8 to 10pickled chiles (recipe above), destemmed and cut on a diagonal
13-inch nub pickled ginger, cut into thick slices on a diagonal (recipe above)
3 tablespoonsShaoxing wine
1 to 2 teaspoonslight soy sauce, or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoonspotato starch, or as needed
2 tablespoonspickling brine (recipe above)
green onion tops, for garnish
In Chinese culture, people believe that cooking and eating fish—with head and tail intact—will bring a year that is prosperous from start to finish.
“This fish, in particular, has been a part of my mom’s cooking since I lived in China before I had a full grasp of my memories. I imagine that my parents would break off little chunks of the fish to feed to me even as a baby. As I grew older, I learned to pick around the big bones for the meat, always making sure to be careful not to swallow any smaller bones. Each tender morsel acted as the perfect vehicle for carrying the wonderfully spicy and pungent sauce to my mouth.” — read the full story
For the quick-pickled chiles and ginger
Step 1 Thoroughly clean a glass 1/2-liter canning jar. Sterilize the jar by pouring boiling water into the jar, waiting for a couple minutes, and then discarding the water. Set aside.
Step 2 To make the pickling brine, combine the rice wine vinegar, 3/4 cup water, and salt in a small pot, bring to a rolling boil.
Step 3 Meanwhile, add the Sichuan peppercorns, black peppercorns, and mustard seeds to the sterilized jar. On top of the spices, add the chiles and ginger. Make sure to push down very firmly. Pour the brine over everything, filling the jar to within 1/2-inch of the top. You may not end up using all of the brine. Seal the jar tightly.
Step 4 Allow to sit on your counter for a day and then in the refrigerator for at least 2 more days. The longer the pickles sit, the more flavorful they will become.
For the braised barramundi
Step 5 Pat the fish dry and make three even diagonal cuts in the thickest part of each side of the fish. This will allow the sauce to penetrate. Then rub all over with a thin layer of salt, including inside the belly. Set aside.
Step 6 Add the grapeseed oil to a well-seasoned wok over high heat. When it is piping hot, carefully slide the fish into the wok and fry both sides, approximately 3 to 4 minutes each side. The fish should be just starting to turn golden. As you are frying each side, make sure to tilt the wok so that the full fish comes into contact with the oil. Turn off the heat. Carefully take the fish out of the wok and place onto a plate. Set aside.
Step 7 Reheat the oil over a high flame. Add the dried chiles, star anise, and Sichuan peppercorn; reduce the heat to medium. Stir-fry until you can smell the peppercorns and chiles. They will have darkened slightly. Add the broad bean chile paste and fermented black beans and stir-fry until the oil is red and fragrant. Next, add the garlic, spring onions, pickled chiles, and pickled ginger. Stir fry for another minute.
Step 8 Return the fish back to the wok. Add the Shaoxing wine and allow to cook until the alcohol has been cooked out, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water and season with soy sauce to taste. Spoon the sauce from the bottom of the wok over the fish and cover to cook for 5 to 8 minutes. During this time raise the lid a few times to spoon more sauce over the fish. Once the fish is cooked through, carefully lift the fish out of the wok and place onto a serving plate.
Step 9 To finish the sauce, raise the heat to high and gradually add in the potato starch. Depending on how much liquid you have left in the wok, you may not need all of the starch. Turn off the heat and add in the pickling liquid. Ladle the sauce over the fish and serve with green onion tops.