How a Stinky Fish Became a Representative of Anhui Cuisine

Hui cuisine, one of the traditional Chinese cuisines, it is not short for Anhui cuisine, it is actually talking about Huizhou cuisine.

Compared to several other traditional cuisines, Hui cuisine didn’t have as strong a presence until a flavorful fish appeared.

Stinky fish, many people want to black it out when they hear the name, not knowing that they will really miss out on an unbelievable delicacy.

Unlike the smell of rotten fish and shrimp, Siniperca chuatsi has a slightly fermented odor that seems to be odorous, and it would seem less authentic if it didn’t smell like that in a Huizhou restaurant.

01 Where does Siniperca chuatsi come from?

Mandarin fish, commonly known as Gui fish, is a famous river food in the Yangtze River basin. Siniperca chuatsi is fierce by nature and loves to eat fish and shrimp. In particular, it relies on camouflage and speed to rush out to catch food, and has developed a strong tendon meat, which is particularly firm compared to common freshwater fish.

Together with puffer fish, swordfish, and shad, Mandarin fish is a representative of fish freshness in Jiangnan. Especially around the Qingming Festival, when the peach blossoms are in full bloom, is the spring season in Jiangnan and the most fertile season for Mandarin fish, which is called “Peach Blossom Mandarin”.

The Mandarin fish in this period is called “Peach Blossom Mandarin Fish” and “Mandarin Fish splashing in the green waves”. The Chinese have been eating Mandarin fish since ancient times, and have created such delicacies as Mandarin fish with squirrel, Mandarin fish with white sauce, and Mandarin fish with five willows.

If it is a fresh and delicious dish, why is it so heavy and “smelly” in Huizhou?

There is a legend on the Internet and even in many stores selling Siniperca chuatsi that more than two hundred years ago, there was a Miao governor in Huizhou who loved to eat fish, but Huizhou was located in a mountainous area, so the big fish had to be trafficked in from outside along the river. The Miao governor sent his men to buy fish, and when the fish died on the way, his men had the bright idea of salting the dead fish and transporting it to Huizhou, where it had a slight odor, but the Miao governor was still happy to eat it, and so Huizhou Stinky Mandarin Fish was born.

According to our experience, similar to this legend, not to mention a district governor, is hitched to the Kangxi, Qianlong, Cixi, basically are not credible.

The most important thing is that some good people have checked the information, more than two hundred years ago, during the Yongzheng and Qianlong years, there is no Miao governor of Huizhou.

In fact, this thing is not something that was invented by chance, but a summary of the wisdom of the people’s lives for hundreds of years.

The method of pickling “stinky fish” was recorded in the book “Taiping Guangji” written in the Song Dynasty, which is not very different from the practice of stinky fish. In the Kangxi period of the Qing Dynasty, there is also a record of pickled Mandarin fish.

What’s more, Siniperca chuatsi is not the only stinky dish in Huizhou cuisine, as La Ba Tofu and Mao Tofu …… have all been labeled as “stinky” for Huizhou cuisine. The “stinky” label.

One may also be accidental, when it becomes a taste, there are natural inevitable factors behind.

The legend of Miao Zhifu is not reliable, but one thing is right, that is, the geographical environment of Huizhou is mountainous, there are few rivers and large fish, can only be trafficked from the Yangtze River in Anqing, Chizhou, Tongling and other places. At that time, there was no cold chain transportation, all rely on foot power, a little delay or a change in the weather, the fish may rot and deteriorate, so we have to find ways to extend the preservation period of fish.

Of course, the natural geographical environment can only explain the fish, tofu does not have to be trafficked over long distances, which is actually related to another label of Huizhou “Huizhou merchants”.

As the old saying goes: In a previous life, you were not born in Huizhou, but at the age of 13 or 14, you were thrown away. In ancient Huizhou, there are a lot of people and little land, and it is definitely not enough to feed so many people just by farming, so many Huizhou people have to leave their hometown at the age of 13 or 14, and go out to learn how to do business and earn money to support their families.

The fermented ingredients not only extend the shelf life, but also give the ingredients a new taste and flavor, which has become a favorite taste over time.

02 Stinky fish, only a line between fragrant and stinky

Nowadays, with developed logistics, it is not difficult to eat fresh fish across the Pacific Ocean, not to mention fresh fish from the river in Huizhou, but the smell of Siniperca fish is a taste that people can never part with.

A few years ago, Siniperca chuatsi fish was featured on “China on the Tongue”, and since then it has gradually spread from one corner of Huizhou to the rest of the country.

In fact, locally in Huizhou, Siniperca chuatsi is also called barrel-fresh fish, barrel fish, and pickled fresh fish, with two key words – fresh Siniperca chuatsi and wooden barrel.

Fresh Mandarin fish are slaughtered and gutted, then the whole body is coated with salt and put into a wooden barrel (cedar barrels are best), where they are placed layer by layer and finally pressed with a heavy stone, which will squeeze out the water from the fish and make the meat more elastic.

This is the dry curing method, there is a water curing method, is the salt is replaced by light brine, code a layer of fish, sprinkle a layer of light brine, and finally pressed on the same heavy stone.

Then comes the most critical step – fermentation. Temperature and humidity must be matched to the best, a slight difference, it may become a real “stinky fish”.

Previously, depending on the experience of the fish pickle master, according to the temperature and humidity changes, the length of time to adjust the pickle at any time. Now with a constant temperature and humidity fermentation room, you can get the fermented Mandarin fish just right through precise calculations.

And during the fermentation period, the fish needs to be turned up and down every day to ensure an even marinade. Only by controlling all these factors can we control the stinky fish to be between smelly and odorous, smelling bad and tasting good.

The stinky smell of Siniperca chuatsi is actually the imprint left by microorganisms during the fermentation process.

The process of protein spoilage is actually the breakdown of protein by microorganisms into amino acids and amines, of which glutamic acid, aspartic acid, asparagine and glutamine can give us a “fresh taste”. The glutamic acid, aspartic acid, asparagine, and glutamine all give us a “fresh taste.

Therefore, the pickling of Siniperca chuatsi must be done at the right time, when the odor still seems to be present, the amino acids are the most abundant, and the freshness of the fish is also the most adequate at this time.

The fish also becomes smoother with the action of lactobacillus, staphylococcus and yeast, which results in the firm and smooth garlic meat of Siniperca chuatsi.

During the cooking process, most of the odorous substances on the fish evaporate as the temperature rises, which is the origin of “smelling bad but tasting good”.

In fact, many cuisines, not just Siniperca chuatsi, strike a balance between fragrance and odor because there is often only a line between fragrance and odor, and many odors are diluted many times to produce fragrance.

03 What kind of Siniperca chuatsi is the most delicious?

Well-marinated Siniperca chuatsi has firm and elastic flesh.

The fish is soaked in water to remove the heavy taste before cooking, then cut into knives and fried slightly in a frying pan, followed by the addition of diced bamboo shoots and other auxiliary ingredients to make a traditional braised Mandarin fish.

The lines on the back of the fish are clearly visible and the flesh is firm. And, unlike other fish, the flesh of Siniperca chuatsi is easy to pick up in large pieces.

The white jade color of the fish transforms from pure freshness to rich taste and endless aftertaste in your mouth.

In Huizhou, Siniperca chuatsi fish is mostly “stewed”, braised, sauced and drizzled with oil. …… The soft and tender skin and thick soup fully demonstrate the characteristics of Huizhou cuisine, which is heavy on oil and fire, and deep in color and flavor.

I have also heard people say that there is steamed Mandarin fish, but I have not tasted it so far.

Nowadays, not only Huizhou cuisine restaurants but also many Hunan cuisine restaurants are selling Siniperca chuatsi fish, and although they are both called Siniperca chuatsi fish, there is a big difference between the two.

The Siniperca chuatsi fish in Hui cuisine is naturally fermented, while Hunan-style Siniperca chuatsi fish is made with the stinky marinade used to marinate Hunan stinky tofu, or directly marinated in Wang Zhihe stinky tofu milk, which tastes even stinkier.

In terms of cooking, Hui-style stinky Mandarin fish is usually one pound or more of whole stinky Mandarin fish red-roasted with auxiliary ingredients such as diced bamboo shoots, diced pancetta and green garlic, and the soup is thickened by high fire.

The most common Hunan dish is the dry pot, where small fish of about eight taels are browned on both sides, cut open in pairs, and padded with shredded onions, and put on the dry pot with millet spices for a hot, spicy and fresh aroma.

So, should this Mandarin fish be considered a Huizhou dish or a Hunan dish?

It’s not hard to find the answer if you look through old recipes. In the recipes of the 1980s and 1990s, Hunan cuisine did have many dishes with Siniperca chuatsi as the raw material, but there was no stinky Mandarin fish; and in the recipes of Huizhou cuisine, pickled Mandarin fish, or stinky Mandarin fish, has always been a very important presence.

In other words, the stinky Mandarin fish in Hunan cuisine nowadays is actually a fusion.

Of course, the purpose of mentioning this is not to say that it is wrong to make stinky Siniperca fish in Hunan cuisine, that it is choking the line, but on the contrary it is because of this fusion that it is possible to create a new taste.

We often say that many cuisines are born in big cities because there is sufficient business competition in big cities, forcing chefs to find ways to please customers with their flavors, and at the same time, flavors from all directions come together here, and it is only when different flavors collide and fuse that a new deliciousness can be born.

The ultimate pursuit of deliciousness is not only to explore whether it is authentic and traditional, but also to try new and unforgettable flavors.