I’ve been enjoying cooking “fish fragrant” recipes since I started this blog and I have discovered several different ways of creating the salty, spicy, sweet, sour yu xiang flavour which the people of Sichuan love to use in their land-locked region to recall the flavours they associate with fish. The description often causes confusion among westerners as there is no fish or fish sauce used in these recipes.
The first time I made fish fragrant pork I used a recipe given to me by Chef Ricky when I went inside the kitchen of China Sichuan in Dublin and you can read it here. That version used chilli garlic sauce and owner Kevin Hui told me that in the early years they described it as Pork in Spicy Garlic Sauce on the menu to avoid putting off diners!
More recently I’ve cooked fish fragrant pork using fish fragrance marinaded peppers, as prepared by the chefs of China Sichuan at the Taste of China cookery demonstration. Before I left for China I promised to post the recipe for using this marinade and it is now below.
I know some of you have had these marinaded peppers in your fridge for at least 3 weeks now so it should be nicely flavourful. I used my now 9 week old marinade tonight, this time with chicken, and it was delicious.
When I visited Beijing recently, I learned how to make a classic fish fragrant sauce based on pickled chillies chopped to a puree with a cleaver blade. The recipe for fish fragrant aubergine below is the one taught to me by Chefs Chun Yi and Chao at Hutong Cuisine in Beijing and is the way Chun Yi learnt to make it when she trained as a chef in Chengdu in Sichuan Province.
Hutong Cuisine fish fragrant aubergine – yu xiang qie zi
- 500g aubergine cut into small fingers
- 2 tbs minced pork marinated with 2 tsp of rice wine
- Cooking oil
- 3 – 4 pieces of pickled chilli, finely minced
- 1 tbs minced ginger
- 6 cloves of garlic minced, about 2 tbs
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 tbs sugar
- 1 tbs soy sauce
- 2 tsp black vinegar
- 50 ml water
- 3 spring onions minced, about 3 tbs
- ½ tsp sesame oil
- Heat the wok over high heat, season with 1 tbs cooking oil. Reduce the heat to medium, add the aubergine and stir-frry until soft. This will take anywhere between 5 and 10 minutes. Remove the aubergine from the wok.
- Season the wok with 2 tbs oil and, over a low heat, add the pork and stir-fry until it separates and changes colour.
- Add the chilli, ginger and garlic and stir-fry for a few moments to release the aromas. Add back the aubergine then stir in the salt, sugar, soy sauce and vinegar and mix well.
- Pile the food in the middle of the wok, add 50 ml of water around it, cover and cook for a few minutes until all the water has done.
- Turn off the heat, add the spring onions and sesame oil. Mix and serve.
China Sichuan fish fragrant pork shreds – yu xiang rou
Fish fragrant marinaded peppers
- 500 g red peppers
- 500 g sweet red pepper
- 60 g salt
- 25 g ginger
- 25 g garlic
- 1 shot of vodka (30 to 35 ml)
Prepare and deseed peppers. Dice the peppers, chop the ginger and garlic. Place in a clean bowl and add the salt and vodka. Wrap with cling film and leave to stand in the fridge for at least 3 weeks. Blend roughly with a hand blender at the end of the 3 weeks. The marinade will keep well in the fridge.
Fish fragrant – yu xiang – sauce
- 250 ml water
- 100 ml black vinegar
- 80 g sugar
- 2.5 g salt
- 10 ml chicken stock
Mix all of the ingredients for the yu xiang sauce and bring to the boil.
- 200 g pork fillet, trimmed
- 1 egg beaten
- a good pinch of salt
- 1 tbs potato flour
- 1 tbs water
- Cooking oil
- 1 to 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- The equivalent amount of ginger finely chopped
- 100 g fish fragrant marinade
- 200 g fish fragrant sauce
- 1 heaped tsp potato flour
- 100 ml water
- 4 to 5 spring onions chopped
- ½ a fresh chilli chopped or a dash of home-made chilli oil (optional)
- Prepare the pork fillet by trimming all the fat. Slice against the grain and then shred in to matchsticks.
- Add in the beaten egg, salt and a little potato flour. Mix with your hand or long chop sticks and set aside.
- Mix the potato flour and water and leave to one side.
- Heat the wok until hot. Add sufficient oil to coat the wok and stir-fry the pork until it is cooked, then drain and leave aside.
- Using the same wok, add a little more oil and heat up to a medium heat.
- Stir fry garlic, ginger and fish fragrant marinade until the aromas are released.
- Return the pork to the wok and fry for 30 seconds, mixing well .
- Add the fish fragrant sauce.
- Bring to the boil and add potato flour and water mixture to thicken and produce a nice glossy consistency (add a little more potato flour and water mix if the consistencey is not thick enough)
- Add chopped spring onion to garnish and sliced chilli if desired or add a good dash of home made chilli oil if you prefer a spicier taste.
- Served with steamed rice.
Note: This recipe works equally well with chicken shreds.
I enjoy playing around with the ingredients and methods used in these recipes and I see lots of scope for experimentation. For instance Sichuan chilli bean paste – toban djan – can also be used to create the spicy kick. If you come up with any new variations, let me know.
As I write tonight Im thinking of the many families in Sichuan Province affected by the recent devastating earthquake which left at least 200 people dead, over 12,000 injured and tens of thousands homeless and living in makeshift tents or on the streets as the efficient Chinese authorities rushed support to their aid. What those lovely people would give for a simple dish of yu xiang qie zi or yu xiang rou tonight and for some certainty about their future.
I also cant get out of my head a little story from the Irish Times by Michael Harding that Barbara Scully sent to me today – “The hug that’s more valuable than gold”. It reminded me forcefully that “generation emigration” is not just one-way traffic and that, just as we miss our far flung children and grand-children every day, there are mothers and fathers in China longing for their children who are here with us in Ireland. Read it. It’s beautiful.
Anyway this little man is now an Irish citizen. He just seems to be a little bemused at the prospect 🙂