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Shui Zhu Yu – what’s in a name?

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Don’t be fooled by its wishy-washy name, spicy dish Shui Zhu Yu doesn’t take any prisoners.

Boiled fish? You’d be forgiven for thinking we were talking about some tasteless hospital fare – a limp bit of fish, served on a lonely plate, with a side of milk.

But the boiled fish we’re talking about isn’t of the meagre, unappetising kind. One look at this dish’s angry red broth and feral glints of chilli should be enough to convince you otherwise. Grab that milk, you’re going to need it, because this dish is H.O.T.

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Home to the most authentic Chinese food, London Chinatown offers you the piping hot Shui Zhu Yu at Baiwei on Little Newport Street.

While its Chinese name Shui Zhu Yu translates to ‘water boiled fish’, it also mysteriously omits to mention the oil. Scorching chilli oil, that is.

One of the most popular cooking styles in Sichuan – the spicy heart of China’s culinary empire – Shui Zhu Yu entails quickly boiling fine slices of fish (or beef or pork) in a fragrant, peppercorn-infused broth, loaded with Chinese cabbage, garlic, star anise, dried red chillis and ginger.

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Thinly sliced fish is the soul of this dish.

The fish comes to your table sliced into tiny tender fillets and still steaming in the full basin of oil, for you and your friends to pick out with your chopsticks. Pro-tip – the most tender part of the fish is the jowls, so swoop in first, before your friends realise, or earn brownie points by offering it to them.

Should you be dining in China, you may discover Grass Carp or Snakehead in your Shui Zhu Yu, though there are no rules when it comes to which fish. In the UK, restaurants usually use sea bass or catfish.

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It is both acceptable to serve the dish with or without fish head.

Traditionally, the meal was enjoyed by Chinese farmers and labourers. The ingredients didn’t cost much, it was filling and, most importantly, it was pretty darn tasty. Hence the humble dish became a mainstay in Chinese day-to-day culinary routines and it’s just as popular today.

To sample some of the finest Shui Zhu Yu Chinatown has to offer, get down to Baiwei or JinLi Chinese Restaurant for their Boiled Catfish with Sizzling Chilli Oil.

Glass of milk optional.

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