Sweet and sour fish

Sweet and sour fish

The Real Food of China
Leanne Kitchen

Sweet and sour flavours are popular in many parts of China and are not just applied to pork. When visiting Hangzhou it’s essential to eat the famous ‘West Lake vinegar fish’ at least once. Grass carp from the West Lake, starved for two days to purge any muddy tastes, are first poached, then slathered in a thick, brown, sweet vinegar sauce that’s made pleasantly sharp by the addition of local Zhejiang black vinegar. Here’s a far less grand interpretation of those sweet and sour flavours using deep-fried fillets of tender john dory.


Quantity Ingredient
vegetable oil, for deep-frying
750g fish fillets, such as john dory, snapper or barramundi
cornflour, for dusting
1 small red capsicum, seeded and finely shredded
2 spring onions, finely shredded


Quantity Ingredient
2 1/2 tablespoons aged black rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons clear rice wine
2 1/2 tablespoons Chicken stock
or 2 1/2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 tablespoons ginger, finely shredded
2 teaspoons cornflour
1 1/2 tablespoons lard
or 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil


  1. To make the sauce, put the vinegar, soy sauce, rice wine, stock and sugar in a small bowl and stir to combine well. Heat the lard in a small saucepan over a medium–low heat, add the ginger and cook, stirring often, for 2–3 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the vinegar mixture and bring to a simmer. Combine the cornflour with 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl and stir to form a smooth paste. Stirring constantly, add the cornflour mixture to the sauce and cook for 1–2 minutes, or until the sauce is simmering and has thickened. Cover and remove the pan from the heat.
  2. Fill a wok one-third full of oil and heat to 180°C, or until a cube of bread dropped into the oil turns deep golden in 15 seconds. While the oil is heating, cut the fish into 5 cm pieces. Dust each piece well with cornflour, shaking off the excess. Add the fish to the oil in two batches and cook for 3–4 minutes, or until light golden and cooked through. Drain well on paper towel and transfer to a warmed platter.
  3. Gently reheat the sauce, then spoon the sauce over the fish pieces. Serve immediately with the capsicum and spring onions scattered over the top.
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