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Fish etc in China


liuzhou
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fish2.thumb.jpg.cd6501162e54855afbaa7628282ceeb4.jpg

Sea fish in my local supermarket

 

 

In the past I've started a few topics focusing on categorised food types I find in China. I’ve done

 

Mushrooms and Fungi in China

 

Chinese Vegetables Illustrated

 

Sugar in China

 

Chinese Herbs and Spices

 

Chinese Pickles and Preserves

 

Chinese Hams.

 

I’ve enjoyed doing them as I learn a lot and I hope that some people find them useful or just interesting.

 

One I’ve always resisted doing is Fish etc in China. Although it’s interesting and I love fish, it just felt too complicated. A lot of the fish and other marine animals I see here, I can’t identify, even if I know the local name. The same species may have different names in different supermarkets or wet markets. And, as everywhere, a lot of fish is simply mislabelled, either out of ignorance or plain fraud.

 

However, I’ve decided to give it a go.

 

I read that 60% of fish consumed in China is freshwater fish. I doubt that figure refers to fresh fish though. In most of China only freshwater fish is available. Seawater fish doesn’t travel very far inland. It is becoming more available as infrastructure improves, but it’s still low. Dried seawater fish is used, but only in small quantities as is frozen food in general. I live near enough the sea to get fresh sea fish, but 20 years ago when I lived in Hunan I never saw it. Having been brought up yards from the sea, I sorely missed it.

 

I’ll start with the freshwater fish. Today, much of this is farmed, but traditionally came from lakes and rivers, as much still does. Most villages in the rural parts have their village fish pond. By far the most popular fish are the various members of the carp family with 草鱼 (cǎo yú) - Ctenopharyngodon idella - Grass Carp being the most raised and consumed. These (and the other freshwater fish) are normally sold live and every supermarket, market (and often restaurants) has ranks of tanks holding them.

 

128480612_.thumb.jpg.4e2defa4476e78a1893c47fe38c5e951.jpg

Supermarket Freshwater Fish Tanks


You point at the one you want and the server nets it out. In markets, super or not, you can either take it away still wriggling or, if you are squeamish, the server will kill, descale and gut it for you. In restaurants, the staff often display the live fish to the table before cooking it.

 

These are either steamed with aromatics – garlic, ginger, scallions and coriander leaf / cilantro being common – or braised in a spicy sauce or, less often, a sweet and sour sauce or they are simply fried. It largely depends on the region.

 

Note that, in China, nearly all fish is served head on and on-the-bone.

 

849563837_grasscarp.thumb.jpg.715b8cfbb987d2c52e027506fd1c3297.jpg

草鱼 (cǎo yú) - Ctenopharyngodon idella - grass carp

 

More tomorrow.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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18 minutes ago, Eatmywords said:

Cool thread!  Any concern with how they raise and what they feed the farmed?

 

There are always some concerns about fish farming, yes. But they are not by any means confined to China.

I'm just attempting to record what is available to me here and what the Chinese people tend to eat.

 

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I should have mentioned that when your server is preparing the fish, especially the freshwater fish, they may ask you if you want the creature's float bladder. They hope you will say "no". That way they can sell it separately and get paid for it twice.

 

The totally tastlesss bag of air is prized by many Chinese for texture in soups. Can't see the point, myself. If you do want it, make sure you get it.


Here is the same grass carp as in my previous post, but with its float bladder.

 

1969287512_grasscarpwithfloatbladder.thumb.jpg.fe9d38a14124484e71ebf9cd0c218c0c.jpg

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3 hours ago, liuzhou said:

I should have mentioned that when your server is preparing the fish, especially the freshwater fish, they may ask you if you want the creature's float bladder. They hope you will say "no". That way they can sell it separately and get paid for it twice.

 

The totally tastlesss bag of air is prized by many Chinese for texture in soups. Can't see the point, myself. If you do want it, make sure you get it.


Here is the same grass carp as in my previous post, but with its float bladder.

 

1969287512_grasscarpwithfloatbladder.thumb.jpg.fe9d38a14124484e71ebf9cd0c218c0c.jpg

 

I have enjoyed float bladder soup at a restaurant* down in Princeton.  Memorable experience.

 

*not a diner.  The diner in Princeton was burned down by an arsonist.

 

 

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Following the carp family (to which I shall return), the next most farmed freshwater fish in China is 罗飞鱼 (luó fēi yú) or Tilapia. Tilapia is not one species, but any of over 100 different species.

 

tilapia.thumb.jpg.821f7d01d3117afb9fa263e309d23c36.jpg

Tilapia

 

While no one sane would claim it to be the tastiest fish going, it is prized for its relative cheapness both in the raising and to the customer. This is mainly due to its being vegetarian.

 

It does however, divide opinion. Some complain about a muddy flavour; others that it tastes off. I don’t get it. Properly raised tilapia should not taste off and I feel the ”muddy” label is overstated and applies to all freshwater fish, farmed or wild.

 

The treatment I see most often is found in the many popular 烤鱼 (kǎo yú - roast fish) restaurants, both smart places and ... let’s say “here today; gone tomorrow” roadside pop-ups. It is roasted whole tilapia served under a pile of vegetables and soy beans with a spicy sauce. Some of these places only do that one dish.

 

242125133_RoastFish.thumb.jpg.c2101034858da61646d2bcde9559426d.jpg

 

I often eat and enjoy this. A sharing meal.

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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1513990478_loach(2).thumb.jpg.8c4c94cb6262bc46ea2fdbf50c747478.jpg

Live Loach

 

One fish that you’ll find in a tank in most supermarkets and markets (or sometimes in buckets by the roadside) are 泥鳅 (ní qiu) - Loach. These are not a single species or even one family; there are an astonishing 1,249 known species in nine families. The most commonly consumed here are Misgurnus anguillicaudatus, usually referred to in English as the “pond loach” or “weatherfish”. These  native to East Asia and are extensively farmed commercially, but in the countryside villages are found in the rice paddies. Ovre the last decade, they have been found in the southern USA.

 

About 4 - 5 inches / 10 - 13 cm long, pond loach are bottom feeding scavengers, mainly eating algae, but also known to eat small worms and aquatic creatures such as snails. They are covered in a mucus which enables them to survive long periods out of water.

 

They are popular in Korea and Japan where they are used in soups The Korean soup is chueo-tang (추어탕), whereas the Japanese version is dojō nabe (ジョウ鍋). Here in China, though, I’ve only ever had them stir fried (skin and bone on) with the usual garlic, ginger and chilli triad and vegetables, often water spinach aka moning glory. I’ve cooked them this way several times, but also just by dredging them in potato starch (the uncivilised use cørn starch) and deep frying until crisp. Drain sprinkle with salt and chilli powder and Robert is your father’s brother. Great beer food.

Please note, they go into the hot oil still alive but die immediately.

 

2044272290_loach(1).thumb.jpg.f3894ff1db9acbec9e5697c069f9d33d.jpg

My Deep Fried Loach

 

If frying them is too much trouble, worry not.  The supermarket sells them pre-cooked, too.

 

1909745668_supermarketloach.thumb.jpg.6391dc53082726f76773ad697d51c7b1.jpg

Supermarket Fried Loach

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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10 hours ago, liuzhou said:

1513990478_loach(2).thumb.jpg.8c4c94cb6262bc46ea2fdbf50c747478.jpg

Live Loach

 

One fish that you’ll find in a tank in most supermarkets and markets (or sometimes in buckets by the roadside) are 泥鳅 (ní qiu) - Loach. These are not a single species or even one family; there are an astonishing 1,249 known species in nine families. The most commonly consumed here are Misgurnus anguillicaudatus, usually referred to in English as the “pond loach” or “weatherfish”. These  native to East Asia and are extensively farmed commercially, but in the countryside villages are found in the rice paddies. Ovre the last decade, they have been found in the southern USA.

 

About 4 - 5 inches / 10 - 13 cm long, pond loach are bottom feeding scavengers, mainly eating algae, but also known to eat small worms and aquatic creatures such as snails. They are covered in a mucus which enables them to survive long periods out of water.

 

They are popular in Korea and Japan where they are used in soups The Korean soup is chueo-tang (추어탕), whereas the Japanese version is dojō nabe (ジョウ鍋). Here in China, though, I’ve only ever had them stir fried (skin and bone on) with the usual garlic, ginger and chilli triad and vegetables, often water spinach aka moning glory. I’ve cooked them this way several times, but also just by dredging them in potato starch (the uncivilised use cørn starch) and deep frying until crisp. Drain sprinkle with salt and chilli powder and Robert is your father’s brother. Great beer food.

Please note, they go into the hot oil still alive but die immediately.

 

2044272290_loach(1).thumb.jpg.f3894ff1db9acbec9e5697c069f9d33d.jpg

Deep Fried Loach

 

What is the texture like once fried?  Does the mucus coating cook off or does it get kind of crunchy?

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6 minutes ago, KennethT said:

What is the texture like once fried?  Does the mucus coating cook off or does it get kind of crunchy?

 

The final texture is crunchy - like what I think of as whitebait, but that is a very fluid designation - and the mucus somehow disappears. I'd need a scientist to work out why. They didn't teach that in Lingustics 101!
 

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43 minutes ago, gfweb said:

As a teen I had loaches in my aquarium.  Not much meat on them.

 

As I said, there are over 1,000 species known as loaches. I very much doubt that the ones in your aquarium were the same as the ones we eat here.

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1832662695_BigheadCarp3.thumb.jpg.4cdb14b741aa069bc7cc3f20bf5a55e8.jpg

Here is an oddity. Another freshwater fish which is extensively farmed is 大头鱼 (dà tóu yú), Hypophthalmichthys nobilis or Bighead Carp. I say odd because it differs in many ways from other fish in how it is sold, prepared and eaten. And not just because it is bigger.

 

First of all, it is unlike any other member of the carp family in terms of taste. It has none of the favours associated with carp. The flesh is white and firm unlike other carp.

 

The biggest difference though is that, although it is native to China, it has been introduced either accidentally or deliberately to over 70 other countries around the world. In certain US states and in all of Canada, it is illegal to own or sell live fish – the way Chinese and many other Asian customers prefer it.

 

Although whole fish are sold here, usually live, they are also sold freshly killed but in sections more like meat butchery. A whole fish is huge and too much for most families’ needs so, the head and tail are removed and the body cut into fillets to be sold separately. It may or may not surprise you that the tail and especially the head are the most popular parts.

 

It also surprises foreign visitors to the markets when they see the heads displayed on the vendors’ tables still apparently gasping for breath. In fact, they are dead (of course) and what those visitors are observing are post-mortem muscular spasms.
The heads are used for the much loved (and delicious) 鱼头豆腐汤 (yú tóu dòu fu tāng) ‘fish head and tofu soup’ served everywhere. The tails are used to make soups and stocks.

 

1786442503_BigheadCarp2.thumb.jpg.5fcada458353e82c6ae84dc873a5172a.jpg

 

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Wow quite the presentation of the post mortem fish. So how are these firmer guys generally prepared? In terms of carp or tilapia the whole ones are often purchased to be  fried by the fishmonger and presented in an open tray to stay crisp and not steam.  Scored well before fry. In Chinese and Mexican places. The lines get long especially during Lent in all the markets on Fridays. Other cultures having discovered the wonderfulness of the Asian market as its offerings dovetail with their tastes.

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759618917_waspfish.thumb.jpg.e67cae5615bc4203983635a7bd304ead.jpg

 

Another common freshwater fish causes mass confusion and is illustrative of the difficulties I have here in identifying fish. This is not atypical.

 

I have spent years tracking down a reliable identification for this ugly species. The most common name I hear, 黄蜂鱼 (huáng fēng yú), Tachysurus fulvidraco translates as 'wasp fish'. There are other alternative names, both in Chinese and English . In English it is sometimes referred to as yellowhead catfish or Korean bullhead.

 

However, no sooner had I found this than I also found two other different but visually identical species. But I’ll deal with this one first.

 

It is a type of bagrid catfish native to East and SE Asia, particularly China, Vietnam, Laos and Korea. Although it can reach 34.5 cm / 13½ inches in length, it is normally around 8 to 10 cm / 2½ to 4 inches.

 

It is prone to parasites so should always be well cooked before consumption. Like the loach above, it can be rather slimy as it it covered in mucus, enabling it to survive long periods out of water. They are also very lively and will attempt to jump away if they see the chance. One friend was preparing some and one escaped and hid under her kitchen cabinets for a week until she could finally recapture it. It was exhausted but still alive when she finally succeeded.

 

The second possibility is 蟾胡鲶 (chán hú nián), Clarias batrachus or the so-called walking catfish. This name does seem to describe the way that fish of my friend’s scuttled away across the floor and they are described as being particularly slimy.

 

My only hesitation in adopting this name is that the species is said to be native to somewhat south of here, where as the first is decidedly local to here, not that things don’t get introduced, as we have seen.

 

Then recently I found contender number three – 胡子鲇 (hú zi nián), Clarias fuscus, literally ‘Beard Catfish’ non-literally ‘Hong Kong Catfish’. However, this is much bigger, so I’m rejecting that.

 

In the end, I suppose they are all similar enough to be one species as far as dinner is concerned if not to picky ichthyologists. Whatever they are, although they are popular here, mainly in stir-fries or soups, I find they lack flavour but aren’t offensive. That’s the closest I can get to a recommendation.

 

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11 hours ago, liuzhou said:

759618917_waspfish.thumb.jpg.e67cae5615bc4203983635a7bd304ead.jpg

 

Another common freshwater fish causes mass confusion and is illustrative of the difficulties I have here in identifying fish. This is not atypical.

 

I have spent years tracking down a reliable identification for this ugly species. The most common name I hear, 黄蜂鱼 (huáng fēng yú), Tachysurus fulvidraco translates as 'wasp fish'. There are other alternative names, both in Chinese and English . In English it is sometimes referred to as yellowhead catfish or Korean bullhead.

 

However, no sooner had I found this than I also found two other different but visually identical species. But I’ll deal with this one first.

 

It is a type of bagrid catfish native to East and SE Asia, particularly China, Vietnam, Laos and Korea. Although it can reach 34.5 cm / 13½ inches in length, it is normally around 8 to 10 cm / 2½ to 4 inches.

 

It is prone to parasites so should always be well cooked before consumption. Like the loach above, it can be rather slimy as it it covered in mucus, enabling it to survive long periods out of water. They are also very lively and will attempt to jump away if they see the chance. One friend was preparing some and one escaped and hid under her kitchen cabinets for a week until she could finally recapture it. It was exhausted but still alive when she finally succeeded.

 

The second possibility is 蟾胡鲶 (chán hú nián), Clarias batrachus or the so-called walking catfish. This name does seem to describe the way that fish of my friend’s scuttled away across the floor and they are described as being particularly slimy.

 

My only hesitation in adopting this name is that the species is said to be native to somewhat south of here, where as the first is decidedly local to here, not that things don’t get introduced, as we have seen.

 

Then recently I found contender number three – 胡子鲇 (hú zi nián), Clarias fuscus, literally ‘Beard Catfish’ non-literally ‘Hong Kong Catfish’. However, this is much bigger, so I’m rejecting that.

 

In the end, I suppose they are all similar enough to be one species as far as dinner is concerned if not to picky ichthyologists. Whatever they are, although they are popular here, mainly in stir-fries or soups, I find they lack flavour but aren’t offensive. That’s the closest I can get to a recommendation.

 

A WEEK!?!?!

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12 hours ago, liuzhou said:

759618917_waspfish.thumb.jpg.e67cae5615bc4203983635a7bd304ead.jpg

 

 

 

What's all the yellow?  Bile?

 

I hate when my fishmonger accidentally nicks it open and that uber-bitter yellow stuff taints a bit of the flesh (typically around the collar, my favourite bit!)  Straight to the bin that part goes. 

 

 

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34 minutes ago, TicTac said:

What's all the yellow?  Bile?

 

I hate when my fishmonger accidentally nicks it open and that uber-bitter yellow stuff taints a bit of the flesh (typically around the collar, my favourite bit!)  Straight to the bin that part goes. 

 

 

 

It's not bile. Most catfish have these yellow pigments called xanthophylls, which are tasteless and do no harm whatsoever. Still not my favourite fish, though.

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1 hour ago, liuzhou said:

 

It's not bile. Most catfish have these yellow pigments called xanthophylls, which are tasteless and do no harm whatsoever. Still not my favourite fish, though.

Interesting.  Admittedly I do not eat much catfish.  Thanks for taking the time to share all of this with us; Mother Nature never ceases to amaze!

 

 

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268404444_seabass.thumb.jpg.f5df5bb0093cfb7ee2b7b86ed3f41b6a.jpg

 

I’m taking a bit of a temporary break from freshwater species and going to jump into the sea! I will return. I am anadromous, although I prefer the sea to supply dinner.

 

Much of the sea fish I get is landed at Beihai, a city on the southern coast of Guangxi, near the Vietnam border and is both wild caught and farmed in the Gulf of Tonkin. In addition, we get farmed fish from around most of China’s eastern and southern coasts. Most markets only do freshwater fish, so sea fish is the preserve of the supermarkets. It is rarely sold live, but is mostly fresh. Very little is frozen in China, except in Heilongjiang where everything is frozen, even the people.

 

1820392137_Japaneseseabass.thumb.jpg.a4296cdd04e19751353bb560a938b06b.jpg

 

I will start with something probably familiar to most members. Sea bass, although that name covers a lot of different species. What we get here is 海鲈 (hǎi lú), Lateolabrax japonicus or Japanese Sea Bass. This is approximately 30 cm/12 inch long white-fleshed beast with a fine delicate taste and flesh which flakes perfectly. Here, it is normally gutted and steamed whole and served alongside other dishes, especially on festive occasions. A dip, the nature of which differs from cook to cook, is usually served alongside, but most are soy sauce and/or vinegar based. That said, I have filleted then pan fried it and even used it successfully in fish and chips.

 

948501032_steamedfish2021post-steaming.thumb.jpg.a7d0d2076daa400234f8c4ff27d33794.jpg

Steamed Japanese Sea Bass

 

1011109900_seabasswakamecrabroepickledginger2.thumb.jpg.0be2add61a84ba6c27b582795a246b15.jpg

Pan Fried Japanese Sea Bass Fillets with Wakame, Crab Roe and Pickled Ginger

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1156005489_popanoschool.thumb.jpg.1176339e661f54aaa382b2402d998c40.jpg

Snubnose Pompano

 

I posted this in the Dinner 2021 topic a couple of days ago. It is 鲳鱼 (chāng yú),Trachinotus blochii, or Snubnose Pompano.

Pompano is a 21-member family of marine fish, most of which are eaten. The snubnose variety is found in the Red Sea and East Africa to the Marshall Islands and Samoa, north to southern Japan, south to Australia. Here it is farmed on China’s east coast near Shandong province and others. The local supply is again from Beihai.

 

It is sometimes marketed (both here and elsewhere) as 小昌鱼 (xiǎo chāng yú)*, Silvery Pomfret or Butterfish, but these are not true pomfrets, which are a completely different species.

 

109144415_snubnosepompano.thumb.jpg.0a18a30069ac00756c8e712b58627a7f.jpg

Snubnose Pompano

 

Snubnose sold here are around 26 cm/10 inches nose to tail, although they can grow much larger. Their meat is delicious, but there isn’t a lot of it! I will happily eat a whole one myself and still be looking for more. I have been to family dinners where two or three of them were prepared. They are normally steamed, but can be pan or even deep fried after being coated with starch. I use potato starch rather than the monstrous type so favoured by many.

 

pompano.thumb.jpg.6a2207d19480973663cc05c352deb62a.jpg

Pan Fried Snubnose Pompano

 

Probably the best I ever had though wasn’t in China, but was cooked by a Chinese woman on a beach on a Thai island which must remain secret! Actually, it needn’t as it is now totally out of bounds to visitors as part of a protected area and you can’t go there anyway! The fish was fried and covered with a delicious chilli-heavy sauce. I have tried to replicate it, but it has never worked. The ambience was part of the recipe.

 

*The  middle character is wrong. It should be . However, the label and sign writers in the local supermarket regularly get their own language wrong. With 10s of thousands of characters to recall, it isn't surprising. Doesn't help me with identification though, when the name they give is incorrect.

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223506332_YellowCroaker.thumb.jpg.80b189053537002dac0fab88384a6b1d.jpg

Yellow Croaker

 

Here we have a very common fish round these parts: 小黄花鱼 (xiǎo huáng huā yú), Larimichthys polyactis, Yellow Croaker or Corvina. Both wild caught, but more likely farmed, off China’s east coast in the East China and Yellow Seas. These are one of the few fish sold both fresh and frozen, but they are also sold dried or smoked.

 

The fish tend to be around 20-25 cm / 8-10 inches in length. The dried or smoked fish are usually added to hotpots and soups, whereas the unprocessed are shallow fried with spices and herbs. The meat is very delicate and needs handling with care to keep the creature intact.

 

Fans of Korean cuisine may know this one as the salted and dried favourite delicacy, 굴비 - gulbi.

 

1084885571_friedcroaker.thumb.jpg.109eb7f7ceebc2b10bc9f9139eb92977.jpg

Fried Yellow Croaker with Herbs, Spices and Fried Soybeans

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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