Dry-braising, literally translated from the term gan shao (干烧) in Mandarin, refers to a method in Chinese cooking that uses relatively less braising liquid at the start, and reduces most of the liquid towards the end of cooking. The result? A perfectly braised fish imbued and draped with rich and concentrated sauce. This is a great way to cook any type of fish that has firm and mild-tasting flesh, such as fresh-water-fish tilapia used in this recipe. There are many sauce variations for the fish. But none of them beats this simple yet very satisfying sauce seasoned with Sichuan bean paste, doubanjiang, 豆瓣酱. By quickly stir-frying it in, doubanjiang’s beautiful red brown color and rich complex umami flavours are created and imparted to the golden and crispy Tilapia.
- Whole tilapia (or seabass and red snapper), about 850g, scale and gut (roughly 1kg before scale and gut)罗非鱼，红鲷鱼或者海鲈鱼任一种，去鱼鳞及内脏. If you use smaller fish, please reduce the seasoning sauce below proportionally
- 1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup canola oil or any vegetable oil
- 4 slices ginger, thinly sliced生姜
For the seasoning sauce
- 2 tablespoons Sichuan fermented bean paste豆瓣酱
- 2 spring onions, white parts only, cut into small pieces青葱
- 3 to 4 small dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated. This is optional. But the mushroom certainly helps enrich the umami flavor for the dish. 香菇
- 2 teaspoons caster sugar白砂糖
- ½ tablespoon light soy sauce生抽
- ½ tablespoon dark soy sauce老抽
- 2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons corn starch淀粉
- 1/4 cup water
- Salt to taste
- 1 Red chili or 1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced, for garnishing
- 1 sprig fresh cilantro, 香菜, for garnishing
- Scale the fish, discard the guts and clean well (I found a chain Korean grocery store called H-mart in my area which sells live Tilapia from fish tank in the store with free service of scale and gut). Pat dry the fish with kitchen paper towel. Slice the ginger. Slash the fish on both sides of the back to allow your seasoning to penetrate evenly later.
- Place the fish in a big bowl. Sprinkle evenly the half teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon of cooking wine on both sides of the back of the fish. Use your hand rub the cooking wine and salt into fish.
- In the meantime, heat up the 1 cup of cooking oil in a wok or frying pan over high heat. Remember your frying pan should be big enough to allow the entire fish touch the surface of the pan. This takes about 2-3 minutes. Place the ginger slices in the oil. You will see ginger sizzling when oil is hot enough. When the ginger becomes wrinkled, very carefully place the entire fish in the drying pan. Turn the heat to medium high. Cook one side for 6 to 7 minutes till skin golden and crispy. During this 6-minute cooking time, do not try to use spatula to move it too much. Otherwise you may break the fish skin. You may gently shake the pan handle to keep the fish from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Then use your spatula to gentle flip the fish. Fry over medium-high heat for another 6 to 7 minutes till golden and crispy.
- Remove the fish from the pan and place in a big plate or just your serving plate. Line the plate with kitchen towel to help absorb the oil.
- Now let’s make the sauce. Keep only about 2 tablespoons of the residual oil in the frying pan and get rid of the rest. Turn up the heat and place 2 tablespoons of Sichuan fermented bean paste. Fry over medium heat or about 2-3 minutes till fragrant. Add into sliced spring onions and cook for another 2 minutes. Add minced shiitake mushroom and cook for 1 minute. Add 2 teaspoons of sugar and ½ tablespoon of light soy sauce and ½ tablespoon of dark soy sauce, add into 2 cups of water. Bring it to a boil.
- Return the fish into the frying pan and let the fish simmer over medium-low heat for about 10-12 minutes. Flip the fish half way through. In the meantime, mix corn starch and water to make water corn starch.
- Remove the fish out of the pan again and place it in a serving plate – be very careful. The fish is now very soft and needs careful attention to avoid breaking.
- Add the water starch into the frying pan to thicken the sauce. Taste the sauce. Add salt if needed. Pour the sauce on top of the fish. Garnish the fish with cilantro and red chili slices.
- Serve hot with a bowl of rice!