My day job doesn’t pay much – it’s safe to say I’ll never be a rich man. But I do get to travel a couple times a year for work to various parts of the world and that’s pretty darn cool. I visited China in March and ate some extraordinary food during my trip, largely thanks to the fact that my co-workers in Shanghai are foodies too. I also ate a few questionable meals, the details of which are probably best left to your imagination. But there was one dish that I’ve been dying to make since I got back.
Fish with Chiles and Sichuan Peppercorns
2 lb filleted white-fleshed fish (I used haddock)
2 inch piece of ginger
2 scallions, white and green parts
1 tsp salt
2 tsp Shaoxing rice wine (or medium-dry sherry)
4 Tbs tapioca flour or cornstarch mixed with 3 Tbs cold water
6 dried Sichuanese chilies
1 inch piece of fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic
5 scallions, white and green parts
3 Tbs peanut oil
1 Tbs Sichuanese chili bean paste
1/2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
3 stalks celery, sliced at an angle
3 cups (approx) fresh mung bean sprouts
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted peanut
3/4 cup peanut oil
1 1/2 Tbs Sichuanese chilie bean paste
1 – 2 oz dried red chilies, preferably Sichuanese
2 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns
1/4 cup fresh coriander leaves, chopped
Lightly crush ginger and scallion with the flat side of cleaver or heavy object. Cut scallion into 3 or 4 sections. Place the whole fish fillets in a bowl (if the fillets are long, cut them in half) and add the salt, wine, ginger, and scallion, and leave to marinate while you prepare the other ingredients.
Snip or cut chilies in half and shake out the seeds.
Prepare the base flavorings: peel and thinly slice the ginger and garlic. Trim and crush the scallions lightly with the flat side of a cleaver blade or heavy object, and cut into 2- to 3-inch sections. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a wok over high flame. When it is just beginning to smoke, turn the heat down a little, add chili bean paste, and stir-fry until oil is red and fragrant. Then throw in the ginger, garlic, scallions, dried chilies, Sichuan peppercorns and celery and continue to stir-fry until they smell delicious, but the celery is still crunchy. Transfer to a deep serving bowl.
Bring a pot of water to a boil over high flame. Discard the ginger and scallion from the fish marinade, add the tapioca flour or cornstarch mixture, and toss well to coat the fish. When water is boiling, gently drop the fish fillets into the water. (Do not stir them before the water has returned to a boil or the starch coating will fall away.) Allow the water to return to a boil. When the fish is just cooked, remove the fillets gently with a slotted spoon and place them over the base flavorings in the serving dish.
Working quickly, heat 3/4 cup oil over a high flame until it is just beginning to smoke. Add chili bean paste and stir-fry until the oil is red and fragrant. Add the remaining chilies and Sichuan peppercorns and stir-fry until they are crisp and fragrant – the longer you fry them, the more fragrant and spicy the oil will become. The oil should be hot enough to keep everything sizzling, but the spices must not burn – remove the wok from the stove for a few seconds if it seems to be overheating. Finally, pour the oil with the spices all over the fish.
Sprinkle with fresh coriander leaves and serve immediately (with rice).