Most probably you would not have heard about Huaiyang Cuisine but you might have already seen this Squirrel Fish dish, if yes then that is Huaiyang Cuisine’s most famous dish, a deep fried fish dish usually prepared with either yellow croaker, carp or any other fleshy fish that has a very unique appearance (not my version though, but will perfect this soon) and vibrant colour.
Preparation is very unique, where the fish partly deboned, flipped inside out, scored using a cross-hatch technique, battered, and deep fried. The cooking process will then curl up the meat which will look like a squirrel mid-jaunt. It is then doused on a vibrant red sauce which makes the dish a great choice to add on dinner tables around Chinese Lunar New Year.
There are many theories on how this dish originated, one was that it was once served to Emperor Qianlong when the emperor once saw this energetic carp on his tour around Jiangsu, he ordered it to be cooked at once. The chef then fulfilled the emperors command by ingeniously cooking it in a squirrel-like shape in order to reflect the liveliness at the same time impress the emperor. Others suggest that the name came from the squeaky sound it makes when it is deep fried in hot oil. Some even suggest since it is served with pine nuts where it is usually associated with squirrels hence the name.
I have seen and tried this dish several times before but haven’t tried making it yet until now so pardon me if it does not turn out pretty but trust me the taste is amazing, it’s one of those Instagram vs Reality moment. It is just a type of sweet and sour but instead of cubed fish, it is intricately prepared using the process I mentioned above.
- 1 large yellow croaker, carp or mandarin fish
- 2 egg yolks
- 4 tbsp cornstarch
- white pepper
- cooking oil, enough for deep frying
- 1 thumb sized ginger, sliced
- 1 red bell pepper (capsicum), cubed
- 2 carrots, cubed
- 1 cup corn kernels
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 tbsp cornstarch, mixed in 3 tbsp water
- ¼ cup white vinegar
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ cup tomato ketchup
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 large red onion, sliced
- 5 cloves, garlic minced
- freshly ground black pepper
- Clean the fish and cut off the head, set head aside. Run the knife in the middle section between the bone and flesh on both sides leaving a small amount of flesh hanging on to the tail, carefully remove and cut the bone up until the tail section, flesh from both sides should be still connected to the tail.
- Reverse the fish inside out so the skin is inside. Score at an angle away from the tail with 1 cm spaces in between to create a diamond-shaped pattern, do not cut through.
- Season fish with salt, white pepper and egg yolks. Set it aside to marinate for 30 minutes.
- Hold fish from its tail upright opening the crevices of the scores then coat it with cornstarch.
- Add oil to wok, heat to 180C. Hold fish from its tail upright over the wok, scoop some hot oil and gently pour it on the sides of the fish making sure it runs through the crevices. Do this multiple times until fish holds its shape, now submerge fish in hot oil then deep fry until golden brown and crispy. Deep fry fish heat as well.
- Arrange fish in a serving platter, reconstructing it with the head on one side.
- On a separate wok, add oil and sauté garlic and ginger.
- Add capsicum, carrots, corn and onions then continue to stir fry for a minute.
- Add chicken stock, vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, tomato ketchup and diluted cornstarch. Bring it to a boil then simmer for 2 minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Pour sauce in top of the fish then serve.