‘Suan Cai Yu’ is a classic yet less well-known dish originated from Sze Chuan/ Sichuan, China. It is also considered to be a part of ‘Shui Zhu’ dishes in China.Though it is not so popular, one can still find it in almost every Sichuan style restaurants in China. Its sister dishwater boiled fish is more popularised among Sichuan residents and the Chinese.
Nonetheless, ‘Suan Cai Yu’ features a more flavourful broth with tangy spice hint derived from the dish’s main essence, which is pickled greens. Sometimes pickled mustard greens are used too, as it gives out a better and stronger sour tangy taste.
‘Suan Cai Yu’, or more commonly known as Sichuan Fish with Pickled Greens in English, consists of several main ingredients namely fish slices (Tilapia fish is mostly used for this dish, due to its velvety, soft and silky texture when properly cooked), pickled greens and chilli flakes. It is almost similar to Germany’s sauerkraut due to its hot and sour pickled-flavoured broth.
The fish slices are thinly sliced and must be tender yet chewy, soaked inside a mixture broth made out of chicken stock, fish stock and Sichuan pickles, hence the flavoursome pungency upon the first bite.
Origins of ‘Suan Cai Yu’
Though no records are found regarding the history of this classic Sichuan dish, there is a legend from the olden days’ folklore on how did this dish come about.
It is told that a fisherman came back from his daily duty in the sea one day, and accidentally dropped his catch of the day into a huge pot of pickled broth which his wife was cooking. Thus, this is how ‘Suan Cai Yu’ was discovered and created thereon after.
Another stipulated origins of this dish are said to be first created in the mid-80s, and gradually started spreading and gaining some recognition during the 90s throughout China.
Types Of ‘Suan Cai Yu’
There are two ways to cook this Sichuan authentic dish of ‘Suan Cai Yu’, one which is relatively easier and is ready to be served in 40 minutes; while the other method is more sophisticated and can be catered for bigger events or gatherings.
The first simple method of recreating this dish mainly lies on the fish you bought. You may use catfish or Tilapia or any other fish type of your choice, but buy it pre-cut.
Pre-cut fish does not only save you the trouble and hassle of dealing with the whole fish, but it also saves you a lot of time in your mise en place too! This is why you are able to prepare it in less than 40 minutes. Though it will not taste 100% authentic, it is still good enough for a weekday or weekend simple and quick meal preparation.
The second version, on the contrary, is far more extensive and authentic. It is more suitable when one plans to host a big party and needs to cater to more people. The cooking process is similar to one another, but instead of getting a pre-cut fish, buy a fresher and a whole one. You will need a deep skillet since you will be cooking for a larger crowd. Poaching the live fish in homemade stock broth makes the taste ten times better and pungent.
Best Time to Enjoy ‘Suan Cai Yu’
It is very common to see households in Sichuan devouring this dish, particularly in the winter.Due to its spicy and sour smell, this dish is especially great to be consumed during the cold season as it brings warmth not only to the taste bud and body but to the heart as well!