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 red in colour. 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 fragrance. 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)
For the fish
- 250 g skinless, boneless fish fillet, 9oz (see note 1)
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch white pepper
- 1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine
- 1 tsp corn starch
For the spices
- 1/2 tsp cooking oil
- 15 dried chilli
- 2 tsp Sichuan peppercorn, see note 2
For the vegetable
- 1 tsp cooking oil
- 250 g celery, cut into thin strips, or bean sprouts
For the broth
- 2 tbsp cooking oil
- 2 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tsp ginger, minced
- 1 stalk scallions, chopped
- 1.5 tbsp Sichuan chilli bean paste, see note 3
- 1 tsp chilli powder
- 400 ml hot water, or chicken stock
- Coriander, chopped
- 2 tbsp cooking oil
Marinate the fish
- Slice the fish fillet diagonally. Marinate with salt, white pepper, rice wine & corn starch.
Fry the spices
- 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.
Cook the vegetable
- 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.
Make the broth
- 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 full boil.
Cook the fish
- Gently place the fish slices into the wok. When cooked, pour the fish and the soup onto the vegetable.
- Top with fried spices and coriander. Heat up oil then pour over to sizzle the spices. Serve immediately with plain rice.
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!