Szechuan Boiled Fish (Shui Zhu Yu)

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Whenever we go up to Portland to visit James, we have to go to our favorite Szechuan restaurant: the Szechuan Chef. There we always get the same dish; their Szechuan Boiled Fish, which is deliciously hot and satisfying. I have been attempting to recreate it at home and now I am pretty close. I would like to share the recipe with you. All of the special ingredients can be obtained at an Asian market, if you are lucky enough to have one near you. We could not find baby boc choy so we used Napa cabbage, which worked well as a substitute.


1 pound fish fillets, such as cod
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper, divided
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine, or dry sherry divided
1 egg white
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil, for pouring over at the end
4 cups chicken stock, divided
2 cups water
5 slices ginger
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths
3 anise pods
5 shiitake mushrooms, sliced small
3/4 pound soybean sprouts
12 baby boc choy, quartered
black bean garlic sauce, to taste
1 tablespoon chili garlic paste
1/2 cup dried red chili peppers, de-seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns


1. Toast Szechuan peppercorns in a small pan until smoking. Remove and let cool. Mash in a mortar and pestle or grind with a spice grinder. Set aside.

2. If using dried Shitake mushrooms, soak them in some chicken broth for at least 30 minutes.

3. Cut the fish into 1/4-inch thick slices at a 45-degree angle. The goal is to get pieces of fish with a lot of surface area, as they’ll shrink once cooked.

4. Next, marinate the fish. Add 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper, and 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry.) Mix (best with your hand) everything well. Next, add the egg white and mix, followed by 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch. Mix until the marinade starts to feel “slimy,” for lack of a better term. Finally, drizzle 1 tablespoon of oil over the top. Put the fish in the refrigerator, and marinate for about 20 minutes.

5. While fish is marinating, prepare all the other ingredients.

6. In a wok set over high heat, add the chicken stock, water, ginger, garlic, anise pods, shitake mushrooms, baby boc choy, scallions, 1/4 teaspoon of white pepper, and 1 tablespoon of Shaoxing wine. Bring it to a boil. Now is a good time to add the black bean garlic sauce to taste (if you don’t have any just use soy sauce.) Also add the chili garlic paste to taste. Cook until boc choy is tender. Next, add the bean sprouts, and bring to a boil once more. Cook for one minute. Now turn down the heat. Using a fine-meshed strainer, spider, or large slotted spoon, scoop all of the solids out of the soup and transfer to a heat-proof serving bowl. I removed the anise pods at this point because they had done their job.

7. Now, in a small pot, slowly heat up ½ – ¾ cup oil. It doesn’t have to be exact, but you should use at least a ½ cup. To test whether the oil is heated to the correct temperature, dip a wooden/bamboo chopstick into the oil and look for small bubbles forming around it, but no smoke. If the oil is smoking, it’s too hot!

8. When the oil is heating, bring the soup back to a boil, then turn the heat down to low. Place your fish, one piece at a time, into the soup. Once all the fish is in the soup, turn up the heat and bring everything to a boil. Working quickly so as not to overcook the fish, once boiling, immediately pour everything (fish and soup) on top of the vegetables in the serving bowl.

9. Quickly sprinkle the dried chili peppers and the ground Sichuan peppercorns evenly over the fish…and pour the heated oil evenly over everything. Serve immediately!


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