Crispy West Lake Fish (Xihu Cuyu)
This standard Chinese restaurant offering captures the concept of yin and yang: a delicious pairing of mild-tasting tasting freshwater fish with a spicy sweet-sour sauce. We set out to translate the recipe for the home kitchen.
Why This Recipe Works
For a fish recipe inspired by the Chinese restaurant offering of mild-tasting freshwater fish with a spicy sweet and sour sauce, we traded whole fish for more practical fillets, and coated them in cornstarch before pan-frying, which resulted in a delicately crisp crust and an appealing golden color. For the sauce for our crispy fish recipe, we used granulated sugar as a sweetener, but we followed the lead of a recipe that first caramelized the sugar along with fresh chile, garlic, and ginger—this step added noticeable depth to the sauce. To the sugar mixture we added red wine vinegar for tartness (recipes typically call for Chinese black vinegar, which can be difficult to find; red wine vinegar makes a suitable substitute), soy sauce for a savory quality, Chinese rice cooking wine for a subtle fermented flavor, and water to bring the intensity of the sauce into check.