gallery Dragon Fish Two Ways

I’ve been spending time with William Wang, a local chef at a hotel. He has the capacity to transform what’s pictured above into what’s pictured below. Seafood or Hai Xian, literally meaning “sea fresh,” is the constant fare along the coast and freshness is of great importance. Seasonal cooking is important when dealing with seafood in China because harvesting times are often limited.

But when the harvest does come in, it’s remarkably cheap. For those of you reading in China, William informed me that “five hundred grams of this fish can be found at the market for 3 kuay. If you feel really cheap you can bargain them down to 1 kuay.” The conversion is roughly 6 to 1 for the American dollar, so half a kilo is somewhere blisteringly low, just over fifty cents.

More appealing than the price however is the fish itself. The Chinese call it Dragon Fish, Xia Chan (虾潺) because of its massive mouth in relation to its body and the large teeth that it feeds with. The Cantonese however call it Bean curd Fish, because the meat and even most of the bones are incredibly soft, like tofu. No de-boning is really necessary for this dish, unless the fancy option of braiding the fish into some of the nicest fish sticks I’ve ever seen is to your liking.

The first of the two ways takes the mini-piranha looking evil thing from alien status to a sort of warm lightly fish flavored butter or sorts. The fish is cleaned and dipped, bone and all, in a batter of flour, corn starch, water, oil, and a magical puffy powder that makes the fish coating grow. Be forewarned though, when working with the powder adding too much will cause the entire ball of warm goodness to pop. The fish is then coated and fried at extremely high temperatures. They do not shy from turning the fire all the way up. The result is a crispy exterior that is mostly full of air. What’s inside is the warm fish flesh that has broken down quickly into something with the texture of butter, hence calling it fish butter earlier. The fish melts in your mouth and makes a perfect counterpoint to the crunchy egg shell housing.

The second method, details for both are listed below, requires a decent handle of a knife. The fish is small so removing the backbone without massacring the flesh takes some concentration. William basically makes a center cut from the underside of the fish to the spine, opens it upe and rolls the fish outward using his knife. He cuts around the spine to achieve a filet of fish that is roughly rectangular in shape. Then two cuts, at third intervals, are made in the filet lengthwise. However, the top of the fish is not cut through, leaving the three strands attached at one end. This allows for the fish to be rolled in flour and spices and braided. The result is the most genuinely attractive fish stick I’ve ever seen.

Admittedly, this isn’t my favorite kind of seafood. It’s not quite the incredibly simple concept of catch it, gut it, season it, grill it gently and eat it. That method, similar to much of southeast asian cooking, can produce crisp and bright seafood. Rather, the Chinese seem to follow something more akin to a French process of cooking in one particular way. That being, take something rather unpleasing, it could be a pig’s foot or a dragon fish, do some in-depth work to extract all the flavor possible out of the unappetizing piece in mention and serve that instead.
We did some work on plating the dish afterwards. Surprisingly, most dishes like this are plated symmetrically in China. After some experimentation with stacking and verticality we gave up and went with the traditional plating. If you stand up the fish sticks on end and place them next to the puffy fish you will absolutely have a strange looking “eh-hem” (that’s my attempt at phonetically spelling a clearing of the throat), and balls.


  • 500g Xia Chan (dragon fish) about 10 fishes
  • 500g vegetable oil
  • 150g flour
  • 40g corn starch
  • 100g mixed custard powder and corn starch (half for each)
  • 25g seaweeds


  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 teaspoons puff powder (something like a bicarbonate that causes the batter to expand when heated)
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons yellow wine
  • 1 spring onion cut small and several pieces of ginger

Method 1 – Puffy Fish

  1. Wash and clean the fish, cut off the head, tail, and fins.
  2. Cut each fish in half perpendicular to the spine.
  3. Season the fish with ½ the salt, ½ the white pepper, 1 tablespoon of yellow wine, onion, and ginger. Let rest for 15 minutes.
  4. While the fish is marinating, pull the seaweed apart with your fingers as if you were fraying a rope, then chop finely. This will ensure there are no large chunks of seaweed pressed together.
  5. Prepare the frying batter. Mix flour and corn starch with 200g and stir until smooth. Add 2 teaspoons of puff powder, 30 grams of vegetable oil and the seaweed and stir until incorporated.
  6. Dredge the fish in the batter and fry in oil at 150 degrees Celsius until the batter puffs and turns golden brown.
  7. Remove and place on a paper towel or rack to drain.
  8. Serve immediately.

Method 2 – The Braid

  1. Wash and clean the fish, cut off the head, tail, and fins.
  2. Carefully fillet the fish, starting with an incision in the belly to the spine and continue down the length of the fish. You will see the back bone. Lay the fish on its back and cut just around the backbone to remove it. Take care not to cut the fish in two.
  3. The pieces of de-boned fish should be roughly rectangular and a uniform shape. Starting two centimeters from the top of the fish, make a cut down the length of the fish. Continue with one more cut to create three strips of fish that are all connected at the top.
  4. Coat the fish in a corn starch and flour mixture, we often use custard powder as well.
  5. Gently braid the three strips of fish.
  6. Fry the braided fish in 150 degree Celsius oil for 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Remove and place on a paper towel or rack to drain.
  8. Serve immediately.


Source // When Eating a Wolf

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