The day I spent in the village of Xijiang, the weather was variable-typical of Guizhou province, in other words. Hits of intense sun were followed by dull light and the threat of rain, then once again the cloud cover would part and the day would brighten. After climbing up steep flagstone paths to the top of the village, the largest Miao village in China, and admiring the views of the sloping roofs below, I found a different route down. At the bottom of the hill was a small “main street” with a little family-run restaurant/cafe, a man sitting under a tree with some fresh pork for sale, a post office, and a bank.
I was starving after my morning of climbing and exploring the village, and perhaps that’s what made the food I ordered for lunch taste so great, but I don’t think so. The fish was fresh from the river, the vegetables locally grown. This is the fish I had, fish cooked in an intensely flavored pickled red sauce. I don’t know what species the fish was; we’ve tested the recipe using white bass and white perch, and both worked well, though we preferred the white bass. Use whatever small white-fleshed fish you prefer.
You can prepare the dish in the kitchen, or instead cook it at the table, hot-pot-style, as described below. Serve as part of a rice-based meal, accompanied by a simple mild-tasting vegetable dish or a fresh cucumber salad.–Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
Miao Red-Sauced Fish Recipe
- Quick Glance
- 45 M
- 45 M
- Serves 3 or 4
- For the pickled red chiles
- 1/4 pound red cayenne chiles (about eight 6-inch-long chiles)
- 1 cup rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 star anise, whole or in pieces (optional)
- For the fish
- One 1 1/2 pound freshwater fish, such as white bass, white perch, or tilapia, cleaned and scaled
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
- 1 generous tablespoon sliced garlic
- 1 tablespoon thinly sliced Pickled Red Chiles (above) or store-bought pickled chiles, or 1/2 red cayenne chile, seeded and sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon ground dry-roasted Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon chile bean paste
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup diced fresh or canned tomato
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1/4 cup minced Chinese celery leaves, for garnish (optional)
- Make the pickled red sauce
- 1. Wash the red chiles, and cut off the stems. Cut into approximately 1/2-inch slices. Measure out 1 cup and set aside.
- 2. Heat the vinegar in a nonreactive pan. Add the salt and stir until it dissolves. Add the peppercorns and star anise, if using. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30 seconds or so. Remove from the heat and let cool to lukewarm.
- 3. Meanwhile, sterilize a 1-cup canning jar, lid, and ring. Stuff the sliced red chiles into the jar, pressing down to compact them a little. Transfer the vinegar and spices to a cup with a spout and then slowly pour the liquid and spices into the jar, filling it right to the top. (You may have several tablespoons of vinegar left.) Put on the lid and then screw the ring on tightly.
- 4. Set the jar in a sunny spot for 2 days, then refrigerate. The pickled red chiles will be ready in 2 weeks and will keep well for 3 months.
- Make the fish
- 5. Wash the fish and then cut it crosswise in half or into wide steaks. Set aside.
- 6. Heat the oil in a wide heavy saucepan (8 to 10 inches in diameter) over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the garlic and stir-fry for a moment. Toss in the sliced chiles and cook over medium heat until the garlic has softened, about 1 minute. Add the Sichuan pepper, the chile bean paste, and the water, stirring to dissolve the flavorings in the water, and bring to a boil. Add the tomato and boil gently until it is well softened and falling apart, about 3 minutes. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the salt, then taste and adjust if you wish. (The broth can be prepared ahead and set aside until you are ready to cook the fish. Bring back to a boil before proceeding.)
- 7. To cook the fish at the table, family-style, place a portable stove (an electric hot plate or a small propane stove) on the table and set the pot of broth on it. When everyone is seated and the broth has come back to a boil, slide the fish into the broth, being careful not to splash. To cook the fish on the stovetop, slide it into the broth. In either case, once the broth comes back to a boil, cook the fish for about 3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon or chopsticks to turn the pieces over and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes; the flesh should be firm to the touch. Use a slotted spoon to lift the fish out of the broth. Transfer to a wide serving bowl.
- 8. Invite guests to help themselves by pulling pieces of fish off the bone with their chopsticks and then spooning the pickled red sauce over their fish or their rice as they eat.
Miao Red-Sauced Fish Recipe © 2008 Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. Photo © 2008 Richard Jung. All rights reserved.