Whenever we want to test out an unfamiliar Szechwanese restaurant, we always order Red-Cooked Fish or hongshao yu. The only thing all red-cooked dishes have in common is soy sauce; what else goes into the wok depends on regional style and the ingenuity of the chef. Red-Cooked Fish is a good test of the talents of a chef and, more important, of the sensitivity with which he treats his ingredients. Even the most bravura performance should respect the fresh, pure flavor of the fish.
The key ingredient in this dish is hot pepper paste, or lajiao jiang. If you are cooking a carp or other fresh-water fish, you can substitute hot bean paste or ladouban jiang. This will transform a red-cooked fish into an equally famous Szechwanese classic, Hot Bean Paste Fish, or douban yu. The change produces a richer and more pungent sauce.
(scallions) (ginger slivers)
Peel the ginger. Slice it into slivers about ⅛ inch thick, the size of a wooden matchstick. Set aside a third of the ginger slivers and mince the remainder until it reaches the consistency of coarse cornmeal.
Smash the garlic cloves with the flat side of your cleaver, then peel. Chop the garlic coarsely, into pieces the size of a match head. Add to the minced ginger.
Clean the scallions, then cut them, both white part and green, into pieces 1 inch long.
Have the fish cleaned and scaled, but leave the head on. Cut about 8 shallow gashes on each side of the fish. (This will enable the flavors of the marinade and the cooking sauce to penetrate the fish more easily.)
Put the fish on a large plate and sprinkle the scallions, ginger slivers, and soy sauce over it. Let it marinate in this mixture for 20 minutes, turning it over once during that time. Then remove the fish from the marinade, but don’t throw the marinade away.
Mix the cornstarch and water together in a small bowl and set aside.
(chopped garlic and ginger) (remaining fish marinade)
Heat your wok or pan over a moderately high flame for 15 seconds, then add the oil. The oil will be hot enough to cook with when the first tiny bubbles form and a few small wisps of smoke appear.
(half the shredded ginger and scallions from the marinade)
When the oil is ready, throw in about half of the shredded ginger and scallions from the marinade. Stir-fry for about 1 minute, using your cooking shovel or spoon in a scooping motion to agitate the ginger and scallions around in the hot oil so they won’t burn and will fry equally. (Mrs.
After the scallions and ginger have cooked for about 1 minute, put the fish in the pan. Let the fish cook for 4 minutes on each side. Since it is impossible to stir-fry a whole fish, you should tip the pan occasionally from side to side to make sure that every part of the fish is exposed to the hot oil. If the scallions and ginger begin to turn brown, just remove them. After the fish has cooked on each side, take it out of the pan. Some of the skin of the fish may have stuck to the side of the pan; don’t worry about it.
Now add the chopped garlic and ginger to the pan and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Continue to stir-fry the contents of the pan vigorously, at the same time adding the hot pepper paste, sugar, soy sauce, water, vinegar, and the remaining fish marinade.
As soon as the contents of the pan have come to a boil, return the fish to the pan and let it cook in the boiling sauce for 1 minute.
Add the wine and cover the pan. Let the fish continue to cook over a fairly high flame for about 5 minutes, then take off the cover, turn the fish over, and let it cook on the second side for 4 minutes longer. Remove the fish to a serving platter.
(cornstarch and water)
Stir the cornstarch and water to make sure they are thoroughly combined, then pour the mixture into the pan. Bring the sauce (which should be rather concentrated by this time, since it has already boiled over high heat for a while) to a boil, stir it occasionally until it thickens and turns clear, then pour it over the fish and serve.
(chopped garlic and ginger)
(remaining fish marinade)
© 1976 Ellen Schrecker. All rights reserved.