Fish noodle soup recipe: Classic street snacks throughout China – and Asia at large for that matter – can be a bit infamous for being hard to cook at home, but it’s not the case for this one.
This is Hengyang yufen or ‘fried fish rice noodle soup’, and it’s actually one of those ‘feed yourself in 30 minutes flat’ sort of affairs – just some rice noodles in with a delicious, mildly spicy milky fish soup that is way more than the sum of its parts.
It’s from the city of Hengyang in central Hunan, where you can find little yufen joints dotted across the city, but it’s a common enough sight in home kitchens around there as well. This is Hunan food, after all.
You see, I feel like there’s this certain characteristic of different cuisines that’s not really talked about all that much: that is, the size of the overlap between restaurant cooking and home cooking.
So like, for example, in Cantonese cuisine, Har Gow is a super classic Dim Sum, but pretty much no home cook in their right mind is gunna be making it unless they’ve got something to prove on YouTube. On the flip side, braised pomelo skin is a classic CNY dish, but it’s kinda hard to find at restaurants.
And certain cuisines seem to have a clearer distinction than others – for example, French cuisine seems to be much more separated on that front than, like, Italian.
And much like Italian cooking, the food that you get at a great restaurant in Hunan’s gonna look and feel pretty similar to a meal whipped up by a talented home cook, of which there’s plenty.
So then, pretty straightforward. To get started with your Hengyang fried fish noodle soup, you’re gonna need fish.
This guy was one Tilapia, but the exact fish that they usually use in Hengyang is called caoyu or grass carp – the boney spiny bit in particular.
Now, making milky fish soup is a fantastic way to use up the bones of the fish, but I do know that in a lot of places outside of Asia fish bones can be a bit difficult to source.
So then, two options – if you wanna go the authentic way, just use about 300 grams worth of those bones cut into two-inch pieces.
But alternatively? Working from fillets also absolutely works – just slice the fillets into one inch by two-inch pieces – this shape’s called gupaikuai or ‘domino pieces’ in Chinese.
And because I imagine most of you guys be going that route, we’ll be using fillets today – a bit pricier than bones, a little easier to break, but no one gonna complains about the extra meat
So right. High-level overview at first – and really, not too much going on here.
First, we’ll boil up some rice noodles and set them aside.
Then, we’ll shallow fry our fish pieces till golden and dip out the frying oil.
Then, we’ll fry that fish with a bit of chili n aromatics and go in with some hot, boiled water.
Then once it’s good and milky, we’ll add in a bit of vegetable in the form of napa cabbage, boil that up, optionally add some poached eggs, season, and that’s pretty much it.
So then – let’s talk rice noodles.
The specific rice noodle you’ll often see at the shops in Hengyang are locally called ganfen, which are freshly made and sold semi-dried.
If you can get some fresh rice noodles, great, but because I know that’s sometimes a tough ask, today we’ll be swapping in some dried Vietnamese rice noodles instead – specifically, the thinner, rounder sort. Not exactly the same, but they will do the trick.
So, we’ll be making two bowls of fish noodles, so just boil 200 grams worth of dried rice noodles according to your package.
For us, these took six minutes to cook through, so then just rinse those under cool water to stop the cooking process, and then set that aside.
Now, in a wok or any not-sticky vessel of choice, toss in about an inch worth of oil and heat that up over a high flame.
Once the oil’s at about 190 centigrade, toss in your fish pieces – that’ll lower the temperature which’s fine because we’re aiming to fry them at around 140.
Just keep that over the max flame until the exterior’s become nice and golden brown, about three minutes, then shut off the heat and dip out the oil – you only want a thin smear left in the wok.
Then, go in with your aromatics – this was just two cloves worth of minced garlic, a half-inch of minced ginger, the white part of one scallion, and two dried chilis cut into half centimeters sections.
Swap your flame to maximum, briefly fry those all together, then swirl in a tablespoon of liaojiu a.k.a. Shaoxing wine.
Give that another gentle mix, then go in with one liter of hot, boiled water. Bring that all up to a rapid boil, and let that boil away – covered – for about eight minutes.
After that time, just toss in a few pieces of napa cabbage – about 30 grams worth – and boil that to your liking, or about two minutes for us.
At this point, you can optionally toss in a couple of poached eggs – definitely not mandatory at all but I personally do like the addition.
Then just season with one and a quarter teaspoon of salt, an eighth teaspoon each MSG, and white pepper powder and with that, your Hengyang fried fish rice noodle soup is done.
Pour it into your two bowls, sprinkle over a few chopped scallions, and devour.
So fish noodles is a Hengyang specialty, and one of the best version is supposed to come from
Zhejiang county in Hengyang. And in Zhejiang they would use some kind of rice noodles that’s made from slightly fermented rice dough and give the rice noodles some kind of delicate flavor and texture.
But! Because that rice noodle really doesn’t travel well, so that remains a local specialty to this day.
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