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Chinese Szechuan Spicy Fish Soup

by Jeanette on March 24, 2011 · 34 Comments
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Chinese Szechuan Spicy Fish Soup

Last week, my husband treated me to dinner at a Szechuan (also known as Sichuan or Szechwan) restaurant in New York City called Wu Liang Ye, that serves authentic Szechuan cuisine. In the town that I live in, there are no authentically Chinese restaurants, let alone Szechuan. For anyone who is familiar with Szechuan cuisine, you know what I’m talking about when I tell you that Szechuan food is spicy hot and bold in flavor, leaving your mouth tingling with the after effects of Szechuan peppercorns lingering on your tongue. Some people say it leaves a numbing feeling in your mouth. Szechuan cuisine uses a lot of garlic, chili peppers and Szechuan peppercorns. I love spicy food and I don’t mind the numbing sensation, so I couldn’t wait to see what was on the menu.

One of the dishes we ordered was a spicy Szechuan fish soup, which came highly recommended. When it arrived, even I was a bit intimidated. The entire top of the casserole dish was covered with hot dried chili peppers! The soup was aromatic with Szechuan peppercorns and it was spicy, although not as spicy as I would have thought given the number of hot chili peppers floating on top of the dish. After I got home, I couldn’t take my mind off of that Szechuan Spicy Fish Soup. I wanted to try making it at home. It’s really not difficult to make; you just need the Szechuan peppercorns, some dried chili peppers, and Szechuan hot bean sauce, all of which can be found in Asian markets and the ethnic section of some supermarkets. Penzeys also carries Szechuan peppercorns.

Szechuan Hot Bean Sauce

I used Angie’s recipe as a guide, but in the end, decided to make this Szechuan Spicy Fish Stew the way I remembered it.


Chinese Szechuan Spicy Fish Soup

This is spicy! Reduce the amount of Szechuan hot bean sauce and hot chili peppers if you like, but for the full efffect, I recommend using all the spices. I used barrimundi fish, which is a mild white fish, high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Printable Recipe

1 pound white firm flesh fish fillet (barrimundi, tilapia, catfish or flounder would work)
Fish Marinade:
1 egg white
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons rice wine 
1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon Szechuan hot bean sauce
One 1″ piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 scallion, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns
1/4 cup Szechuan dried red chili peppers
1 tablespoon rice wine
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 cups fish or chicken stock
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 cup napa cabbage, cut up

Cut fish into 2″ pieces. Mix Fish Marinade ingredients and toss well with fish fillet. Set aside to marinade for 20 minutes.

Heat oil in a large pot. Add hot bean sauce and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ginger, garlic, half of scallions, Szechuan peppercorns, and dried chili peppers. Cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes, being careful not to burn the peppercorns or chili peppers. Add rice wine and soy sauce and stir another minute. Add stock and bring to a boil.

This spicy broth has such rich flavors!

Place celery and napa cabbage in a clay casserole. Lay marinated fish on top.

I used barrimundi, but any firm white fish will work.

Pour soup on top of fish. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes until fish is cooked through.

Serve over steamed brown rice.

Serves 4.

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  1. Pretend Chef says:

    When I was pregnant this would have been something I would have loved to have. The spicier the better. Now my taste buds are more tame. I would have to reduce the amount of spice. Although, I might be up for a kick in the mouth! It looks really yummy!

  2. This sounds like it would be bursting with flavor. I'm a wimp for hot foods though, so I'd have to cut down on the spiciness.

  3. Jeanette says:

    Thanks Rochelle and Kalyn,
    This is definitely not for the light of heart in the spiciness department. However, the heat can be tamed by using less of the hot bean sauce and Szechuan peppercorns. I love trying to recreate dishes that I have really enjoyed while eating out, so I just had to try this!

  4. Beloved Green says:

    Wow, I bet this has some kick to it. I like it!

  5. Yes this definitely perks up those tastebuds!

  6. Jeanette, how's it goin? Just dropping in to see what you've been cooking up and this one really caught my eye! Gotta try it.

    So sorry to hear about your father in law. He sounded like a very good man.

    Hope you all are well aside from your loss.

    Let's catch up soon.


  7. Jeanette says:

    Hi Lexie, so good to hear from you. Thanks for all your kind thoughts. Looking forward to catching up with you.

  8. Elizabeth Richardson says:

    If possible, I'd like a little more info on the amount of ginger. You call for a 1" piece, but given that it's a 3D item, what are the other dimensions of the piece of ginger? Or how much by weight, if you prefer. Too much can ruin, too little can understate. Thanks, Elizabeth

  9. Hi Elizabeth, generally the ginger I use is about 1 inch in diameter. Hope that helps.

    • Hi, this is one of my favorite Chinese dishes. I just tried your recipe and it was incredible. I couldn’t tell the difference from the restaurant version. Do you have other recipes for Chinese dishes? Will be using this recipe for the rest of my life! Thanks so much :)

      • Hi Adam – so glad you enjoyed this recipe. It was such a memorable dish so I was so excited to be able to recreate it at home. I do make a lot of Chinese food, and will work on posting more of these recipes.

  10. This is right up my ally! Looks amazing. Question about the Szechuan hot bean sauce – I have never used that product before – do you know if there are any additives in it like MSG? Or if there is a natural version to look for? Thanks so much!

  11. …. meant “alley” duh!

  12. looks like the real deal – i like to try new recipes. i just moved from brooklyn from houston and there is a place called 888 in houston that makes the best spicy fish out of a clay pot

    this reminds/looks kind of like it so i am going to head to the chinese food market tomorrow get the ingredients and go at it

  13. Well, this makes me hungry!
    Spicy and hot chilis make you health, good work!

  14. Nice recipe, I also add a few cups of water to get boiling with the mixture before putting the fish in, and use about a cup of red peppers with a few tablespoons of the Szechuan peppercorns ( I think my lips are tingling just thinking about it). Then scoop out the red peppers afterwards. Also, any reason for brown rice instead of regular white rice?

    • Jeanette Jeanette says:

      Hi Matt – your comment is making my mouth tingle too! I used brown rice for health reasons as it is higher in fiber and protein than white rice.

  15. I would definately reduce the szhechuan peppercorns, chilli peppers, and ginger by half next time.
    Haven’t fully recovered yet half a day later…

    • Jeanette Jeanette says:

      Matt – this is a very spicy dish – Szechuan food is one of the spiciest Chinese food. Sorry this was too spicy for you. I would go along with your recommendation for first timers.

  16. Thanks for posting this recipe! It’s my favorite Szechuan dish! Do you have any advice for those of us who don’t have a clay pot? Would it be absolutely terrible if I used a metal stove top pot instead? Can’t wait to try this recipe!

    • Jeanette Jeanette says:

      Hi Ann, a regular stove top pot should work just fine, just watch the bottom so it doesn’t burn. This is very spicy – so adjust the amount of Szechuan peppercorns and chilies according to your taste.

  17. Made this recipe almost exactly to the letter. The change I made was took a block of silken tofu, sliced it into same size pieces as the fish and layered it in between the cabbage and the fish. Can I just say that this came out AMAZING!!! I had this dish at Gourmet Dumpling House in Boston, and that dish has nothing on this. Two hours later and my lips are still burning, in a a great way.

    • Love your addition of silken tofu – great idea! So glad you tried this and liked it. It’s spicy but so good. Thanks so much for letting us know how it turned out.

  18. I too am a hot food addict, and especially when it comes to food from different cultures. I do have a peanut allergy though, so I was wondering if any of these ingredients contain peanuts.

    • Andrew, None of these ingredients should contain peanuts, but to be safe, you should check all the ingredient labels to make sure none of the ingredients you use are made in a facility that uses peanuts to be perfectly safe.

      • Can you tell me how many servings the specified ingredients in this recipe supports ?
        (I need to scale up to 30 people)

        • Bruce, I would say this recipe makes enough for 2-4 depending on what else you’re serving. There’s 1 pound of fish, but it shrinks a bit during cooking. The sauce/soup is very spicy, so it goes a long way with lots of rice.

  19. Richard Uie says:

    First time (’bout four months ago), I did it exactly your way (except for using cod), and it rocked. Now, it’s *my* recipe, and I’ve played with it in a number of ways, since I keep a raft of Sichuan and other related seasonings. Yes, you should infer that I make the dish often for me ‘n’ the missus.

    Thanks very much.

    • Richard – so glad you tried this recipe and have made it your own!

      • Richard Uie says:

        Thought of you, since I’m doing this dish for dinner tonight (hearts of milk choy and snow peas in place of the Napa cabbage).

        Thanks for the tip on Penzey’s. I’d been buying my Szechuan “peppercorns” at Super-H Mart. Having read a number of articles that suggest there is wide variance in the quality of Szechuan peppercorns in the US, I gave Penzey’s product a try. Yikes! The ones from Penzey’s are more aromatic (even before toasting) and much more numbing. Better still, almost all of the flowers are open – very few seeds.

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