Our family just celebrated Chinese New Year by spending some great family time together over a big dinner that I prepared. Fish was an important and delicious part of the meal. Chinese people like to eat fish on Chinese New Year because of its symbolic meaning. The Chinese word for fish is yú 鱼, which has the same sound as another Chinese character meaning surplus. So, you eat fish on Chinese New Year so that you’ll have a surplus in the New Year.
My husband and I love to eat fish, so I have a long list of fish recipes. Simmered Whole Fish is a recipe that I learned from my mom. It was one of my favorites in childhood, and it still is today!
If you’ve been to an Asian grocery store, you might have seen the seafood department, where there are live fish and crabs. There is usually a good variety of fresh fish. You can pick the fish you like and ask the store employees to clean and cut it the way you want. Freshness is essential for seafood so it’s much better if you eat the fish the same day or the next day.
- 1 pan-sized fish (tilapia, red fish, striped bass, or another fish of your choice)
- 1 small bunch of cilantro
- 2 green onions
- 5 garlic cloves
- 2 slices of ginger
- 2 pickled jalapenos
- 2 star anise
- 1 tbsp. broad bean chili paste (Pixiandouban Jiàng)
- 1 1/3 tbsp. light soy sauce
- ½ tsp. Chinese vinegar
- 1/3 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 tbsp. rice wine or juice from ½ lemon
- 5 to 8 whole black pepper corns
- 1 ½ cups chicken broth
- 3 ½ tbsp. vegetable oil
- Black pepper
- Mince the garlic and ginger.
- Chop the jalapeno, cilantro and green onion (white part 2 inches long, green part 1 inch long.)
- Remove the fins and gills from the fish and clean up the inside (Note – If you buy the fish in an Asian grocery store, they can do this for you.) Make 3-5 vertical cuts along each side of the fish evenly.
- Put the fish in a plate or pan, marinate the fish with 1 tablespoon of rice wine or lemon juice of ½ lemon, 1/3 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of light soy sauce, a dash of back pepper, the white part of 2 green onions. Massage the fish to make sure every part gets marinated.
Put the fish in the fridge for 20 minutes. Then take out and put a very thin coat of cornstarch on the surface.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoon of vegetable oil and swirl to coat the base. After the oil is heated, put the whole fish in to pan-fry it on both sides until it is brown on the outside. Take out and put in a plate.
In a Dutch oven or a skillet, add 1/2 tablespoon of vegetable oil. When the oil is heated, add 2 star anise and 5 to 8 black peppercorns and stir them until they turn dark brown. Then add the minced garlic and ginger, and the chopped jalapeno, and stir them.
Then add 1 tablespoon of broad bean chili paste and 1 tablespoon of light soy sauce and stir them. Then add 1 teaspoon of sugar and ½ teaspoon of Chinese vinegar and stir them.
Add 1 ½ cup of chicken broth or water. Wait until the sauce starts to boil, then put the whole fish in and simmer for 7 minutes. Turn the fish and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Take the fish out and put it in a serving plate. Add the green part of the chopped green onion and half of the chopped cilantro, and then stir them. Put 1 teaspoon of cornstarch in the sauce to make it thicker. Put the sauce on top of the fish, then put the other half of cilantro on top of the sauce.
Enjoy the yummy fish with your family! Since the fish has bones, please be careful when you are eating it. I remember that my mom used to say, “Don’t talk when you are eating a whole fish.”