Shanghai, China— Prior to living and traveling China, I’d never cooked a whole fish. My mother always bought whole fish then fried, baked, broiled, or boiled it for our family, but much to her dismay, I’ve been the sort who buys the fillet of salmon or halibut to grill on a pan. I’ve just always found the idea quite overwhelming — I could never get past the idea of scaling and gutting the fish. Thanks to fishmongers in the market, cleaning the fish leaves me no excuse to not try cooking a whole fish.
I took a train to Shanghai where I met Han Fifi’s family for a day of home-style cooking lessons. I’d lived and traveled in Shanghai but had only eaten in restaurants. To visit Han Fifi’s family was a treat for me as I’d never eaten a Shanghainese meal in a Shanghainese-family home.
The flavors her mother cooked are considered ‘light’, characteristic of Shanghai cuisine — little to no use of garlic and a frequent presence of sugar. Han Fifi’s mother taught me a fish recipe that alleviated my silly fear of cooking an entire fish: Braised carp with spring onion (葱烤鲫鱼, cōng kǎo jìyú) uses carp (a fresh water fish), but I use sea fish and it is just as delicious!
- 20 stalks spring onion (小葱, xiǎocōng), cut into 3-inch pieces
- 500 grams carp (鲫鱼, jìyú), cleaned
- 4 tablespoons cooking oil
- 2 pieces ginger (姜, jiāng)
- ¼ teaspoon salt (盐, yán)
- 2 tablespoons rice wine or Shaoxing cooking wine (黄酒, huángjiǔ)
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce (老抽, lǎo chōu)
- ½ teaspoon salt (盐, yán)
- 1 teaspoon white sugar (白糖, báitáng)
- 1 cup water
- Heat 1 tablespoon of cooking oil in a wok. Stir fry spring onions for 2 minutes over high heat then transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in the wok. Add ginger. Carefully slip the fish into the wok and fry both sides until golden. Add cooking wine, dark soy sauce, water, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil then lower flame and simmer for 5 minutes. Return the spring onions to the wok during the last minute of simmering.
Interested in learning more about food in China? WildChina has launched China for Foodies, a food exploration journey throughout Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu, Shanghai and Hangzhou. Join us to learn about the varied cuisines that exist throughout China and return home with recipes to share with friends and family.
Photos and post by Shanti Christenson