It is Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year for the PC 😉 ) in 5 days, and there are probably a bunch of posts about ‘traditional Chinese New Year foods’. My family has never really followed any traditions, and I don’t remember a set menu of dishes we ate every year for New Year. The closest thing to traditional is probably my grandma’s ba bao fan (8 treasure sticky rice). You can almost always count on PoPo to make her KILLER ba bao fan for any large food gathering :d Eep, thinking about makes me want to make it, too…
Anyway, I believe that tradition has it that you should make a whole fish (or is it two?) to eat in celebration for Chinese New Year, because it is supposed to symbolize surplus or prosperity (年年有餘) – nian nian you yu, which more or less means ‘may every year have surplus’. Yu for surplus and yu for fish are homophones, so I think that’s where the fish comes from!
I think that you are supposed to cook a whole fish, so if you are looking for that, might I suggest some lovely steamed fish? But, this braised fish dish is one of my absolute favorites, so maybe you should buck tradition and cut your fish up this year =O Hopefully I don’t get my Chinese card taken away for saying that.
This is one of my favorite everyday dishes my mom used to make (I know, I know- they’re all favorites, aren’t they), and I have fond memories of picking out all the soft pieces of garlic and mixing them up rice, fish, and more sauce. My mom made a lot of variations of hong shao when we were growing up, and this hong shao yu is a way to get hong shao on the table relatively fast. This may not be the prettiest dish out there, but it is proof that it’s what’s on the inside that counts!
I realize that southern California is not like most of the rest of the US, and realize it more and more as I am NOT in southern California, where Chinese supermarkets are indeed, SUPER markets. Anyway, if you have the luxury to be near Chinese/Asian SUPERmarkets and they happen to sell bone-in catfish or other firm white fish pieces, get them! I believe they are the remnants leftover after the fishmongers have butchered (?) the fish into filets and such. They are a great candidate for this dish, because the fish needs to be cut up anyway.
Hong Shao Yu
1/4 cup flour
1 1/3 pounds bone-in catfish or other firm white fish, chopped into large pieces
1 Tbsp oil (may need more later)
8 cloves garlic
3 stalks scallions
3-4 thin slices of ginger
3 Tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp brown sugar
1 2/3 cups water
2 pinches white pepper (about 1/8 tsp)
1) Pat the fish dry with a clean towel, then bread the pieces of fish with flour, and shake off the excess.
2) Heat a heavy-bottomed pot (like an Enameled Cast Iron Pot), then add 1 Tbsp of oil in so that there is a good layer of oil on the bottom. Don’t be stingy, else your fish may stick- don’t blame me!
Add fish in batches (don’t crowd them) and pan-fry on both sides to brown the flour. This step will help the fish stay together and not just fall apart when you braise it. Transfer the fish to a plate when they are done pan-frying.
3) If there is no more oil in the pan, add a little more, just enough to coat. Add the aromatics- garlic, scallions, ginger, and stir-fry to release their amazing smells. (This is also called bao xiang (爆香) in Chinese.
4) Once you can smell the aromatics and they are slightly softened/cooked, add the soy sauce, brown sugar, water, and white pepper. For me, 1 2/3 cups water was enough to cover the fish by ~85%. Depending on your cooking vessel, you may need a bit more or less. Just make sure you fish is not left out to dry (literally :O) The amount of water doesn’t have to be exact; you’ll be cooking it down anyway. Gently add the fish back in.
5) Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer (small bubbles breaking the surface slowly) for about 30 minutes, or until the garlic cloves are nice and soft, and the fish is tender. Taste the sauce- it should be mostly soy saucey/salty, but balanced by a barely sweet aftertaste that you may miss if you aren’t paying attention. The sugar is just supposed to balance out the saltyness; we are not making any desserts today．Add more soy sauce or sugar to taste. If the sauce is not thick enough, let it cook with the lid off, to reduce the sauce.
6) Serve with..yes, rice! The sauce is so good, you may need several helpings of rice.