Chinese households love to cook pan-fried fish. It’s as simple to make as cooked fish. In general, the type of fish used in a meal is strongly influenced by the available types of fish.

Steamed fish is the most common method of cooking fresh fish, or “swimming fish,” in Chinese cuisine. Regardless of how fresh they are, certain fish are more suited for steaming than others (such as light and delicate fish) (i.e., fish with a firm texture).

The porgy, also known as bream or scup, is an excellent pan-fried fish that can be found in most supermarkets. They are silvery in color and have firm white meat. Porgies can be used in a wide variety of dishes. Fillets or the whole fish can be grilled, baked or pan-fried.

So, just in time for the Chinese New Year, we’re sharing a recipe for pan-fried porgies that we caught ourselves!

Since I was a child, this method of frying fish in oil has always been a favorite of mine. During this time of year, it was a usual tradition to pay respects to ancestors. Red envelopes and a lucky candy selection were placed on the table with tangerines, a whole chicken, roasted pig belly, and pan-fried fish. The ancestors were invited to share a meal and bless the family with good fortune for the next year by burning incense.

For those who have never cooked a whole fish before, this recipe for pan-fried fish may sound frightening. However, I’ve included all of the necessary instructions to ensure your success!


  • 2 porgies (1 to 1½ pounds each)
  • 5 slices of ginger (1/8-inch thick)
  • 2 chopped scallions
  • 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons of hot water
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of Shaoxing wine
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • ¼ teaspoon of sesame oil
  • fresh ground white pepper


  1. Remove all of the fish’s scales while cleaning it, paying special attention to scales on the head, belly, and area close to the fins. The fishmongers always overlook a few scales even if you have the fish cleaned there. Make sure to clean the fish inside and out as well.
  2. After letting the fish drain in a colander, dry both surfaces with paper towels. Toss onto a platter. Use about 1/4 teaspoon of salt altogether and sprinkle it on both sides of the fish. 15 minutes should be set aside.
  3. Put your wok over a medium-high heat and coat the outside with 3 tablespoons of oil. Put the ginger in. Push the ginger to one side after a further 10 seconds of turning them over. The wok should be heated but shouldn’t be overly smokey (an indication that the wok is too hot). Ginger shouldn’t be scorched; it should just be slightly caramelized.
  4. The fish should be dried off with a paper towel before being placed into the wok with care. Fish should not be moved! You want to produce a lovely light crust on the skin without burning, so reduce the heat to medium after a minute. Carefully tilt the wok one side at a time to ensure that the oil coats the entire fish, including the head and tail.
  5. On the first side, cook the fish for an additional 5 to 6 minutes. By now, a thin crust should have developed, and you can shake the wok a little to see if the fish still slides around readily. If not, use a metal spatula to lift the fish just enough to glance underneath and verify the fish’s color and stickiness. Fish should have a lovely golden brown color.
  6. If the fish sticks, increase the heat, add more oil, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. This indicates that the heat is too low. When the fish is moving about in the wok or pan, and the first side is golden brown, it’s time to flip! With care, insert the spatula under the center of the fish on the side that faces the center of the wok. Lift and flip the fish in one fluid motion to the outside of the wok. For the other fish, perform the same “flip” again.
  7. Allow the fish to cook for four more minutes on the second side, adding more oil if you think it’s necessary. While the fish is cooking, combine the sugar and boiling water in a small bowl. Then, add the sesame oil, soy sauce, and white pepper (if using). Set apart.
  8. Check to see if the fish is stuck by shaking the wok. After that, pour the Shaoxing wine all the way around the edge of the wok and let it cook for 30 seconds. Once the sauce is simmering, pour it around the wok’s edge (about 30 seconds). The chopped scallions should be added.
  9. After turning off the heat, transfer the fish to serving dishes with a spatula. Scoop up the rest of the sauce, drizzle it equally over the fish, and then serve!
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