Good Luck Spicy Snapper - Gong Hay Fat Choy

It’s the Lunar New Year for one third of the world. Who are we not to join in a celebration?  

A whole fish is an important part of this New Year meal. In Chinese the word yu for fish, sounds like the word yu for prosperity. A whole fish on your table signifies, “May our year be prosperous from the head to tail”. So be it!

Ever since growing up in New York I always loved Chinese food. As a kid, I ate americanized Cantonese food until the craze for spicy Hunan, Szechuan and Mongolian styles came to the US. Going to Chinatown so often piqued my interest for Asian culture. Like many New Yorkers, assimilating and adopting different cultures is second nature. I mean, where else can you get a great bagel with smoked fish at a 100 year old appetizing store on a Sunday morning, eat it sitting outside on a chilly bench amongst the chess players in a city park and then head a few blocks downtown to follow the Chinese New Year’s Parade, with firecrackers, dragons, drums, crowds, golden paper money… and then get some dumplings, whole crispy fish and moon cakes for dinner afterwards. 

When we moved to Sacramento, Marie discovered what it was like to have 135 ethnic communities living side by side. One of them was an old venerable Chinese community that had been there since the Gold Rush or Gold Mountain. We explored some of the best Cantonese cuisine we ever had, including fantastic Dim Sum lunches in sprawling restaurants packed with 3 or 4 generations of Chinese families on Sunday, like King Palace in South Sac. We were often the only non-asians in the whole place. One time we were invited to share a table. Because we were adventurous and tried evrything, from steamed chicken feet, blood pudding and congee (rice porridge), they paid for our lunch to thank us for being so interested in their culture. 

I guess I’ve always taken that cultural mish-mash with me. When I got to Paris, I fell in love with South East Asian food. France has its dragons and parades, too. The Vietnamese join in for the Lunar New Year Têt.  So - Chuc Mung Nam Moi! 

At the market in Rennes, we are starting to see Asian produce. Like many French cities we have a large Southeast Asian community. Plus, we have over 1000 Chinese students at the Rennes University every year. Every Saturday, it’s great to see foreign students discover the market, the Chinese seem to have the most fun, especially at the fish market.  

GOOD LUCK SPICY SNAPPER.

I couldn’t decide if I wanted a spicy Szechuan style, a gingery Hong Kong style or a fragrant Vietnamese style with lemongrass…  So, I decided to go with the eclectic flow and make it spicy, yet subtle and fragrant. Wow, was it good! 

Ingredients for 4 people

For the fish

  • 1 - 2 pound snapper, sea bass or carp. Very well cleaned and scaled
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1/3 cup Canola oil

For  the Sauce

  • Neutral oil such as canola
  • 2 Tbsp of Chili oil
  • 4 chili peppers (whole)
  • 10 Szechuan peppercorns
  • 1 medium cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 4 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • 1 inch of fresh ginger finely chopped
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon lemongrass,  finely minced 
  • 2 oz. soy sauce
  • 2 oz. Chinese black vinegar ( balsamic does fine!)
  • 2 oz.Chinese rice wine (in a pinch white wine does fine)
  • 1 cup of fish stock (chicken stock works also)
  • 1 tsp of chili paste or sriracha sauce
  • 1 Tbsp of sugar
  • 1 tsp of cornstarch mixed with water

 

INSTRUCTIONS

CRISPY FISH

  1.   Preheat oven to medium heat around 140 C or 275 F
  2.  Mix flour, salt and pepper in a large plate
  3. Cut 3 or 4 diagonal slits on each side of your fish – don’t cut off fins and tail, that’s bad luck!
  4. Lightly dredge the fish in flour mixture
  5. Pour about enough oil in your wok or large pan to cover about a ¼ inch and coat the sides too
  6. Get wok nice and hot
  7. Fry the fish on each side for 3 minutes – skin should be golden brown and crispy 
  8. Place on a platter and continue cooking in the oven the time it takes to make the sauce - about 10 minutes

SAUCE

  1. Rinse the wok
  2.  Coat with neutral oil, add chili oil, heat until hot
  3. Add whole chilis, Szechuan peppercorns, cinnamon and anise ; cook until very fragrant and the oil is infused – about 2-3 minutes . Remove aromatics and set aside
  4. Add garlic, ginger, scallions and lemongrass sauté and mix together 30 seconds
  5. Add fish stock, soy, vinegar, wine, chili paste
  6. Bring to a boil and reduce for 5 minutes
  7. Add cornstarch mixture and thicken to a sauce consistency (goes fast) 
  8. Stir the aromatics back in 
  9. Serve hot on a nice platter, pour the sauce over the fish, garnish with lots of julienned scallions, ginger and chopped cilantro.

We served ours on an antique platter from Marie’s family with a gold and red pattern. Perfect for good luck!

WINE PAIRING: 2013 Pinot Gris from Domaine Gsell in Alsace

We choose a 2013 Pinot Gris from Domaine Gsell in Alsace. Pinot Gris is perfect for spicy and fragrant Asian dishes. If you can’t find an Alsatian wine, German Rieslings and American Pinot Gris from Oregon are great, too. I just love the suptleties of good Alsatian wines.

This wine shows what a simple Pinot Gris can be. Deep golden in color (gold is always good for the New Year). Like many Gsell wines this one has a honeysuckle and acacia boquet.. The mouth feel is unctuous and rich, with a nice, but not overpowering sweetness. The little notes of candied ginger and honey go really well with this dish. The Gsells make their entry level wines on the rustic side with a mineral and acid bite that makes then wonderful to pair with food. This accompanies the pungent spices of asian food really well and it puts out the fire, too.