Szechuan Whole Fish With Spicy Bean Paste

There are traditional dishes that are served during Chinese New Year on account of their traditional symbolic meaning. The symbolic significance can be based on the appearance of the dish or a similar pronunciation of its name. The Chinese call them lucky food. One of these dishes is a whole fish. Fish in Chinese is “Yu”, which has the same pronunciation as the word for “abundance”. A more important custom is not to eat the fish completely and keep the leftovers for the next day. This way, the prosperity symbolism (of looking towards the future) carried by the fish is intensified. This signifies an abundant and lucky year ahead.

In this recipe, a whole Tilapia fish is quickly pan fried then simmered in sauce. The sauce is then thickened by a cornstarch slush and poured over the fish. This dish is best served with rice, another lucky food which indicates fertility and wealth.


This recipe takes about 20 minutes to make. Serves 5 to 6.

• 1 large Tilapia, about 2 lbs, cleaned
• 2 tbsp spicy bean paste, chopped finely
• 8 cloves garlic, chopped
• 2 tbsp ginger, chopped
• 4 stalks scallions, chopped
• 1 tbsp soy sauce
• 1 tbsp vinegar
• 1 tbsp sugar
• 1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 tbsp cornstarch, diluted in 2 tbsp water
• 4 tbsp canola oil
• 1 cup water


Pat the fish dry with paper towels.
Cut 3 slits on each side of the fish.
Salt the fish on all sides including the inside.
Drizzle canola oil in a frying pan.
Pan-fry the fish over medium heat for about 2 minutes on each side.
Remove the fish from the pan and set aside.
In the same pan, add more oil.
Sauté ginger, garlic, bean paste, and sugar over medium heat for about a minute.
Pour vinegar, soy sauce, and cooking wine.
Stir-fry for 1 minute.
Pour water and let the sauce boil.
Put the fish back to the pan.
Scoop some of the sauce over of the fish.
Cover the pan with a lid and continue cooking for about 8 to 10 minutes over medium heat. Transfer the fish to a plate leaving the sauce in the pan.
Stir in half of chopped scallions and cook for another minute over high heat.
Pour cornstarch slush and stir for another minute.
Turn off heat.
Pour sauce over the fish and top with more chopped scallions.

Ideas And Tips:

• Fish has a delicate flesh and tend to be flaky when cooked in liquid for a long time. Frying the fish not only removes the fishy smell and taste but also removes excess moisture making the meat firmer. This prevents the whole fish from disintegrating when simmered in sauce.

• Tilapia and sea bass are commonly used for this dish but you may also use snapper, branzino, perch, porgy, threadfin bream, grouper, pomfret, dusky jack or yellowback fusilier.

Szechuan Whole Fish With Spicy Bean Paste
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