Suzhou ‘smoked’ fish

Suzhou ‘smoked’ fish

The Real Food of China
Leanne Kitchen

This dish is a curiosity in that it’s not smoked at all, but marinated, fried until golden, then drizzled with sauce and refrigerated. Suzhou has its own sub-branch of Jiangsu cuisine, and is a place to visit for some very elegant food. This fish ends up sweet, crusty and completely moreish, and is served cold as a starter — perfect beer food! It also works on top of fine wheat noodles in a deep bowl of full-flavoured stock. In Suzhou they use freshwater fish for this, but we like meaty, oily mackerel because it doesn’t break up and works well with strong flavours.


Quantity Ingredient
1kg small fish cutlets, such as mackerel or small (tail end) salmon or trout
80ml light soy sauce
2 tablespoons shaoxing rice wine
12 thin slices ginger, unpeeled
3 spring onions, bruised and cut into 5 cm lengths
vegetable oil, for shallow-frying


Quantity Ingredient
100g rock sugar, chopped
100ml light soy sauce
60ml dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon five-spice
3 teaspoons sesame oil


  1. Put the fish cutlets in a large bowl. Combine the soy sauce, rice wine, ginger and spring onions, then pour over the fish, tossing to coat well. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour, then drain, discarding the solids. Using paper towel, pat the fish as dry as you can.
  2. Meanwhile, to make the sauce, combine the rock sugar with 250 ml water in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the remaining ingredients, whisking to incorporate the five-spice, and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  3. Pour enough oil into a large, heavy-based frying pan to come 3 cm up the side, then place over a medium–high heat. When the oil is starting to smoke, add the fish in batches and cook, turning once, for 5 minutes, or until cooked through and golden. Remove the fish cutlets and drain on paper towel, then add them to the sauce in the pan, a few cutlets at a time, turning each cutlet to coat it in the sauce. Set aside for 10–12 minutes for the flavours to infuse. Drain the fish well, reserving the sauce, then arrange on a platter and leave to cool a little. Serve at room temperature, drizzled with some of the reserved sauce.
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