But in mainland China sweet and sour recipes are somewhat different and may use stronger flavours such as garlic, ginger and dark vinegar.
In this recipe from Sichuan province the flavours come together in a wonderful harmony that will likely make you reject the sweet and sour dishes often served up at your local Chinese restaurant.
Táng cù cuì pí yú [糖醋脆皮鱼] or sweet and sour crispy skin fish is quick and simple to prepare and you may well impress any Chinese friends you might have.
To start you will need a large whole fish. In China most fishes available are river fish and can be a considerable size. However the largest whole fish you might be able to purchase will be a sea bream or sea bass, but these are perfectly adequate.
Ingredients & preparation
Gut, clean and de-scale the fish and then make deep diagonal cuts into the fish on both sides. Place a few slices of fresh ginger into the cuts along with a few pieces of spring onion and marinate the fish in a little Chinese wine or sherry.
Meanwhile prepare your other ingredients. Put about a tablespoon each of finely chopped ginger and garlic in a bowl. Finely slice a spring onion and put in another bowl. For a garnish cut 4-5 cm lengths of spring onion and slice thinly lengthwise and put in a bowl of cold water. This will make the thin strands curl up.
Next prepare the sauce. Measure out about one tablespoon of light soy sauce and a few drops of dark soy, one tablespoon of Chinese wine or sherry and three or four tablespoons of white sugar plus half a tablespoon of sesame oil and three tablespoons of dark Chinese vinegar [such as Chinkiang vinegar - 镇江香醋]. In a separate bowl mix a teaspoon of cornflour or potato flour with a little water.
Having prepared the sauce and other ingredients take the fish and remove the ginger and spring onions and coat well in cornflour. Heat some oil in a wok and fry the fish on a moderate heat until crispy and well cooked. Then transfer the fish to a serving plate.
In a clean wok heat a little sunflower oil plus a few drops of sesame oil. Add the chopped ginger and garlic and stir well to ensure they don’t burn. Then pour in the prepared sauce and a little fish stock or water and bring to the boil. Finally add the cornflour or potato flour mixture and the chopped spring onions.
Once the sauce has become translucent and thickened carefully pour it over the fish. Finally top the fish with curls of spring onion, sprigs of fresh coriander or thin slices of chili to garnish.
Enjoy with a bowl of steamed rice.