Chongqing Style Roasted Fish

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Chongqing Style Roasted Fish

(重庆烤鱼, chong qing kao yu)

This famous dish is from Chongqing, a city in the southwest of China. The city is also famous for  it’s  super hyper hot and spicy Szechuan cuisine.

For this dish, the fish is roasted until moist and tender, with a crispy surface. The accompanying vegetables are cooked in a Szechuan hot sauce and savory black bean paste, with pickled peppers, to impart a pungent and spicy flavor. A feast for the eyes and the taste buds comes together in a single dish.

Traditionally, in Chinese cooking, this dish is often prepared using carp, catfish or snakehead. For a better texture and fewer bones, using a catfish, sea bass, flounder, or tilapia is suggested.

However, based on the availability in my local market this week, I chose  the Yellow Croaker.

Yellowfish or Yellow Croaker has the scientific name of Larimichthys polyactis alt Pseudosciaena manchurica.

Native to the northwestern Pacific, particularly the Yellow and East China seas, this fish is highly prized among Asians chefs and in particularly in Korean cuisine. In Korean markets they are sold frozen, dried, salted cooked and sometimes fresh, usually in lengths less than 12 inches. They are often called “Corvina” which is Spanish for croaker, or “Yellow Corvina” to avoid confusion with the other species of fish called Yellow Croaker.

This is the only fish allowed the name “Yellow Croaker” on Fishbase. They are easy to tell apart. This one has a round face, the other has a pointy face.

In the photo below the Yellow  Croaker was 3-1/4 inches long and weighed 1 pound 2-1/2 ounces. This fish is caught wild and not considered threatened.

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This is a very good eating fish with a light, pleasant flavor. It’s one drawback is the tenderness of its flesh and skin which makes handling in cooking and serving more difficult than for many other fish. For this reason many prefer small fish so each serving can be a whole fish. When eating whole or pan dressed fish, be prepared to deal with a few fine rib bones, and supply a bone bowl for the discards.

Serves: 4

Ingredients:
For Grilling the Fish:
2 whole sea bass,14 ounces each (See Cook’s Notes)
Vegetable cooking spray
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 thumb ginger, half sliced, half minced
1 medium white onion, sliced
1 teaspoon salt

For the Sauce:
2 tablespoons spicy fermented bean paste (dou ban jiang)
1 tablespoon fermented black bean sauce (dou chi jiang)
10 Sichuan pickled pepper (pao jiao) (or Cajun pickled pepper), optional

For the Stir-fry:
2 tablespoons  vegetable oil
2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorn
5 cloves garlic, halved
10 – 20 dried chili pepper
1 cup lotus root, sliced
1 cup bamboo shoots, sliced
2 cups shiitake mushroom, sliced
10 – 20 dried chili peppers
4 tablespoons chicken broth
1 teaspoon  brown sugar

Cilantro sprigs,  for garnish
Steamed white rice, for serving

Directions:
Wash all the vegetables and chop the onion and ginger.

Preheat oven to 430° F . Line a baking tray with a sheet of parchment and spray a thin layer vegetable cooking spray on top.

Mix crushed red pepper flakes and cumin powder in a small bowl.

Spread half of the onion slices on the baking tray. Dry the fish thoroughly with a paper towel. Place the fish on top of the onion. Dust with salt and sprinkle half the chili and cumin mixture evenly over the fish. Spray a thin layer of vegetable cooking  oil on top. Flip the fish and season the other side in the same manner, spray with oil. Stuff the cavity of the fish with ginger slices and a few slices of onion in

Bake on the middle rack until fish is cooked through, about 20 minutes (or longer time if you use a larger fish). You should be able to easily separate the flesh from the bone with a fork, and the internal temperature of the fish should be 145° F.

While the fish is baking, chop the rest of the vegetables. Place lotus root, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms on a plate. Mix chili bean paste, black chili paste and Sichuan pickled peppers in a small bowl. Add dried chili pepper and chicken broth separately in two small bowls. Place the veggies, mixed sauce, peppercorns, dried chili pepper, chicken broth, salt and sugar on the kitchen counter, near the wok or a large cast iron skillet.

Heat the wok over medium high heat and add oil. When the oil is warm, add peppercorns. Stir until fragrant and the peppercorns turn dark brown, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Turn to lowest heat. Use a ladle to scoop out the peppercorns and discard them.

Turn to medium high heat. Add the remainder of the minced ginger and garlic and stir a few times until fragrant. Add the rest of the onion. Stir until the onion turns translucent, about 1 minute.

Add the mixed sauce and stir immediately to coat onion with sauce evenly, 30 seconds.
Add chili pepper, stir a few times to mix.

Add lotus root, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms. Stir continuously for 1 to 2 minutes. Add chicken broth and brown sugar. Continue to stir until the seasonings are mixed evenly and the veggies are cooked through. Turn to lowest heat and taste the vegetable mix. Adjust the seasoning with salt, if needed.

Transfer the baked fish to a large serving platter. Pour the vegetables and sauce over the top of the fish. Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately with steamed rice.

COOK’S NOTES:
Authentic Chinese cooking often uses carp, catfish or snakehead. For a better texture and fewer bones,  catfish, sea bass, flounder, or tilapia is suggested.

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