Xihu Cu Yu - West Lake Fish
(Chinese fish in sweet vinegar sauce)
West Lake vinegar fish (xihu cu yu, 西湖醋鱼) is one of the most famous dishes of the Zhejiang culinary tradition in eastern China. A whole fish gets poached and glazed with a sweet vinegar sauce. This dish is named after a large, beautiful lake in the city of Hangzhou. West Lake fish is good for Chinese New Year when serving whole fish is considered lucky.
Grass carp from West Lake is used in authentic preparations in Hangzhou. The fish is starved for a couple days to remove any muddy taste from the flesh. Carp prepared with this recipe is said to resemble crab in flavor.
- Whole grass carp, snapper, seabass or other white fish -- 1 (2-pound) fish
- Water -- 1 1/2 quarts
- Ginger root, sliced thinly -- 4 to 5 slices
- Brown or white sugar -- 1/4 cup
- Black (Chinkiang) vinegar or cider vinegar -- 1/3 cup
- Soy sauce -- 2 tablespoons
- Rice wine or water -- 2 tablespoons
- Cornstarch -- 2 tablespoons
- Salt -- to taste
- Rinse the whole, cleaned fish in cold water and pat dry. Using a sharp knife, slice two or three diagonal cuts into the flesh on each side of the fish.
- Add the water and ginger slices to a wok or pot large enough to hold the fish and bring to a slow simmer over medium-low flame. Lower the fish into the water and poach gently for 8 to 10 minutes, or until cooked through. Using slotted spoons, carefully remove the fish from the water. Place on a warm serving platter, pat dry and set aside.
- Pour off all but about 1/2 cup of water from the wok or pot and remove the ginger slices. Add the sugar, vinegar and soy sauce and bring to a boil over medium flame, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
- Stir the cornstarch and rice wine or water to form a slurry and whisk enough of the slurry into the simmering sauce to thicken it lightly. Remove the sauce from heat and adjust seasoning with salt.
- Pour the sauce over the fish and serve immediately. Diners remove pieces of fish from the platter using chopsticks.
West Lake Fish Variations
- For an easier preparation, you can use 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of fish filets. But true xihu cu yu is served whole. And if you are serving it for Chinese New Year, it must be whole. Serving it otherwise would be bad luck.
- Marinate the fish in a little soy sauce and rice wine before poaching if you like.
- Add a little minced garlic to the sauce if you like.