Sichuan boiled fish (Shui Zhu Yu, 水煮鱼)

Tendre fish fillet poached in seasoned water, then topped with spices, Sichuan boiled fish is tasty, pungent and super addictive. 

I still remember exactly where I ate Sichuan boiled fish (Shui Zhu Yu, 水煮鱼) for the first time. It was a tiny little restaurant specializing in Sichuan cuisine hidden in a quiet neighbourhood of Beijing. At that moment, I only knew a few famous Sichuan dishes, such as Mapo tofu, Kong pao chicken, Shredded pork with garlic sauce, etc.. I found Sichuan boiled fish so stunning that later on it became the one dish that I always order whenever it’s on the menu.

It’s tender & succulent

Literally, the Chinese name of Sichuan boil fish “Shui Zhu Yu (水煮鱼)” means water boiled fish. The marinated fish slices are poached briefly in seasoned water. They taste very tender, succulent and packed with flavour. To achieve the best result, I recommend you use fresh fillets instead of frozen ones. In China, restaurants often have fish tanks from which the customers can choose live fish to be freshly prepared for this dish.

It’s super spicy

As one of the most pungent Chinese dishes, authentic Sichuan boiled fish is famous for its hotness. My friend Junyang adored  this dish but unfortunately she has a low tolerance for spicy food. She used to rinse the fish in a glass of water to reduce the hotness. And little by little she has eventually increased her tolerance. In my recipe, you can see that the spiciness comes from the generous use of 3 ingredients: dried chilli, Sichuan chilli bean paste and chilli powder.

It gives you a numbing sensation

Sichuan boiled fish is also pungent in another way: it delivers an intensive numbing sensation to your mouth by using quite a lot of Sichuan pepper (it’s an acquired taste but very addictive once you become accustomed to it). You might have heard or used regular Sichuan pepper (Huajiao, 花椒) which is dark red. In fact, there is another type of Sichuan pepper called Majiao (麻椒) which has the same shape and size but is green in colour. It’s often used in Sichuan boiled fish to enhance the numbing effect. However, you can use regular Sichuan pepper if you can’t find the green ones.

It’s easy to cook!

Many people find it intimidating to cook Sichuan boiled fish at home. I was one of them until I had a try . It’s pretty straight forward. There’s no particular cooking skill involved. As long as you have all the ingredients to hand and follow a detailed, well-written recipe, nothing will go wrong.

When reading my recipe, you will notice that I put ingredients in several groups. This corresponds to different cooking steps. Please note that cooking oil is listed in different groups for various purpose. The finished dish doesn’t taste greasy despite the generous use of oil. The oil is essential to draw out the full  fragrance of the spices.

Sichuan boiled fish (Shui Zhu Yu, 水煮鱼)
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Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Serving Size: 2 servings

Sichuan boiled fish (Shui Zhu Yu, 水煮鱼)

Tendre fish fillet poached in seasoned water, then topped with spices, Sichuan boiled fish is tasty, pungent and super addictive.

Ingredients

    Group 1:
  • 250g / 9oz skinless, boneless fish fillet (see note 1)
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch
  • Group 2:
  • 0.5 teaspoon cooking oil
  • 10-15 dried chilli
  • 2 teaspoons Sichuan pepper (see note 2)
  • Group 3:
  • 1 teaspoon cooking oil
  • 250g celery, cut into thin strips (or bean sprouts)
  • Group 4:
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, minced
  • 1 stalk spring onion, chopped
  • 1.5 tablespoons Sichuan chilli bean paste (see note 3)
  • 1 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 400ml hot water (or chicken stock)
  • Group 5:
  • Coriander, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil

Instructions

  1. Marinate the fish (Ingredients group 1): Slice the fish fillet diagonally. Marinate with salt, white pepper, rice wine & corn starch.
  2. Fry the spicy topping (Ingredients group 2): In a wok (or a deep frying pan), fry dried chilli and Sichuan pepper in oil over a low heat until fragrant (do not burn them). Chop coarsely when cooled. Set aside.
  3. Cook the vegetable (Ingredients group 3): In the same wok, heat up oil over a medium heat, stir in celery. Cook for 1.5 minutes or so (30 seconds if using bean sprouts instead). Transfer to a serving bowl. Set aside.
  4. Poach the fish (Ingredients group 4): Heat up oil in the wok, fry garlic, ginger and spring onion. Add Sichuan chilli bean paste and chilli powder. Pour in water (or chicken stock). Bring it to a boil then gently place the fish slices into the wok. When cooked, pour the fish and the soup onto the vegetable.
  5. Garnish the dish (Ingredients group 5): Garnish with fried spicy topping and coriander. Heat up oil then pour over to sizzle the spices. Serve immediately with plain rice.

Notes

1. You can use catfish, cod, sea bass, pangasius, etc.

2. I use two different types of Sichuan pepper in this dish: the regular Sichuan pepper (Huajiao, 花椒) and green Sichuan pepper (Majiao, 麻椒). The latter delivers a very strong numbing sensation to your mouth. If not available, you may use the regular one.

3. Different brands of Sichuan chilli bean paste (aka spicy Doubanjiang) may vary in saltiness, hotness and texture. Adjust the volume accordingly. Best to use Pixian Douban, a well-known variety, which needs to be coarsely chopped prior to cooking.

https://redhousespice.com/sichuan-boiled-fish/

There is no doubt that I dearly love Sichuan cuisine. I’m looking forward to writing more recipes for those of you who share the same passion.  At the meantime, check out my Culinary Tour of China in which I will guide you to explore the real beauty of Sichuan food in Chengdu(UNESCO City of Gastronomy).

Have a lovely day!

An enthusiastic cook with a Chinese palate and a global mindset.

Other classic Sichuan dishes to discover:

Hot and sour glass noodle soup (酸辣粉)

Twice-cooked pork, the fast version (回锅肉)

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10 thoughts

      1. I can’t wait to try this. I will pick up some chili bean paste tomorrow and make this for sure. Thank you for shareing and making that possible.

  1. Excellent recipe. This is authentic Shui Zhu Yu. I live in Shanghai, so I am able to find all the necessary ingredients quite easily. I use grass carp as the fish to keep it more traditional; the local market sells the fish alive, and I have the guy cut the fish up for me too. This tastes better than any restaurant’s version I have had.

  2. There is a local restaurant that serves their version of this dish and calls it “Swimming Fire Fish.” It is one of my favorite dishes! I am so excited that you have shared this recipe! I can’t wait to create this dish at home!

  3. Hi! Perhaps I’m a bit of an oddball, but I think the best version of this dish is made not with fish or beef, but with chicken. I’m just wondering – if I want to try this recipe but with chicken, can I just simply replace the fish with chicken, or is there also something else I need to be aware of?

    1. Hi Michael! You can simply follow this recipe for a chicken version. For better texture and taste, I suggest you cut the chicken into thin slices and do not overcook it in the water (stock). Happy cooking!

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