Before going off to work, I caught a few minutes of a cooking show where the Chef made Salt and Pepper Shrimp. Hmmm... That looks good!
Thumbing through Fuchsia Dunlop's Land of Plenty, I noticed a recipe for Hot-and-Numbing Tiny Fish. It looked very similar to a Salt and Pepper Shrimp dish. Hmmm... that sounds good too. I could use shrimp instead of whitebait called out in the recipe.
However, a couple days ago, I noticed wild smelt at the supermarket. Fresh, wild smelt is a once in a year thing so smelt it is instead of shrimp.
Hot-and-Numbering (Tiny) Fish
1 lb Smelt
3/4 C All-Purpose Flour (I also experimented around with cornstarch)
1/2 t salt
1 T Shaoxing Rice Wine
2 Green Onions, chopped
2 T Fresh Ginger, chopped
2 T Oil
1/2 t Cayenne Pepper, ground
1/2 t Sichuan Peppercorn, toasted and ground
1) The clean the smelt, wash and pat dry.
Mix the marinade and pour over the fish. Coating thoroughly.
Let sit at least 20 minutes... Actually a lot longer since I went and mowed the lawn.
Note: For Chinese cooking, ginger is a very common ingredient used to reduce fishiness.
2) Drain the fish in a colander, reserving the green onion and ginger.
For coating the fish, I found it easier to use a bag for the flour and shake to coat.
I experimented around with all purpose flour (on the left) and cornstarch (on the right).
I wanted to see how the fish's crispiness would be effected by the coating used.
The flour appears to have a thinner coating while the cornstarch formed a slightly thicker layer.
3) Heat oil to 375F and fry for about 4 minutes. I noticed the oil temp dropped to about 345F during the frying.
4) The cooked fish.
The cornstarch coated fish is above.
Both fish look pretty much the same. The flour was just a but browner. Maillard reaction with the gluten?
5) Seasonings ready for the hot oil - ground Sichuan peppercorn and cayenne.
6) 2 T of oil heated in the wok. Cayenne added to color the oil (about 30 seconds) before the Sichuan peppers were added.
The fish was added to the seasoned oil and tossed around to coat.
The finished dish... or is it?
I saved the ginger and green onion from the marinade.
The wok was heated and the marinade was added to cook down.
The seasoned fish was added to soak up the ginger and green onion flavors.
The fish turned out nicely were the whole fish is edible and crunchy.
I noticed the cornstarch coated fish was a little more crispy than the flour coated fish, but with all the flavor from the cayenne, Sichuan pepper, green onions and ginger, the difference is almost unnoticeable.
Was it hot and numbing?
As I mentioned previously about the recipes in Land of Plenty, the hot wasn't mind blowing but there was a definite low comfortable burn. The numbing effect was there too from the Sichuan pepper.
The hot can be boosted by adding 1 t of cayenne instead of 1/2 t, but would the extra heat throw the balance of the dish off? I guess it comes down to personal preference.