Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Haddock, Sichuan Style

When I spoke to Ann early yesterday morning, she wanted something for dinner last night but just couldn't put her finger on it. So she went back to this blog and looked at what we were doing at this time last year. When she came across the Sichuan-style catfish from February of last year, she knew what she was in the mood for.

At the market, I couldn't find a catfish, but I did find some reasonable looking haddock filets. Haddock is mild and white and pretty forgettable: it would be a fine foil for the super tasty Sichuan sauce I was about to put on it. I wouldn't dare put this complex and spicy sauce on a really good piece of fish.

Mise en Place
Each time I make this dish, I do it differently, based on how I am feeling and what I have available. Isn't that how most people cook? Once you learn the theme of a recipe, each time you make a dish after that it is all about subtle variation. Where I would typically use dried black and tree-ear mushrooms, this time I had fresh shiitake on hand. And I happened to want five spice-flavored and pressed tofu instead of plain tofu. The recipe theme is the same, but the slight variations make the particular instance of the dish.

The ingredients clockwise from the little red bowl of ground Sichuan peppercorns: five spice-flavored pressed tofu, bamboo shoots in chile oil, dobanjang (more about which in a minute), garlic, cilantro, green onions, shiitake, zha cai mustard stems, doenjang bean paste, and ginger.

The market I shop at is run by Koreans and so their selection of Korean foods is really good; their Chinese less so. But fortunately, there are a lot of ingredients in common. Take the dobanjang for example, the bright red fermented fava bean and chile paste in the small jar to the extreme left of the photo. It is also known in China as doubanjiang and is the heart and soul of Sichuan sauces. The same sauce made with soybeans instead of favas is known as gochujang and it is very different to tell the two apart. I mention this because the tiny jar of dobanjang you see above cost an exhorbitant $8. You can make your own gochujang facsimile by mixing chile paste with doenjang, the bean paste that you see on the right of the photo, for next to nothing. Although the flavor isn't quite the same, with all the chile spice going on, it is very difficult to tell them apart in a finished dish.

Haddock, Sichuan Style

To pull this dish off, I first rubbed one side of the fish in a touch of sesame oil and then sprinkled the filets with finely minced garlic, finely minced cilantro stems, freshly ground Sichuan peppercorns, and a little corn starch. After they were browned on the corn starch side, I flipped them and removed them to the casserole dish. Then I built the sauce by cooking the mushrooms, tofu, ginger, garlic, bamboo shoots, and mustard stems over high heat. To this I added a bit of dobanjang and a lot of doenjang bean paste along with enough water to just make a sauce. After this cooked for a minute, I poured it over the fish and put the whole thing in the oven for about 4 minutes, until the fish just cooked through. Just before serving it got a topping of green onions and cilantro leaves.

Just delicious served with plain rice!

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