Chinese Fish Fry. Everyone’s Friday Favourite.

Have I mentioned before how much I love fish? These days, the onus is still on the purchaser and consumer of fish, both for home cooking or when ordering fish in restaurants, to ask a lot of questions. As fish lovers, we need to protect our endangered species and to eat more fish that are considered sustainable. Ms Sandra, aka the best cook in Melbourne, of Please Pass the Recipe, informed me of the sustainable seafood guide phone app- a handy thing to have on your phone when shopping for fish. I also like this site, Good Fish, Bad Fish which is a very user-friendly site for home research within Australia.


I love mussels and squid and fortunately, both these seafoods are highly sustainable, but not everyone fancies these two species, especially the little visitors and some of the grown ups too!  When it comes to a sustainable, sweet tasting fish, that everyone in the family adores, I can’t go past flathead. If prepared as part of a Chinese banquet, a little goes a long way.

Kids love this uncomplicated dish.
Kids love this uncomplicated dish.

For this recipe, choose a fish in your area that is boneless when filleted and not too strong in taste and of course, sustainable.  If buying fish whole, a better choice really, have the fishmonger fillet it, then ask for the head and carcass to make some excellent fish stock to freeze, then you have the basis for some wonderful fish risotto or seafood paella or seafood soup. A fish can go a long way.

This recipe comes from China the Beautiful Cookbook, 1986. I have only ever made this single recipe from the book. The recipe has done the rounds of my extended family and I hope it suits yours too. It uses commonly found pantry ingredients so, once you have the fish, you’re up and running.

Zhua Chao Yu – Grasping and Frying.  A fried fish dish from Beijing. ( Quantity for two if served with another dish, such as stir fried bok choi)

  • 315g white fresh fish fillets
  • 1 cup cornflour
  • oil, preferably peanut oil for frying.


  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2 slices ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine
  • pinch salt/pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • extra spring onion for garnish.

NOTE- I often double the sauce ingredients for a richer, thicker coating.  The first two ingredients will be stir fired. Pre- mix the rest in a large cup to speed up the last stage of cooking.


  1. Cut the fish into long thin strips. Mix the cornflour with enough cold water to make a paste. ( you could use tapioca flour or rice flour for the coating)
  2. Heat the oil in a wok to smoking point the reduce the heat. Dip the fish slices into the cornflour paste and deep fry 8 pieces at a time for around 2 minutes until golden and crisp  and cooked through.  Lift out and drain  on paper towel and keep warm while making sauce.
First stage of the dish- fry the fish in a light paste of cornstarch and water.
First stage of the dish- fry the fish in a light paste of cornstarch and water.

Making the Sauce.

Very finely chop the spring onion and ginger. Heat the wok and add a little of the used oil, then stir fry the onion- ginger mixture for about 45 seconds then add the rest of the pre-mixed sauce ingredients and heat through. when the sauce begins to thicken, slide in the fried fish and stir fry, turning the fish carefully until coated with all the sauce.

second stage of cooking
second stage of cooking

Serve at once, add more spring onion, as part of a banquet or with rice.


For Rachael and Louise, who used to make this often.

23 thoughts on “Chinese Fish Fry. Everyone’s Friday Favourite.”

  1. What a yummy meal. I love flathead, it is my favourite fish. I used to be able to buy it here, but seldom see it now, which seems odd, as it has increased in popularity. We are last on the list of priorities when it comes to seafood in Australia. Woolies actually told me that one time. I don’t know if it is still true, but probably. We are a relatively small population and far from everywhere! I bought an eggplant and feta cheese to try your dish from a week or so ago. I’ll let you know how I go!


  2. We love flathead too 🙂 One of my favourite foods is fish and rice. The dressing looks wonderful. And the G.O. will love the fried fish if not the rice. Last night I tossed some roast chicken scraps in seasoned corn flour, shallow fried them and served with pasta & quick tomato & olive sauce. The G.O. was very quiet except for “this is good”, and scraped the bowl, always a good sign! I’ve never cooked anything much by frying, so it may give me the courage to attempt your fish 🙂


    1. The simple dishes are the best, your chicken dish sounds tasty. Fried fish is one of the best ways to serve it and although frying is not on the agenda often, it often is when flathead turns up. Beast fish and chips. Also, the coating protects the fish, so the fish stays moist and oil free. Good frying technique will always leave little residue of oil if the temperature and coating is correct.


  3. Your comments on sustainable fish are so true. Flathead is my favourite fish, but it is so expensive now. It would be good to have a dish like this, where a little goes a long way.


    1. it is ridiculously expensive and I wonder where all the waste goes from the filleting? This pushes up the rice. A little goes a long way if served as part of a banquet.


  4. Thanks for the link to the good fish bad fish site Francesca (though I think there may be an error in the address). We really struggle with what seafood is ok to eat as it seems there are problems with most depending on your criteria 😦 I agree calamari is a good one, and the kids love it though I’m not so keen, but I’m still working out what fish are best. Anyway, this recipe sounds great and the kids would certainly love all the flavours in that sauce!


    1. Oh- must fix up that error. Thanks Beck. Yes, the criteria seems to change from site to site, and methods of fishing, as well as stock numbers, come in to play. Some of the sites are really hard to use. And then issues of state come into play too. Pink Ling ( rockling) from the west is OK, but is questionable from the east. Lots of it comes from New Zealand. The whole field is quite confusing. Calamari and Squid are abundant, due to the overfishing of their predators but it’s not something I can have too often.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Flathead is a very sweet Australian fish. Any fish that can be filleted would be good. Flounder is not suitable as it’s too thin when taken off the bone. Fish is one ingredient that benefits from frying.


  5. I’ll try this fish dish Francesca but I won’t use Flathead – don’t like it. I’ll probably go for Rockling, which is tasty dressed up with sauces and batter and has no bones. It looks like a really good Chinese Recipe. Won’t be making seafood risotto or seafood soup though, definitely not for me.


    1. Any boneless fish is suitable. I chose flathead as it is a sustainable choice, as mentioned in the post and through the links. Rockling ( or Pink Ling- its other name) is often favoured by Chinese restaurants for this kind of dish. Perhaps it is worth checking on the sustainability of this choice too.


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