Please understand that this Shanghai Smoked Fish (also known as Shanghai Xun Yu) is not smoked in the conventional sense. In this case, the “smoking” process is accomplished by simmering the sauce. Cold “Smoked” Fish is a popular appetizer in Shanghai among locals and visitors.
Just as the quality of Shanghai Red Braised Pork (Hong Shao Rou) is directly correlated to the quality of the restaurant serving it, so is the quality of Shanghai Smoked Fish directly correlated to the quality of the restaurant serving it. The “secret sauce” of each eatery is something they hold in the highest regard.
Shenzhen’s Must-Have New Year’s Dish
Even though this smoked fish appetizer from Shanghai is popular all year round, it is especially prized during the Chinese New Year celebrations.
The Shanghainese are notoriously picky and refined regarding their Chinese New Year feasts. Both words apply depending on who’s talking.
There must be eight cold appetizers, ten hot stir-fries, soup, dessert, and a beverage! No person can cook that many meals in a day, so the whole family usually pitches in.
Families can save time during the hectic celebration week by making cold appetizer dishes like Hong Shao Kao Fu and Shanghai Smoked Fish in bulk and storing them in the refrigerator until needed.
This Shanghai smoked fish is delicious, either hot or cold, but the latter is the more common preference. Even though I warned you that it’s rather sugary (as are most Shanghainese dishes), I believe we’ve achieved the ideal harmony between the dish’s sweet and sour, rich and savory flavors. You can adjust the level of sweetness to your taste by using this recipe as a guide.
For the Fish and Marinade:
- 2½ lb. of small buffalo carp, pomfret, or king fish (cut into ¾-inch thick)
- 4 tbsp. of Shaoxing wine
- ½ tsp. of ground white pepper
- ½ tsp. of salt
- 3 tsp. of ginger (grated)
For the “SECRET” Sauce:
- 3 cups of water
- 4 slices of ginger
- 2 pcs. of star anise
- 1 pcs. of cinnamon stick
- 5 pcs. of bay leaves
- 90g of brown rock sugar
- ½ cup of Shaoxing wine
- 1 tbsp. of oyster sauce
- 5 tbsp. of light soy sauce
- 1½ tbsp. of dark soy sauce
- ½ tsp. of Chinese black vinegar
- 4 pcs. of scallions
- ½ cup of orange juice
- Pieces of fish should be washed, cleaned, and patted dry with a paper towel. Spread the fish out in a single layer on a baking sheet and lightly toss it with the marinade. Marinate the fish in the fridge for at least 4 and up to 6 hours. The possibility of your staying the night would be greatly appreciated. This will allow the fish to dry out just enough for later frying.
- Mix the water, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, and bay leaves in a small pot and boil; use this as the base for the sauce. Simmer, covered, on low heat for 15 minutes. Remove the star anise and cinnamon after 15 minutes. Mix in the orange juice, scallions, Chinese black vinegar, brown rock sugar, Shaoxing wine, oyster sauce, light soy sauce, and dark soy sauce. Reduce the sauce to about 2 cups by simmering it over low heat for a long time (about 20-30 minutes). If you want a slightly thicker sauce, you can take the lid off near the end, but keep an eye on it, so it doesn’t reduce too much. When done, use a slotted spoon to remove the solid spices and chill the sauce to room temperature. This will make it operational.
- Now it’s time to fry the fish. To a small, deep pot, add enough canola or vegetable oil to reach a depth of 2 to 3 inches (to avoid using too much oil). Prepare the fish by frying three to four pieces at a time at 375 degrees F until it is golden brown. The delicate fish could easily break apart in the hot oil if you stir it around until it develops a golden crust. Fry the fish until it is a light golden brown the first time, and then fry it again until it is a deep golden brown. Refrain from stressing out about under or over-frying the fish.
- Then, immediately add the hot, freshly fried fish to the sauce. Make sure each piece is completely covered. The fish’s golden crust will help the sauce adhere to the meat, adding flavor. Before serving, fish should be marinated in the sauce for at least a few hours and ideally overnight. Just plate a few pieces and refrigerate the rest in the sauce until you’re ready to serve.