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.
- 600 gm firm white-fleshed fish fillets, such as rock ling, thinly sliced on a 45-degree angle
- 40 gm potato starch (see note) (¼ cup)
- 420 ml vegetable oil
- 40 gm doubanjiang (see note) (2 tbsp)
- 10 gm salted black beans (1 tbsp)
- 3 spring onions, cut into 5cm lengths
- 40 gm dried long red chillies, seeds removed, thinly sliced
- 15 gm Sichuan peppercorns (3 tbsp)
- 40 gm garlic cloves (about 12)
- 20 gm ginger, finely chopped
- 20 ml Shaoxing wine (1 tbsp)
- 600 ml chicken stock
- 1 tbsp 13-fragrance spice powder (see note)
- Large pinch each of ground white pepper and caster sugar
- 200 gm soybean sprouts (see note) (3 cups)
- 50 ml chilli oil (see note)
- 1Combine fish, potato starch, 1 tbsp vegetable oil and 1 tbsp water in a bowl, mix well to combine and marinate for 20 minutes.
- 2Heat 300ml vegetable oil in a wok over high heat until smoking. Add doubanjiang, black beans, spring onion, half the dried chilli and two-thirds of the Sichuan peppercorns, reduce heat to medium and cook until oil turns red (1 minute), then add garlic, ginger and Shaoxing wine and stir-fry until fragrant (10 seconds). Add stock, 13-fragrance spice powder, season to taste with white pepper and caster sugar and simmer, stirring occasionally, until well-flavoured (8-10 minutes). Add fish mixture, reduce heat to low and simmer until fish is just cooked (2 minutes). Add soybean sprouts, cook until just wilted (1 minute) and transfer to a serving bowl.
- 3Wipe out wok and return to medium-high heat. When smoking, add chilli oil and remaining vegetable oil and heat to 160C. Add remaining dried chillies and remaining Sichuan peppercorns and stir-fry until fragrant (2 minutes), then pour over fish and serve hot.
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.
Drink Suggestion: Jasmine tea