A firm favourite with many diners, particularly during chilly Chinese New Year, this dish originates from Chongqing. Numbingly hot, it comprises sliced fish cooked in a pool of chilli-infused oil packed with copious quantities of Sichuan peppercorns and dried chillies, which float intimidatingly on the surface. You're not meant to drink the oil or eat the chillies - they're there to lend fragrance to the finished dish. For complexity and depth of flavour, a spice mix called 13-fragrance (shisanxiang), made with 13 spices including angelica root, nutmeg, tangerine peel and cloves, is used here, but it's optional.
Note Potato starch and doubanjiang, a hot chilli broad bean paste, are available from select Asian grocers. Soybean sprouts are available at select Asian greengrocers. Along with the requisite Sichuan pepper, Dainty Sichuan uses Maggi Seasoning (as soy sauce), Knorr chilli liquid seasoning, and shisanxiang, or 13-fragrance spice powder. The latter is used in Chinese-Islamic cooking, especially for marinating kebabs. They're all available from Chinese grocers. Chilli oil is a key ingredient in many of these recipes. Although it's readily bought, the chefs at Dainty Sichuan make their own by frying 50gm coarsely chopped dried chillies with a little vegetable oil until fragrant. Blend with 500ml vegetable oil, steep for 24 hours, strain and it's ready.
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