Cooking With Pixian Doubanjiang: Wok-Fried Fish in Chili Bean Sauce
Fish, A Wok-Fried Wonder
A few years ago I posted a similar recipe to this wok-fried snapper for fish in chili bean sauce (doubanyu), but with the rather odd point of view of someone who struggled to make it, made a lot of mistakes, and put it on view anyway as proof that it ended up tasting good despite the mishaps. I have now made this popular Sichuan dish enough times that I don’t make all those errors. But instead of updating and replacing that post, I’ve decided to leave it. It shows progress! If you stick with wok cooking and fish cooking—two forms of cooking that often instill fear and apprehension—they actually get easy. Plus, I’ve changed the sauce a fair amount to suit our taste, dialing up the sweet-and-sour component to complement the spicy chili bean paste. Perhaps it will suit yours too!
The new wok-fried fish also reflects the maturation of my Sichuan pantry. I now have more of the perfect ingredients for this dish, because I’ve imported them myself for The Mala Market. So now that we are well on our way to importing most products used in everyday Sichuan cooking, I will be incorporating them more and more into our recipes. However, I realize that not everyone wants to build up a serious Sichuan pantry, so I will also make substitution recommendations in the Notes section of the recipes. Superior ingredients make for a superior dish, but Sichuan recipes are good regardless (see previous recipe)!
Two new products, in particular really dial this dish in. The jar pictured above with the red and yellow label is hongyou douban, or red-oil douban, which is Pixian chili bean paste with added chili oil. This may be the most popular version of douban in Sichuan, the daily go-to, both because it is less expensive than pure douban and also because it is redder, giving the food a pleasant red color. We are importing this product now, since it is the norm for stir-fries in Chengdu. Cooks often mix red-oil douban (for color) with regular douban (for taste), as I have here, adding a touch of 3-year doubanjiang to add some depth and funk. The two make a great combination for many dishes, but you can also just choose one for this dish.
On the far right in the photo is our new roasted rapeseed oil made in Sichuan (
coming very soon now available to The Mala Market!). If you have ever been in a kitchen or around someone making a stir-fry in Sichuan, then you will recognize this extremely fragrant, nutty smell. Sichuan rapeseed oil (made from the same plant as canola but in a non-GMO version) retains the color and fragrance that is normally removed from a highly refined oil in pursuit of a neutral taste. But we don’t want a neutral taste! The taste of Sichuan rapeseed oil is an integral part of the taste of many Sichuan dishes.
The main change I’ve made to the process for wok-fried fish is to make two small fish instead of one large one. While it seems like this would be harder, it’s actually easier to fit a smaller fish in the wok and then to flip it over, even if you have to do it two times. I also want to convince you that fish never sticks in a well-seasoned wok. Never. It’s rather amazing! So don’t be afraid to fry this fish and bathe it in this glorious chili bean sauce. Even if you make some mistakes the first time, you will master it on the second.
For my previous wok-fried fish recipe, see Doubanyu: Fish in Pixian Doubanjiang (Chili Bean Sauce), 豆瓣鱼. For a different take on stovetop Chongqing fish, try Kathy’s Stovetop Chongqing Kaoyu (烤鱼): Wanzhou Grilled Fish!
Cooking With Pixian Doubanjiang: Wok-Fried Snapper in Chili Bean Sauce
- 2 whole red snapper, about ¾ pound each, cleaned and descaled (or one large fish of your choosing)
- 4 tablespoons caiziyou (Sichuan rapeseed oil)*
- 3 tablespoons Chinese light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Zhenjiang (Chinkiang) vinegar
- 1 tablespoon hong you doubanjiang (red-oil chili bean paste)*
- 1 teaspoon 3-year Pixian doubanjiang (chili bean paste)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- 1 tablespoon garlic, finely minced
- 1 tablespoon ginger, finely minced
- 6 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
- Thoroughly rinse and dry the fish. Heat a well-seasoned wok over a high flame until very hot, add oil and swirl around the wok to cover sides. Turn heat down to medium, and holding the fish by the tail, carefully slide it into the pan head first. Add the second fish alongside it. Let the fish cook undisturbed. After about 3 minutes you should be able to move the fish easily by shaking the pan and be able to gently left the fish with a spatula and check the color. Continue cooking until the skin is nicely golden brown.
- While fish cooks, add soy sauce, vinegar, both kinds of chili bean paste, sugar and Shaoxing wine to a measuring cup. Add enough water to make ¾ cup sauce.
- To flip the fish over, gently slide the spatula under the center of one fish and flip it over toward the outside of the wok. Do the same for the second fish, flipping it over toward the edge of the wok on the other side. If the fish is too heavy or unwieldy, you can use two spatulas to do this. Cook on second side for about 4 minutes, or until crispy gold. Move the fish to the sides slightly with the spatula to leave a well of oil in the middle of the wok. Add the garlic and ginger and cook briefly.
- Poor the sauce directly over the fish, making sure to wet all of it, and carefully distribute the sauce around both fish. Sprinkle the green onions over and around the fish, cover the wok with a lid, and gently braise the fish, checking every couple minutes to check doneness. Check with a fork to make sure the fish is cooked through and easily flakes, then remove them to a serving plate. Pour sauce over fish and garnish with more scallion greens if desired.