Fish is a must at Chinese New Year tables since the Chinese word for fish (yu) is a homophone for wealth or prosperity. So serving a whole fish symbolizes a wish for both. Given that it’s the year of the rooster, here’s my sure-fire way to wake up the table: poach a whole fish (yes, a whole fish means with both the head and tail on) in hot, spicy oil. Because the Lunar New Year festivities are suffused with symbolism, what you bring to the table adds to the lore. Your fish must be served whole as a symbol for ushering in a whole year of goodness. This home-style version uses significantly less oil and is more akin to a poached fish stew. It produces an intensely aromatic and flavored broth but also cooks very quickly.
NOTE: If you must, you can use bone-in fish fillets as a substitute for the whole fish, but be forewarned that you’ll be testing your luck with the kitchen gods!
- In a large bowl, combine fish slices with rice wine, cornstarch, and salt. Set aside and let marinate for at least 15 minutes.
- In a wok, add two tablespoons of oil and stir-fry the cassia bark, garlic, ginger, and white part of the green onions until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add half of the Sichuanese peppercorns and half of the dried chile peppers and stir-fry for another minute. Add the broad-bean paste, and continue to stir-fry for another minute.
- Add the celery, napa cabbage, and shiitake mushrooms to the wok.
- Add about 2 cups of water, or enough to cook, and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
- Add the fish fillets and cook quickly (about 2 minutes) until the fish is just cooked through.
- Meanwhile, in separate pan, heat up remaining two tablespoons of cooking oil and stir-fry the remaining Sichuanese peppercorn and chili peppers (the amount of spice can be adjusted up or down).
- Transfer the casserole to a serving dish.
- Before serving, pour the hot oil onto the fish casserole and garnish with green parts of the chopped onions.
- Served with hot, steamed rice.
Recipe by Danielle Chang