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Traditional Chinese Whole Fish and Watercress Recipes

November 25, 2010

Most of my cooking is kind of all over the place—fusion, breakaway, whatever you want to call it—it’s hardly traditional.

However, when it comes to Chinese cooking, I’m a purist at heart, and I am a rigid disciple of my dad’s cooking. It’s nice to be home.

Behold an extremely traditional, homestyle Chinese meal that’s fancy enough for entertaining: whole fish with soft tofu in a soy sauce broth and stir-fried watercress. The bitter, crunchy watercress pairs perfectly with the sweet, soft tofu and white-fleshed fish. Both recipes use what I like to call the “Holy Trinity”: garlic, ginger, and scallions. It’s rare that a Chinese recipe will call for all three.

As much as I prefer whole grains, white short-grain rice is the way to go here. When I was little and ate literally nothing but bread, rice, and McDonalds, I happily slurped this soy sauce broth with white rice, and brown rice just doesn’t absorb it as well.

Whole Fish with Soft Tofu in a Soy Sauce Broth

Ingredients (serves 3-4):

  • A 2 lb freshwater fish, cleaned and gutted

  • 1 package silken tofu, cut once lengthwise and six times crosswise

  • A large chunk of ginger, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 1-2 bunches scallions, cut into ½-inch segments

  • Peanut oil
  • Soy sauce
  • Cooking wine
  • 1 TBS sugar
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 TBS cornstarch, dissolved in water


  • Scrape scales off fish if necessary and rinse under cold water

  • Heat peanut oil in a wok until smoking—lightly fry the fish to eliminate any fishy odor.

  • Flip the fish to fry the other side (this is bad luck in China, analogous to “flipping a boat,” but whatever)

  • Pour off and discard the oil. Put the fish on a separate plate.

  • Heat more oil in the wok, then add the garlic, scallions, and ginger. Return the fish to the wok.
  • Heat a combination of water, soy sauce, cooking wine, sugar and salt in the same wok until boiling. Transfer the fish to another plate.
  • Add the cornstarch-water mixture and tofu and simmer.
  • Pour the tofu-mixture on to the fish. Serve.


Stir-fried Watercress (Serves 3)


  • 1 TBS peanut oil
  • A 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 2 bunches of watercress, washed
  • Salt
  • Water


  • Heat oil till it smokes, then add ginger and garlic. Let them burn slightly.
  • Add watercress, salt, and a little water. Stir-fry till the watercress wilts (should be a matter of seconds), then lower the heat and cook off some of the water.
  • Adjust seasoning to taste and serve.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 25, 2010 8:34 am

    Oh wow that fish and tofu dish looks really yummy and flavourful! I just love cooking whole fish, too…it’s so yummy with the bones on 🙂


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