“Water-Boiled” Fish

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“Water-Boiled” FishHowie and I were in rural Sichuan Province hiking in the bamboo sea. This is where they filmed some of the coolest tree-top fighting scenes in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. As usual, we took the path least traveled and wound our way up to a beautiful waterfall. Thinking we were following the same general path as the main trail, we got lost. As it turns out, bamboo pretty much all looks the same up close … and from far away. With the help of a machete-wielding mushroom poacher, we made it out alive. Anyway, that night, since we’d had enough of bamboo shoots, we had this Sichuan dish for dinner.

  • Yield: 4 to 6 Servings
  • Total Time: 40 Minutes


  • 1½ lb tilapia fillets, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 inch ginger, minced
  • 3 Tbsp Chinese broad bean paste, or other medium chile paste
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 cups water
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp dried red chile flakes
  • ½ head Napa cabbage, shredded
  • 1 Tbsp sesame seeds (optional)
How to Make It
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine fish pieces with egg white, cornstarch, and salt. Be sure the cornstarch gets fully absorbed into the marinade.
  3. Place a skillet over medium heat, and add the oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the white parts of the scallions, garlic, and ginger and sauté for 3-4 minutes, or until the scallions start to become translucent. Add the broad bean or chile paste and sauté for an additional 2 minutes. Add soy sauce, water, cinnamon, and chile flakes, and stir well. Bring the mixture to a boil and turn off the heat.
  4. Carefully distribute the marinated fish pieces into the skillet, stir them into the mix, and transfer the skillet to the oven and braise for 20-25 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through.
  5. Place the shredded cabbage at the bottom of a serving bowl or platter with a tall rim. Remove the skillet from the oven. Carefully transfer the skillet contents into the serving vessel atop the cabbage. Top with scallion greens and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using. Serve with steamed white rice.

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