Learn to cook Chinese pan-fried fish fillet with soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and scallion. Follow my easy tips to get that perfectly crispy pan-fried fish.
Pan-fried fish with soy sauce is one of the most classic Chinese recipe to enjoy white fish. Chinese restaurants love to serve their fish whole, and only sometimes thinly sliced, or in fillet form.
This recipe with fish fillets is the easiest and most straightforward, and you can have a really nice fish dish for lunch/dinner in 30 minutes, including prep time. ♥
Which fish is commonly used in Chinese cooking?
Most Chinese fish recipes call for whole fish, and some of the more popular fish we use when cooking Chinese dishes include red snapper, rock rish, pomfret, flounder/sole, sea bass/striped bass, tilapia, and cod.
If you are using cod, we usually use cod fillets/steaks only and not the whole fish since cod is a very large fish.
The best fish to use is live fish
I prefer using whole fish when I can buy them still living and kicking in their tanks, which you should be able too if you have access to a big Chinese/Asian grocery stores.
In almost every store that I have visited in the US, most will happily clean and cut the fish for you if you ask, so you can save some prepping time.
Be sure to ask for ice if you do this to keep the fish as fresh for as long as possible.
Also, cook the fish on the same day you buy it, preferably immediately once you reach home. :)
What if I can’t find live fish?
You can still use whole fish, even when you can’t find live ones. Be sure to select very fresh fish. It should have clear eyes, shiny scales, and fresh smell of the sea, not fishy or stinky.
Can I use fish fillet instead?
If your grocery store doesn’t sell live fish and the whole fish selection is not great, you can use fish fillet too. In fact, I develop this recipe around fish fillets, though you can definitely use this recipe to prepare whole fish too. :)
Please make sure that your fish fillet has firm flesh, and if possible, with skin on so you get to enjoy the contrast between crispy skin and tender flesh.
Feel free to use frozen fish fillets as those can oftentimes have higher quality than the ones already sitting for hours in the meat section.
How to prepare fish fillets so they will be crispy.
First, let’s prepare the fish fillet for pan-frying so you will end up with perfectly crispy pan-fried fish fillets. :)
1. Pat dry each fish fillet with really well.
This step is super important, especially if you use thawed frozen fish.
2. Salt, pepper, starch/flour.
Sprinkle each side of the fish fillet with salt and pepper, then dust with corn starch. If you don’t have corn starch and you are not aiming for a gluten-free dish, you can also simply dust the fish fillet with all-purpose flour.
3. Shake off excess starch/flour.
You want to coat your fish well, but not excessively. Too much starch/flour will actually lead to less crispy fish.
How to perfectly cook a pan-fried fish fillet.
Once you do all the steps above, your fish fillets are ready to be cooked. Here are the steps to follow to ensure crispy fried fish:
1. Use a heavy pan/skillet.
My preferred choice is a cast-iron skillet, and you really don’t need a non-stick pan to cook a perfect pan-fried fish.
2. Hot pan and cold oil.
Always heat the pan first before adding oil. So what you want to do is to heat the pan until you start seeing thin smoke, then add oil and swirl to coat the pan, then proceed with cooking.
3. Let the fish fillet releases itself from the pan.
Almost 100% of the time, the fish fillets will initially stick to the pan. But, once the surface is cooked and becomes golden brown, the fillets will release itself naturally from the pan.
So have patience and don’t try to move your fish in its early stage. You should at least wait until the edges of the fillet are golden brown before you try nudging it.
Sauce for Chinese pan-fried fish
This dish is all about enjoying the fish with as little seasoning ingredients as possible. And you can see that we use only garlic, ginger, and scallions for our herbs/aromatics.
As for the sauce, it cannot get any simpler than this. You will only need three ingredients: water, light soy sauce, and sugar. For most people, that’s practically just soy sauce, right? :)
What is a good substitute for light soy sauce?
The best substitute is regular soy sauce, such as Kikkoman soy sauce, preferably reduced-sodium soy sauce as I find the regular version too salty.
Chinese Pan Fried Fish with Soy Sauce
- 250 gram firm white fish fillet, such as red snapper, tilapia, rockfish, flounder, cod, etc.
- pinch of salt
- pinch of ground pepper
- corn starch, to dust the fish (*)
- 2 tablespoon cooking oil
- 4 cloves garlic, cut into small pieces (or roughly minced)
- 1 inch ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 scallions, sliced diagonally
- Sauce for Chinese fried fish
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce (**)
- 2 teaspoon sugar
- Pat dry the fish really well, especially so if you use thawed frozen fish fillet. Scatter a pinch of salt and ground pepper on the fish. Dust with corn starch (or all-purpose flour) to coat the fish so it won't stick when fried on the pan. Shake to remove excess starch/flour, and set aside.
- Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.
- Heat frying pan on high heat until you see thin wisp of smoke. Add oil and swirl to coat the pan, stir fry garlic, ginger, and scallion until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- In the same pan, fry the fish for 5 minutes each side. Only flip the fish once at the end of 5 minutes, or when you see that the edges of the fish has browned. Otherwise, the fish will stick to the pan. Set the fish on a serving plate.
- Reduce the heat to medium and pour the sauce to the pan. Wait until it bubbles a bit, then return the garlic, ginger, and scallion into the sauce. Cook for a minutes. Pour the sauce onto the fish. Serve immediately with steamed white rice.
- (*) You can also use all-purpose flour to dust the fish if you don't need the dish to be gluten-free.
- (**) You can also use regular soy sauce, preferably less-sodium version, if you don't have light soy sauce. If you must, you can also use dark soy sauce but do add salt to suit your taste since dark soy sauce is less salty compared to light soy sauce or regular soy sauce.