Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sea Bass in Chili Bean Sauce

I'm somewhat apologetic about posting a recipe featuring an elusive and sorta expensive ingredient, but if one loves to cook Sichuan cuisine, one must acquire authentic Sichuan dou ban jiang, an amazing paste made from fermented broad (fava) beans and chilis, produced in the Sichuan province. My stock was very thoughtfully ordered for me online by the other household half, and I really, really prize it. In this dish, it acts as the foundation for the rich, sour & spicy maroon sauce in which the fish bathes. I cannot recommend this recipe highly enough, it's one of the most delicious and satisfying fish-dishes I've ever made (or eaten, for that matter).

Sea Bass in Chili Bean Sauce
Serves 2

Recipe from Fuschia Dunlop's Land of Plenty (an indispensable cookbook for those interested in Sichuan cuisine).

*1 whole carp, trout or sea bass, cleaned, with head and tail attached (I used a sea bass that came in at about 1.2 lbs; Whole Foods cleaned and gutted it for me [whew!]).
*Peanut oil
*Kosher salt
*1-2 tablespoons sherry or Shaoxing wine
*4 tablespoons Sichuanese chili bean paste (dou ban jiang)
*1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
*1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
*1 1/3 cup chicken stock
*1 teaspoon sugar
*1 1/2 teaspoons light soy sauce
*1 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon of cold water
*1/2 teaspoon black Chinese vinegar
*Chopped scallions for garnish (optional)

With a sharp knife, make 4 shallow diagonal cuts into each side of the fish, and pierce its head a couple of times on each side as well (this releases more of the tasty juices). Rub the fish inside and out with a bit of salt and sherry, and leave to marinate for a spell.

Heat a couple big glugs of peanut oil (about 1/4-1/3 cup) over high heat until smoking. Dry the fish with paper towels and fry it briefly on each side, just long enough to crisp up the skin. Remove carefully (I supported it with 2 metal spatulas) and set aside. Rinse and wipe out the wok before returning it to a burner over medium heat. Add about 4 tablespoons of fresh oil. When it is hot, add the chili bean paste and stir-fry for 20-30 seconds. Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry for another 20 seconds or so, then pour in all the stock, turn up the heat, and bring the liquid to a boil. Add in the sugar and soy sauce.

Gently place the fish back into the wok and spoon some sauce over it. Turn the heat down, cover, and simmer for 8-10 minutes, turning once during the cooking time. When the fish is done, transfer it to a serving dish. Add the cornstarch mixture to the sauce and stir until it thickens. Stir in the vinegar, and then pour the sauce over the fish. Serve with rice, and watch out for bones!

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