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The Hirshon Ultimate Chinese West Lake Sweet and Sour Fish - 西湖醋鱼

The Hirshon Ultimate Chinese West Lake Sweet and Sour Fish – 西湖醋鱼

  • Author: The Generalissimo


Units Scale
  • For the fish:
  • 1 whole freshwater fish, about 26 oz. or 800g, or 2 smaller fish – TFD enjoys using trout, whitefish or perch in the U.S., zander in Europe or Arctic char in the north – tilapia fillet of the proper size is also an option, but whole fish is traditional in this recipe
  • 3 slices fresh ginger root
  • 1 scallion, slits cut in stalk and tied into a knot
  • ***
  • For the ultimate sweet and sour sauce:
  • 2 Tbsp. pounded Blooming brand Chinese brown rock sugar bar (if you must, you can use light brown sugar instead)
  • 2 tsp. pounded to powder Lung Po Rock Chinese yellow rock sugar
  • 1 tsp. white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. Pagoda 8 Years Aged Shaoxing Huadiao Rice Wine (No Salt) rice wine (medium-dry sherry can be substituted)
  • 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. Lee Kum Kee Premium dark soy sauce (this is NOT regular soy sauce!)
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp. Hengshun Brand black rice Zhenjiang Vinegar, 6 Yr Aged
  • 1/2 Tbsp. Shanxi Ninghua Fu Yiyuanqing 8-year aged vinegar (this is My VERY heretical preference for added palatal complexity – you can just use Zhenjiang Vinegar instead for an authentic version)
  • 1 tsp. freshly-ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. Accent or Ajinomoto brands MSG (TFD addition, very optional)
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 Tbsp. West Lake Lotus starch (100% pure, no sweeteners or Osmanthus) whizzed in a spice grinder, combined with 2 Tbsp. water (cornstarch is an adequate substitute, or use potato starch, which is a better choice)
  • 5 drops Kadoya brand sesame oil – yes, DROPS, use a medicine dropper- if it’s easier for you, use 1/2 of a 1/8 tsp. measure of the oil
  • ***
  • For garnishing:
  • extra shaoxing and black vinegar


  1. Scale, de-gill and gut the fish. Turn it belly-up and split it in two from head to tail, cutting to one side of the backbone, but leaving a flap of skin so you can open the fish like a book. Splay the beast out, as you would a spatchcocked chicken.
  2. You will now have a thin side and a thick side (with the backbone), Make three deep gashes crossways in the thick side (which will enable the heat to penetrate more evenly).
  3. It’s a good idea to have your fishmonger do all this for you in advance, btw! Start preparing the fish as soon as you get home, or leave in the fridge for no more than a few hours if you must.
  4. Sprinkle a little shaoxing and black vinegar over the fish flesh and leave it for a few minutes while you get the water ready.
  5. ⅔ fill a wok or big pot with water, add the ginger and scallion (this is to remove any ‘fishy’ odors) and bring to a rolling boil. The water must be boiling rather than merely simmering, so the fish cooks quickly, but not boiling so furiously that its flavor disappears into the water.
  6. Place the fish in the water, cover until it come back to the boil, and gently boil, allowing 3-4 minutes for a medium (600-800g) fish, or just two minutes for smaller fish. Ladle hot water over the thickest part during cooking. When the eyes of the fish begin to pop out, the fish is done.
  7. Use two large spatulas to carefully transfer the cooked fish to a warmed platter, and let the residual heat finish the cooking while you prepare the sauce.
  8. Discard cooking water, ginger, and scallion. Wash out wok, and add chicken stock. Return the wok to medium-high heat and add the soy sauce, shaoxing, MSG (if using) and sugars, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the vinegars and white pepper.
  9. Mix the lotus root slurry again and stir ½ into the sauce. Bring to the boil to thicken into a dark glossy sauce – it should just coat the back of a spoon. If necessary to thicken to that consistency, add in ½ of the remaining lotus root starch solution. ONLY if still needed to thicken the sauce, add in the last portion of lotus root slurry. Remove from heat and stir in drops of sesame oil.
  10. Pour the sauce over the fish and serve whole. Provide chopsticks so your guests can pick out morsels of fish directly from the platter, and have a bowl or two available for the bones.