Green Sichuan Pepper Fish (Qing Hua Jiao Yu)

Green Sichuan Pepper Fish (Qing Hua Jiao Yu)

Sichuan Pepper Like You’ve Never Had It~~

What do you do with green Sichuan pepper, some readers and shoppers have asked. Well, there’s lots you can do with this mesmerizing spice, I would say, but you should probably start with this Green Sichuan Pepper Fish to experience the full power and potential of qing hua jiao. If you’ve eaten at Chengdu Taste in L.A.’s San Gabriel Valley you might have ordered this dish (called Boiled Fish in Green Pepper Sauce), as it’s a crowd favorite there. Otherwise, think of it as the green version of the better-known shui zhu yu, or water-boiled fish, which is fish fillets in a sea of red chili bean paste, red chilies and red Sichuan pepper.

Qing hua jiao yu is fish fillets in a sea of green vegetables, green chilies, green Sichuan pepper and green Sichuan pepper oil. In Sichuan, it would most likely be made with a kind of fresh green Sichuan pepper that is still on the vine, or teng jiao, and called teng jiao yu. But here in the U.S., restaurants use green Sichuan pepper for a very similar taste, possibly combined with teng jiao oil, which is available in the U.S. (and in The Mala Market!).

If you’ve met and liked red Sichuan pepper, then you have to meet its green cousin, which is a different species and has an altogether different aroma and flavor. It’s more floral and fresh tasting, more spring and summer, than red Sichuan pepper’s earthy and musky, fall and winter taste. (Both have a citrus zing and are members of the citrus family, rutaceae, not the peppercorn family.)

You probably won’t find a recipe for green Sichuan pepper fish—or any other dish using qing hua jiao—in English-language Chinese or Sichuan cookbooks. Green Sichuan pepper has been popular in Sichuan only for the past decade or two—and available in the U.S. for only a couple years—so hasn’t made it into the cookbook canon. But a reader of The Mala Project, Alex Kaufman, found a recipe for it on a Chinese website, translated it and sent it to me for testing. (Both this recipe and another one coming up in the near future come from reader suggestions and recipes. My readers are so on it!)

I found another recipe online as well and Fong Chong translated that one. So this recipe is a combination of both of those and my own tweaks.

Green Sichuan Pepper Fish ingredients

Green Sichuan pepper complements green vegetables

The vegetables used in this dish may include celery (I used the thinner-stalked Chinese celery and its abundant leaves), big, hearty soybean sprouts (vs. the more delicate and common mung bean sprouts) and batons of cucumber, which also lighten the dish. In Sichuan, the fish would be freshwater and probably carp. Here you can use tilapia, red snapper or cod fillets, or any other white-flesh fish you like.

I had hoped to start the dish with a fish stock, but that proved difficult to purchase and even more difficult to make, since I did not have 3 pounds of fish bones sitting around. So I started with chicken stock. By the time all the other ingredients were added, it had more than enough taste and depth.

One other important note. In a restaurant this dish would have green Sichuan pepper oil floating on the surface of the soup. But in the end, I did not add it to ours. Because our green Sichuan pepper at The Mala Market is so strong, it flavored the broth wonderfully on its own, and we did not need the oil for the flavor. Also, without the oil we were able to keep the leftover broth and use it as the broth for noodle soup the following day. So use green Sichuan pepper oil to be more authentic or if you need more flavor. Omit it to get a two-for-one dish out of this recipe.

Having said that, this dish is meant to be quite mala—numbing and spicy. (As always, you are not meant to eat the Sichuan peppercorns, but they are easy to spot and avoid in this light-colored dish.) Green Sichuan Pepper Fish’s charm is being heavily flavored without being heavy.

Green Sichuan Pepper Fish

Add the vegetables in order of needed cooking time, starting with celery and cucumber

Green Sichuan Pepper Fish

Add a generous amount of whole green Sichuan peppercorns

Green Sichuan Pepper Fish

Add the fish fillets and scallions at the very end and cook briefly; garnish with green and red chilies as per top photo

Green Sichuan Pepper Fish (Qing Hua Jiao Yu)
  • ¾ to 1 pound white-fleshed fish fillets such as tilapia, red snapper or cod
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 to 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced ginger
  • 1 quart chicken or fish broth
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine (or golden sherry)
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese light soy sauce
  • 4 stalks Chinese celery with leaves (or 3 stalks Western celery), cut into batons about 3 inches long and ½ inch wide
  • 1 seedless cucumber, cut in similar size to celery
  • 1 cup soybean sprouts
  • 2 tablespoons green Sichuan peppercorn
  • 4 scallions, cut in 2-inch lengths
  • Additional salt if needed
  • 2 tablespoons green Sichuan pepper oil (optional)
  • 2 to 4 thinly sliced green jalapeno or serrano chilies, according to their heat level and your desired spiciness
  • 1 thinly sliced cayenne or other red pepper for contrasting garnish
  • cilantro for garnish (optional)
  1. Slice the fish fillets into large bite-size pieces. Mix with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and enough cornstarch to lightly coat them.
  2. Heat a wok over high heat until hot and add 2 tablespoon canola or peanut oil. When oil is hot, add ginger and garlic and lower heat to medium. Stir-fry briefly but do not brown.
  3. Add the chicken (or fish) broth, Shaoxing wine and soy sauce and bring to a boil. Add the celery and cucumber pieces and cook at a low boil until partially cooked. Add the soybean sprouts and cook a minute longer.
  4. Add the green Sichuan pepper and continue to cook briefly at a low simmer, stirring and combining ingredients well. Add in the fish slices and scallions. Cook just until fish is done, being careful not to overcook it. Taste broth and add more salt if needed.
  5. Pour fish soup into a large serving bowl. If using green Sichuan pepper oil for more flavor, spoon it over the top of the soup. Garnish with green and red chili slices and cilantro if using. Serve hot with rice.
Leftover broth makes a fabulous noodle soup broth. Just strain the soup and refrigerate the broth for later use.

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12 Responses

  1. Bill Youhass says:


  2. Sarah Ting-Ting Hou says:

    Wow! Thanks so much for sharing!! I can’t wait to try this at home, looks super yummy and authentic!

  3. Tom T. says:

    I’ve had good luck with catfish. Your version is nice and streamlined. Any recommendations for using a whole fish?

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Hmmm. Good question. You usually see these soupy fish dishes with fillets so you can ‘fish’ the pieces out. But it might be interesting to steam or pan-fry a whole fish and make a reduction of this sauce to go over it.

      And, yes, catfish would be great too. More like carp.

  4. Xianhang Zhang says:

    If you buy whole fish, it’s quite easy to take the remaining head and bones and make a quick fish stock by simmering them with some garlic, ginger and spring onions for only 15 minutes. Depending on how much you like non-edible garnishes floating in your soup (it’s one of the few Chinese vs Western adaptations where I prefer the Western way), you can also add the green peppercorns and chillies at this stage and then strain them out of the final dish so you’re not picking around anything.

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Hi Xianhang,
      That’s a great idea about using the fish’s own head and bones, and I’m glad to know it’s enough to make a tasty stock. Definitely doing that next time! However, I can’t go for straining out the garnishes. They’re there for the eyes too! Thanks, as always, for your thoughts.

  5. Pamela says:

    The Japanese use the soft under ripe green Sichuan peppers in their cooking, called Sansho, usually not dried, but soft and raw. Often they are combined with soft half dried tiny tiny fish and a bit of soy sauce. This is condiment to be eaten with rice. It is called chirimen sansho. The Japanese use the red Sichuan peppers in Chinese cooking.

    These green soft immature Sichuan peppers are often dried and used as a powdered condiment on fish dishes. That is called kona zansho. For example, the fragrant green powder is sprinkled on unagi, grilled eel. Also on grilled river fish.

    I didn’t know that the green Sichuan peppers were used in China. The flavor is a bit different from the mature red Sichuan peppers and goes very well with fish!! Great recipe!

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Interesting. The fresh green ones are popular now in Chengdu as well. I bet the powder is delicious on unagi. Hope to try all those Japanese versions some day!

  6. Terrence M. Gross says:

    Excellent photos! Looks yummy!