards the end of the cooking process. This technique does not use starch to speed the process along.
- A whole fish (carp, grass carp, crucian carp, or other types of similar fish)
- Minced pork
- Spring onion
- Chopped garlic (pieces shouldn’t be too fine to preserve flavor)
- Ya cai (Sichuanese preserved mustard greens)
- Pickled chili pepper
- Jiu Niang (Sweet fermented rice)
- Soup stock
- Cooking wine
- Soy sauce
- Preparing the fish:
— Descale and gut the fish;
— Make slanted knife cuts on both sides of the fish;
— Place the fish in a metal pan or a similar container;
— Cut spring onion into segments and ginger into thin pieces, place them over the fish;
— Sprinkle some salt on the fish and rub it all over evenly;
— Pour a bit of cooking wine on both sides of the fish;
— Let the mixture sit and marinate for 10 minutes.
- First, fry the fish in a wok. Wait until the cooking oil becomes very hot before sliding the fish in the oil. This quickly gives the fish a nice crust so its shape stays in place. Fry until the fish turns golden. Scoop it out. Set aside for later.
- In an empty wok, stir fry minced pork, add cooking wine to remove any unpleasant flavor. Pour the pork into a strainer and drain the oil. Set the pork aside for later.
- In an empty wok, add a little cooking oil, add chopped ginger, garlic, ya cai, pickled chili pepper, spring onion segments, and sauté everything, adding a little jiu niang. Sauté briefly and add the minced pork set aside from step 3. Then add soup stock.
- On high heat, add the fried fish to the mixture from step 4. Add a dash of vinegar (to remove the fishy smell) and soy sauce (to give it a nicer color). Add cooking wine and pepper.
- Turn down the heat, put the lid on the wok and slowly reduce the liquid in the wok to a thick sauce.
- On the serving plate, first place the fish, and then drip the sauce and the rest of the ingredients in the wok all over the fish evenly. Voila! Dry Braised Fish is ready to serve.
There are two ways to make Dry Braised Fish. The Chengdu-style uses pickled chili pepper, and the finished dish is golden brown; whereas the Chongqing-style uses broad bean paste, giving the finished dish a reddish color.
Chinese chefs don’t use thermometers. They can tell when the oil temperature is ready just by looking and listening. Their experience will guide them.
Ya cai is Szechuanese preserved vegetable. It is a specialty from the city of Yibin in Southern Szechuan. If you can, try to get ya cai made in Yibin. Chinese supermarkets usually carry ya cai, but make sure you don’t confuse ya cai with bean sprouts, because the Chinese pronunciations for ya cai and bean sprouts are exactly the same!
Ingredients such as ya cai, pickled chili pepper and sweet fermented rice add so much complexity to this dish, debunking the myth that Szechuanese dishes are nothing but chili peppers and oil!