Green Sichuan Pepper Fish (Qing Hua Jiao Yu)
Sichuan Pepper Like You’ve Never Had It~~
What do you do with green Sichuan pepper, some readers and shoppers have asked. Well, there’s lots you can do with this mesmerizing spice, I would say, but you should probably start with this Green Sichuan Pepper Fish to experience the full power and potential of qing hua jiao. If you’ve eaten at Chengdu Taste in L.A.’s San Gabriel Valley you might have ordered this dish (called Boiled Fish in Green Pepper Sauce), as it’s a crowd favorite there. Otherwise, think of it as the green version of the better-known shui zhu yu, or water-boiled fish, which is fish fillets in a sea of red chili bean paste, red chilies and red Sichuan pepper.
Qing hua jiao yu is fish fillets in a sea of green vegetables, green chilies, green Sichuan pepper and green Sichuan pepper oil. In Sichuan, it would most likely be made with a kind of fresh green Sichuan pepper that is still on the vine, or teng jiao, and called teng jiao yu. But here in the U.S., restaurants use green Sichuan pepper for a very similar taste, possibly combined with teng jiao oil, which is available in the U.S. (and in The Mala Market!).
If you’ve met and liked red Sichuan pepper, then you have to meet its green cousin, which is a different species and has an altogether different aroma and flavor. It’s more floral and fresh tasting, more spring and summer, than red Sichuan pepper’s earthy and musky, fall and winter taste. (Both have a citrus zing and are members of the citrus family, rutaceae, not the peppercorn family.)
You probably won’t find a recipe for green Sichuan pepper fish—or any other dish using qing hua jiao—in English-language Chinese or Sichuan cookbooks. Green Sichuan pepper has been popular in Sichuan only for the past decade or two—and available in the U.S. for only a couple years—so hasn’t made it into the cookbook canon. But a reader of The Mala Project, Alex Kaufman, found a recipe for it on a Chinese website, translated it and sent it to me for testing. (Both this recipe and another one coming up in the near future come from reader suggestions and recipes. My readers are so on it!)
I found another recipe online as well and Fong Chong translated that one. So this recipe is a combination of both of those and my own tweaks.
The vegetables used in this dish may include celery (I used the thinner-stalked Chinese celery and its abundant leaves), big, hearty soybean sprouts (vs. the more delicate and common mung bean sprouts) and batons of cucumber, which also lighten the dish. In Sichuan, the fish would be freshwater and probably carp. Here you can use tilapia, red snapper or cod fillets, or any other white-flesh fish you like.
I had hoped to start the dish with a fish stock, but that proved difficult to purchase and even more difficult to make, since I did not have 3 pounds of fish bones sitting around. So I started with chicken stock. By the time all the other ingredients were added, it had more than enough taste and depth.
One other important note. In a restaurant this dish would have green Sichuan pepper oil floating on the surface of the soup. But in the end, I did not add it to ours. Because our green Sichuan pepper at The Mala Market is so strong, it flavored the broth wonderfully on its own, and we did not need the oil for the flavor. Also, without the oil we were able to keep the leftover broth and use it as the broth for noodle soup the following day. So use green Sichuan pepper oil to be more authentic or if you need more flavor. Omit it to get a two-for-one dish out of this recipe.
Having said that, this dish is meant to be quite mala—numbing and spicy. (As always, you are not meant to eat the Sichuan peppercorns, but they are easy to spot and avoid in this light-colored dish.) Green Sichuan Pepper Fish’s charm is being heavily flavored without being heavy.
- ¾ to 1 pound white-fleshed fish fillets such as tilapia, red snapper or cod
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 to 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 to 3 minced garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon thinly sliced ginger
- 1 quart chicken or fish broth
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine (or golden sherry)
- 1 tablespoon Chinese light soy sauce
- 4 stalks Chinese celery with leaves (or 3 stalks Western celery), cut into batons about 3 inches long and ½ inch wide
- 1 seedless cucumber, cut in similar size to celery
- 1 cup soybean sprouts
- 2 tablespoons green Sichuan peppercorn
- 4 scallions, cut in 2-inch lengths
- Additional salt if needed
- 2 tablespoons green Sichuan pepper oil (optional)
- 2 to 4 thinly sliced green jalapeno or serrano chilies, according to their heat level and your desired spiciness
- 1 thinly sliced cayenne or other red pepper for contrasting garnish
- cilantro for garnish (optional)
- Slice the fish fillets into large bite-size pieces. Mix with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and enough cornstarch to lightly coat them.
- Heat a wok over high heat until hot and add 2 tablespoon canola or peanut oil. When oil is hot, add ginger and garlic and lower heat to medium. Stir-fry briefly but do not brown.
- Add the chicken (or fish) broth, Shaoxing wine and soy sauce and bring to a boil. Add the celery and cucumber pieces and cook at a low boil until partially cooked. Add the soybean sprouts and cook a minute longer.
- Add the green Sichuan pepper and continue to cook briefly at a low simmer, stirring and combining ingredients well. Add in the fish slices and scallions. Cook just until fish is done, being careful not to overcook it. Taste broth and add more salt if needed.
- Pour fish soup into a large serving bowl. If using green Sichuan pepper oil for more flavor, spoon it over the top of the soup. Garnish with green and red chili slices and cilantro if using. Serve hot with rice.