I have been trying my hand at a few recipes from Fuchsia Dunlop's "Land of Plenty" as Brian is a spice-fiend and I'm learning how to cook with a little more fire than my usual mild palate. We're working our way up to the Sichuan "water-boiled" dishes (meaning covered with chilies).
The chili bean paste whole fish (辣豆辦魚）I made the other night was a huge success. I had picked fresh trout as that was the only non-previously frozen fresh water fish they had at the fish counter that day. I figured that since Sichuan is a land-locked, inland province, working with freshwater fish for its seafood recipes was a better bet. I followed her recipe except I added dried chilies and Sichuan peppercorn which I toasted first.
Fish Braised in Chili Bean Sauce
1 carp, trout, or sea bass weighing about 1 ½ pounds, cleaned, with head and tail still attached
For the Marinade:
¾ teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry
For the Sauce:
4 tablespoons Sichuanese chili bean paste
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 1/3 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon white sugar
1-2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 ¼ teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 teaspoon cold water
½ teaspoon Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar
3 scallions, green parts only, finely sliced
1. Use a cleaver or sharp knife to make 4 or 5 shallow diagonal cuts into each side of the fish, and to pierce its head (this releases more flavorsome juices). Rub the fish inside and out with the salt and Shaoxing rice wine and leave to marinate while you assemble the other ingredients.
2. Season the wok, then heat 1/3 cup of oil over a high flame until smoking. Dry the fish with paper towels and fry it briefly on each side just long enough to crisp up the skin. (The fish can be briefly deep-fried instead if you have the oil handy.) Remove and set aside. Rinse and dry the wok.
3. Return the wok to a medium flame with 4 tablespoons of fresh oil. When it is hot, add the chili bean paste and stir-fry for 20 to 30 seconds until the oil is red and smells delicious. Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry for another 20 seconds or so until you can smell their fragrance. Then pour in all the stock, turn up the heat, and bring the liquid to a boil. Season to taste with the sugar and soy sauce.
4. Gently place the fish into the wok and spoon some sauce over it. Turn the heat down, cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes until the fish is cooked and has absorbed some of the flavors of the sauce. Turn the fish once during the cooking time, spooning some more sauce over it.
5. When the fish is done, gently transfer it to a serving dish. Add the cornstarch mixture to the sauce and stir briefly until it thickens. Add the vinegar and scallions, stir a couple of times, and pour the sauce over the waiting fish.
The fish came out perfectly tender and full of flavour. For some reason, the meat had a pinkish hue that made it look almost like salmon. Brian loved it even though he normally doesn't like trout (a fact I didn't know prior to selecting trout).
Since we both like leftovers for lunch, I also made red cooked pork belly （紅燒肉）. I prepped the cubes of pork belly and the aromatics. This dish is very popular throughout Chinese and Taiwanese cooking. There are many versions, but the recipe I followed is the one from Saveur linked here.
The resulting pork was rich and lusciously, melt-in-your-mouth. It's hard to have more than a couple of pieces in a meal (yes, it's that rich).
I complemented the intense flavours of the fish and meat dish with a light and simple stir-fry of A-choy with some smashed garlic. Steamed rice rounded out the meal.