I wouldn’t normally blog about meal recipes, but this meal is so delicious that I had to write something about it, if for no other reason than perhaps to help guarantee that it will not be lost to history.
The following recipe is from Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook, by Ellen Schrecker (1976). It is one of the very best meals – perhaps the very best – I have ever had. If you enjoy spicy Chinese food, then this recipe is well worth the effort required to prepare it.
1 ½ inch piece fresh ginger
Peel the ginger. Slice it into slivers about 1/8 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.
4 cloves garlic
Smash the garlic cloves with the flat side of a 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.
1 whole fish (about 1 ½ pounds), preferably sea bass or carp, or 2 small trout (rainbow trout is delicious)
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.)
¼ cup soy sauce (scallions) (ginger slivers)
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.
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¼ cup cold water
Mix the cornstarch and water together in a small bowl and set aside
5 tablespoons peanut oil
Heat the 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 for 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. Chiang says that the fish has such a delicate flavor that it is necessary to fry the ginger and scallions first in order to alter the raw taste of the peanut oil.)
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.
(chopped garlic and ginger)
3 teaspoons hot pepper paste (or chili paste & garlic – medium hot, or hot bean paste)
1 ½ teaspoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
¾ cup water
1 ½ teaspoons rice wine vinegar
(remaining fish marinade)
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 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.
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or cooking sherry
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 rater 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.