24 March 2011

Spicy braised fish with whole garlic (da suan shao yu)

cold, dead eyes

Just when you thought those spicy Szechuan sauces couldn't get any better... Whole garlic cloves - genius. This dish consists of a thick spicy sauce featuring all the usual suspects – chilli bean paste, ginger, spring-onions and dark soy – but this time with whole garlic cloves as well. An initial softening stage is required to partially cook the garlic and a ten minute spell of peeling is also needed. FD suggest cooking the fish in with the sauce but I think to keep things really simple next time I’ll just fry the fish separately. That way it’s easy to control the speed and rate at which the fish cooks, crisp up the skin and prevent it disintegrating the sauce.

  • dense, meaty fish (I used more Billingsgate mackerel from the freezer)
  • chilli bean paste, ginger, lots of garlic, dark soy, a smidgeon of sugar, stock/water
  • spring-onions

Firstly prepare the garlic: peel a bulb of the stuff per person or more if feeling foolhardy. Fry on a medium heat for five to seven minutes with a stir every forty-five seconds. The skin should crinkle lightly but not darken in colour too much. The cloves should be moderately soft. Remove.

Next, make the sauce: fry a few tablespoons of chilli bean paste in oil for thirty seconds and then add quite a lot of chopped ginger. Give this another minute or so – by now relentless heady waves of loveliness should be rolling off the pot and you should feel reassured and gladdened by the scent of frying chilli. Add a little splurt of dark soy and then top up with stock (or boiling water and pinch on stock powder) and reintroduce the garlic. You need enough liquid to make plenty of sauce: probably about 240 mills per person. Bring to a light boil to finish cooking the garlic.

Meantime fry the fish (after slashing the body) with a little oil in any way you feel comfortable. A nice crisp skin will be provide admirable textural juxtaposition to the garlic nodules and spicy sauce.

When the garlic seems pretty cooked introduce a little thickener (corn flour, potato flour etc) mixed with a dash of water to add gloss and thickness to the sauce. Add some chopped spring-onion at the last minute – FD suggests using the greens only (which is the authentic thing to do) but what’s a man to do with a load of half eaten spring-onions in his salad drawer? It all goes into my pot and I give them a minute or two on the heat to break the rawness of the white parts. (I forgot to add them this time which is why they are casually sprinkled on top.)
should have put the fish and sauce on top of the noodles really

Dish up the fish and pour the sauce over it. We had cabbage (the cannonball-heavy compact white type) fried with whole dried chilli, Szechuan pepper, chopped pickled chilli and dressed with Chinkiang vinegar.

Another delight then: quick, easy and tasty as you like. I've run out of things to say about Szechuan food really. It's just seems so perfectly balanced: numbing, hot, sour, sweet, vinegary. It's flexible and good at accommodating errant or forgotten vegetables and odd bits of fish from the back of the freezer. It's relentlessly tasty and pretty spicy which is surely a major plus in the minds of right-thinking people everywhere. Perhaps I better just say I really like it. Hopefully I'm helping convince you that you may too.


  1. I love all the ingredients in this. I don't need any convincing to try it! I'm really happy I've found your blog - you've got loads of things on here that I would really like.

  2. Wow thanks Corina, that's really nice of you to say so. Let me know if you have a bash at some Szechuan stuff, it gets addictive!

  3. Yep, and I think could easily be done with any other ingredients - veg, tofu etc...:-)