When you go to a Chinese household or restaurant for CNY dinner, you will for sure see a whole fish dish on the table. Why? Well, there is a saying “年年有余(魚) - nian nian yo yu” which means “may you have surplus every year”. The pronunciation for “fish” in the Chinese language resembles the word “surplus”, and since whole fish symbolizes luck, wealth and abundance, it is very important to have “leftovers” from the dish, typically the head and the tail. It is also a tradition to not flip the fish over while eating which stemmed from back in the days when fishing was the major source of work and income for most families and flipping the fish would be equivalent to flipping the boat which is bad luck and a big NO NO! Need not worry though, it is quite easy to just lift the whole bone or spine off of the meat when the fish is fully cooked.
The common way of cooking the whole fish is steamed with garlic, ginger, green onions and soy sauce, but I am going to make it fun and different by frying a whole fresh rainbow trout from this local trout farm located in Langley, B.C. The color and the scale pattern of rainbow trout remind me of a tiger, and 2022 is the year of the Tiger! The fish is super crispy and juicy with a sweet and sour sauce that is simple, irresistible and versatile! I mean who doesn’t like sweet and sour sauce! Let’s cook!
Crispy whole Fresh BC Rainbow Trout with Sweet and Sour Sauce (Serves 2-3)
Recipe by: Deseree Lo, Executive Chef
1-1.5 lbs whole fresh rainbow trout available now in-store at Burnaby and Kitsilano FISH Market. This can also be substituted with frozen fillets - shop online here.
For seasoning and preparing the fish:
Salt to season
1 tsp ground white Pepper
½ cup cornstarch for coating
4 cups Canola Oil for frying
For the stir-fry:
1 cup fresh pineapple, small diced
½ cup Onions, small diced
1 tbsp chopped fresh garlic
1 tsp chopped fresh ginger
1 cup Red Bell Peppers, seeded and small diced
1 cup Green Bell Peppers, seeded and small diced
For the sauce:
½ cup Brown Sugar
2 tbsps Ketchup
1 tbsp Soy sauce
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup Apple Cider Vinegar
½ cup Pineapple Juice, fresh or canned
¼ tsp salt
1 tbsp Cornstarch
½ cup Water (more if needed to adjust consistency)
Sliced green onions
In a large wok or a deep frying pan (preferably big enough for the fish), add the oil and turn the heat to medium to high until the oil temperature reaches 375 ͒ F. While waiting for the oil to come up to temperature, we can prepare the fish for frying.
Remove the scales from the fish, if needed, and rinse under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels and set it on a cutting board. With a sharp knife, make 5 evenly spaced (about ½ inch deep or just half way between the skin and the bones) bias cuts into both sides of the fish. This is also known as scoring the skin.
Season the fish with salt and pepper, generously rub onto the skin, into the cuts and inside the belly. Over a half sheet tray or a large plate, coat the entire fish with the cornstarch and gently dust off the excess. When the oil reaches the desired temperature, carefully slide the fish away from you into the wok or pan. Use a pair of tongs and a long spoon or fish spatula to assist you. Please be careful. Turn the heat down to medium so the fish won’t turn too dark before getting crispy.
When the fish is submerged in oil, don’t move it so you are not removing the cornstarch off of the skin which is what makes it crispy. Use the spoon to ladle the oil over the fish head or tail if the pot is not big enough. When the bottom part of the fish is getting some nice golden brown color, carefully flip the fish over using the tongs or any other utensils. Again, ladle the hot oil over the fish to help circulate the hot oil and get the parts that are not in the oil.
To make the sauce, first combine all the ingredients in a bowl, mix well and set aside. In a medium size saute pan with some oil over medium heat, add garlic, ginger, onions and both bell peppers and keep stirring for about . When the onions are translucent, add the pineapple and saute for about 2 minutes. Add the sauce mixture and let the sauce cook for about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to low/medium. The sauce will now thicken. Check the seasoning and adjust with water if the sauce is too thick. Turn the heat off and set the sauce aside.
Check the fish. It should be golden brown and crispy on both sides. If the head and/or tail is not fried enough, you may move the fish to dip the tail or the head into the wok. When the fish is ready, carefully remove from the pan and lay onto a sheet tray or plate with paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Reheat the sauce if necessary.
To finish - place the fish on a large oval plate and spoon the sauce over the fish. I normally don’t pour all the sauce over the fish because I want the skin to remain crunchy so I serve the extra sauce in a bowl on the side. Garnish with cilantro and green onions and you are good to go! Don’t forget the rice.