Braised trout in chilli bean sauce

Braised trout in chilli bean sauce

Dou ban yu

By
From
Every Grain of Rice
Photographer
Chris Terry

The first Chinese recipe I ever cooked was a version of this dish from Yan-Kit So’s Classic Chinese Cookbook. Years later – and having eaten it countless times in the Sichuanese capital Chengdu – it remains one of my favourite fish dishes, and everyone else seems to love it too. The fish lies in a spectacular sauce, a deep rusty red in colour, sumptuously spicy and aromatic with ginger and garlic. In Sichuan, they tend to make it with carp. Back home in London, I’ve made it with sea bass, whole trout and fillets and, more recently, with organic mirror carp. They all taste delicious. (As with many Sichuanese dishes, the soul of the recipe lies in the combination of flavours and you can be flexible about the main ingredient, which is one reason why Sichuanese cuisine travels so well.) I’m particularly happy that the recipe works so well with mirror carp, one of the most sustainable fish and ripe for revival in places such as Britain, where it has long fallen out of favour.

You will probably find that the fish disintegrates slightly during cooking. Don’t worry: you can arrange it neatly on the serving plate and pour over the sauce. And when your guests taste it, if my experiences are anything to go by, they’ll be so overcome with rapture that they won’t care what it looks like.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
1 rainbow trout, scaled and cleaned, but with head and tail intact, (about 350g)
salt
1 tablespoon shaoxing wine
100ml cooking oil, plus 2–3 tablespoons more
2 1/2 tablespoons sichuan chilli bean paste
2 teaspoons ginger, finely chopped
4 teaspoons garlic, finely chopped
200ml stock
1 teaspoon light soy sauce, to taste
2 teaspoons potato flour, dissolved in 1 1/2 tablespoons cold water
3-4 tablespoons spring onion greens, finely sliced
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Method

  1. Make three even, diagonal cuts into the thickest part of each side of the fish, to allow the sauce to penetrate. Rub it inside and out with a little salt, then rub the Shaoxing wine into its belly cavity. Set aside for 10–15 minutes, then drain off any liquid and pat it dry. Rub a little more salt into the skin on both sides (to prevent sticking).
  2. Add the 100 ml oil to a seasoned wok over a high flame. When it is hot, slide in the fish and fry on both sides until it is a little golden (it won’t be cooked through). You need to turn the fish carefully and tilt it so the oil comes into contact with all the skin. Pour off the oil into a heatproof container and slide the fish on to a plate.
  3. Clean the wok if necessary, then reheat it over a high flame. Add the 2–3 tablespoons oil and reduce the heat to medium. Add the chilli bean paste and stir-fry until the oil is red and smells delicious. Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry until you can smell them. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Slide in the fish and cook for five minutes or so, seasoning with soy sauce to taste. Keep spooning the sauce over the fish and tipping the wok so the whole fish is cooked. (If you are using a larger fish, turn it halfway.) Using a wok scoop and fish slice, carefully lift the fish from the sauce and lay it on a serving dish.
  4. Increase the heat, stir the potato flour mixture and add just enough to thicken the sauce to a rich, clingy consistency (do this in stages to avoid over-thickening). Stir in the spring onion, then switch off the heat. Stir in the sesame oil and ladle the sauce over the waiting fish.

Variation

  • Mirror carp in chilli bean sauce: For a 700–800 g carp, follow the recipe above, but increase the quantities to 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine, 3 1/2 tablespoons chilli bean paste, 1 tablespoon garlic, 1 tablespoon ginger, 250 ml stock and 4 tablespoons spring onion greens. Cover the wok while simmering so the thicker parts of the fish cook through, raising the lid from time to time to baste with the sauce.
Tags:
Chinese
Sichuanese
Asian
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