Fish in hot chilli oil or “Shui Zhu Yu” (水煮鱼) is the most famous dish of Sichuanese cuisine. A fairly recent invention, it has gained popularity throughout China as the ubiquitous Sichuanese dish. As was mentioned before on this site, traditional Chinese cuisines are not hot nor spicy, with the exception of Sichuanese cuisine. The current consumption of chilli and pepper is a recent phenomenon probably encouraged by the growing popularity of Sichuanese food in China. However, the use of “curries and “spices” in Chinese restaurants by Cantonese immigrants in North America and western Europe has nothing to do with this phenomenon, but a way to cater their food to western taste buds.


  • 5-6 grass carps (if you cannot find these, use seabass)
  • Rice wine, 3 tablespoon for marinate and then 200ml for stock
  • Salt
  • White pepper, grounded
  • Corn starch, 3 tablespoon
  • Egg white, from 1 egg
  • Oil, 500ml
  • Sichuan pepper corn, 150g
  • Sichuan dried red chilli, 30 pieces
  • Sichuan Pixian soybean paste
  • Chicken stock, 750ml
  • Garlic, 5 cloves, peeled and minced
  • Ginger, 1 piece of 7-10cm long, peeled and minced
  • Shallot, 5, peeled and minced
  • Celery, 5
  • Spring onion, 5
  • Green lettuce, 5 leaves
  • Chili powder

You need a very big serving bowl and a wok to make this dish. Here’s how you make it:

  1. De-bone your fish and cut them into slices of 5x5cm. Marinate with rice wine, salt, corn starch and egg white. Set aside for 15 minutes.
  2. Now to make your base oil: Soak your Sichuan pepper and Sichuan dried chili in a bowl of hot boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain well. Heat up a wok with 500ml of oil on medium heat. Fry your chili and pepper corn until the scent comes out of the mixture and when the oil turns red. Take your chili and pepper out of the oil with a drainer and set them aside.
  3. Next is the chili stock: With your fiery-red base oil in your wok, turn on the heat to low. Stir fry in this order: Pixian soybean paste, then add in your minced garlic, ginger and shallot. Once the scent is emitted from your stir-frying, add in some rice wine, salt, grounded white pepper and soy sauce. Stir-fry for another 2 minutes before you add your stock. Cover your wok and bring to boil. Now you have your chili stock. Once your stock is boiling, turn the heat off and cover. Add in your fish. Make sure they do not stick to one another. Cover for 2-3 minutes.
  4. On a chopping board, chop your fried chili and Sichuan pepper from earlier on into small pieces, set aside. Cut your celery, spring onions (scallions) and lettuce into broad pieces. Place your greens in your large serving bowl as the base. Pour your wok’s content into the serving bowl and garnish with your chopped chili and Sichuan pepper. Add a dash of chilli powder and minced shallot. Quickly heat up some oil in a wok and then pour your hot boiling oil over the surface of your minced shallot and chili garnishing. Serve immediately.

Note: Outside Sichuan in other parts of China, restaurants serve this dish with soy bean sprouts (not the normal thinner beansprouts from mungbeans) as the base to replace celery and lettuce. You can use either as it is a matter of taste. It may also be because beansprouts are easier to grow in temperate climate than celery and lettuce in sub-tropical Sichuan.

If you understand Mandarin, here is a great video on how to make this dish.