Braised Whole Fish (Branzino) (红烧鱼 Hong Shao Yu)
December 5, 2020
Braised Whole Fish (红烧鱼 Hong Shao Yu) is another one of those recipes where almost every Chinese family has their own version. The very first time I had fish, it was Braised Whole Fish. The fish meat tastes both savory and sweet after being braised in a deep-colored sauce. Some families like it more salty, some like it more sweet, and some like it slightly spicy. No matter the variations in taste, the cooking method is generally the same, where the fish is first lightly fried then braised in a flavorful sauce until fully cooked.
Some freshwater fish can have a “muddy” taste which can be quite off-putting for fish lovers. So how do you get rid of that “muddy” taste? Braising the whole fish will ensure the muddy taste is gone as the sauce is quite flavorful and strong enough to mask any muddy taste.
Note, if you are looking for a fish recipe that retains more of a fish’s natural delicate flavor, this Braised Whole Fish recipe might not be for you. Try my Simple Steamed Whole Sea Bass (Branzino), which works great for fresh fish with mild and sweet meat.
The recipe I’m posting here for Braised Whole Fish (Branzino) is a pretty generic one. After you make it once, you can certainly change the amount of soy sauce and sugar based on your own preferences. You can also include some chili peppers along with ginger and green onions to add some kick.
I always pair Braised Whole Fish with some white rice. I like to spoon some sauce on top of the rice so the rice soaks up the sauce and the sauce’s flavor.
Gluten Free3, Low Carb
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 2-4 people
Tools: Non-stick pan1 and wok or medium-sized skillet
- 1 medium whole fish2 (either fresh or previously frozen) (I used Branzino here)
- 1 1-inch-long piece of ginger
- 2 green onions
- pinch of kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce3
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- ~1 cup hot water4
- Clean the fish thoroughly. Make sure the fish is gutted, descaled, and without gills. Removing the fins is optional. For more detailed steps, check out steps 1 to 3 from my previous post for Creamy Fish Soup.
- Cut three diagonal slits on each side and sprinkle the pinch of kosher salt all over the body and inside the fish. Be sure to include salt in the slits. Leave the fish marinating in salt on the kitchen counter while preparing the other ingredients. For fresh fish, 5 minutes is enough. For previously frozen fish, leave it to marinate for at least 15 minutes.
- While the fish marinates, peel and cut the ginger into long wedges. Cut the green onions into long slices.
- Heat the non-stick pan under medium heat. When the pan is warm, add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, then gently lay the fish in the pan. When the fish skin becomes golden brown (about 3 minutes), carefully flip the fish. When both sides are equally browned, gently transfer the fish to a flat plate.
- Heat a wok or medium cast iron pan under medium-high heat. When the pan is getting hot, add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Then immediately add the ginger and green onion slices, tossing for 10 seconds. Then carefully add the lightly fried fish to the pan.
- Pour in the 1 tablespoon of light soy sauce, 2 teaspoons of sugar, and the ~1 cup of hot water. The fish should be half immersed. Use a wooden spatula to gently mix the soy sauce and sugar. Then spoon some liquid on top of the fish. Cover the lid. When the liquid boils again (anywhere from a couple of seconds to over a minute), lower the heat to medium or medium-low while the lid remains covered . Let the fish braise for 5 minutes or until the liquid sauce is reduced to 1/4 of its original volume.
- Carefully transfer the fish to a large plate and pour the remaining liquid and herbs on top. Be sure to dip the fish meat in the liquid sauce while enjoying!
- Using a non-stick pan to lightly fry the fish helps to keep the fish skin intact and at the same time reduces the amount of oil needed.
- Ideally, the size of the fish should be around 1 lb (450) but no larger than 1.5 lb (450g – 680g). I’m using Branzino here, but any fish with fewer small-sized bones would work for this recipe. Some examples are black bass, white bass, red snapper, rock fish, and tilapia.
- If you are gluten sensitive, make sure to use gluten-free soy sauce or tamari as most soy sauces these days by default contain gluten.
- With a wok, 1 cup of hot water is enough to braise the fish. You will need more hot water if using a flat pan.