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Sweet and Sour Yellow Croaker

A classic and well-liked Huai Yang Style Dish

by Shirley
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Sweet and Sour Yellow Croaker {Traditional Huai Yang Style}

Sweet and Sour Yellow Croaker {Tang Cu Xiao Huang Hua 糖醋黄花鱼} is one of the most beloved Huai Yang style dishes. It features tender, flaky, and delicious yellow croaker pan-fried using low heat first, and then flavored in a traditional Huai Yang style sweet and sour sauce. They are full of flavor, absolutely appetizing, and mouth-watering.

By the way, if you can’t get yellow croaker, wild-caught croaker works too.

sweet & sour croaker ingredients

Yellow Croaker Fun Facts:

Yellow croakers are native to the East China Sea and the Yellow Sea. They have buttery tender meat that is naturally delicious.

Growing up in Suzhou, in the heart of China’s Yangtze River Delta area, sweet and sour yellow croaker has been one of my favorite hometown food.

cooking yellow croaker

I was absolutely overjoyed to discover yellow croaker in my local Korean grocery store. It turned out they are popular Korean food too.

How to cook Sweet and Sour Yellow Croaker Huai Yang Traditional Style?

See the Recipe for the detailed step-by-step tutorial. A few highlights to mention:

1. Prep the fish

Wash and rinse the fish and then pat dry with a paper towel and then sprinkle evenly with a tiny bit of salt. Right before you are ready to pan-fry, coat the fish with a thin layer of arrowroot flour.

Arrowroot flour is my go-to superfood starch. You may substitute with the starch you have.

Coat Yellow Croaker with Arrowroot Flour
Coat Yellow Croaker with Arrowroot Flour

2. Traditional Huai Yang Sweet and Sour Yellow Croaker uses Pan-Frying method to cook the fish

Turn the heat to medium. Heat a 12-inch hard-anodized fry-pan for 1 minute, and then add avocado oil along with sliced green onions and ginger, stir for 15 seconds or till fragrant.

Heat the Fry-Pan for Yellow Croaker
Heat the Fry-Pan for Yellow Croaker

Add yellow croaker into the pan, lay them flat, gently press down and cook for 2 minutes then flip and cook the other side for additional 2 minutes.

After you have seared the fish, cover the pan with a lid and cook for 10 minutes. Following that, remove the lid, flip the fish, and cook the other side for additional 10 minutes.

Seared Yellow Croaker
Seared Yellow Croaker

3. Make the Sweet and Sour Sauce

While you are waiting, make the iconic Huai Yang Style sweet and sour sauce made of these ingredients: Sake, Zhenjiang Vinegar, Naturally Aged Soy Sauce (Jiang You), Light Soy Sauce, Sugar, and Arrowroot Flour.

Sweet & Sour Sauce Ingredients for Yellow Croaker
Sweet & Sour Sauce Ingredients for Yellow Croaker

Add everything to a small saucepan or 8-inch deep fry pan, and mix very well using a mini whisk. Turn on the heat to medium-high and bring it to a boil. When the sauce bubbles vigorously and tons of bubbles are forming, which is an indication that the sugar in the sauce starts to burn, turn off the heat.

Sweet & Sour Sauce for the Yellow Croaker
Sweet & Sour Sauce for the Yellow Croaker

Zhenjiang Vinegar and Soy Sauce are among the cornerstone condiments for tasty, healthy Chinese cooking. They work extremely well together for meat, poultry, and seafood cut down any unpleasant smell or taste, and bring out the inherent deliciousness.

Naturally aged soy sauce is traditional or naturally brewed soy sauce, which may take years to age. This is the soy sauce Chinese people have been using since ancient times. I sometimes refer to them as regular soy sauce.

Dark vs. Light Soy Sauce is a modern time Cantonese invention. You can think of light soy sauce as not aged soy sauce. People extract them from the soy sauce brewing process as early as 30 days. You can generally substitute naturally aged soy sauce with dark soy sauce.

Sake becomes my go-to cooking wine for fish. It has a clear, refreshing, enticing taste, perfect for fish.

I use Shaoxing wine for cooking meat and poultry. They have a stronger flavor and taste, which is much needed for meat and poultry.

Garnishing and Adding Sauce to the Fish

Garnishing Items for Sweet & Sour Croaker
Garnishing Items for Sweet & Sour Croaker

Garnish the fish with cilantro and other optional garnishing items such as blanched edamame and carrot slices, and pour the sauce in a circular motion onto the fish.

garnish pan-fried yellow croaker
Garnishing Pan-Fried Yellow Croaker
Sweet & Sour Yellow Croaker {糖醋小黄花鱼}
Sweet & Sour Yellow Croaker {糖醋小黄花鱼}

Huai Yang Style Sweet and Sour Croaker Fish Frequently Asked Questions:

Can I use other fish to substitute Yellow Croaker for Huai Yang Style Sweet and Sour Fish?

Absolutely. Butterfish, perch and crucian are the ones that immediately came to my mind. Fish that has tender, white and flaky meat, which also weighs less than one pound, shall all work out fine.

Is there a shortcut to cook Huai Yang Style Sweet and Sour Fish?

You bet. This recipe cooks Huai Yang Style Sweet and Sour Fish via a traditional style, which is pan-frying fish first and then wrapping it up with the heated iconic sauce. Pan-frying gives the fish a firm bite of texture.

However, if you want a quick and easy version, you can do it in a simplified style using the braising method. Check out Sweet and Sour Fish {Simplified Huai Yang Style} for details. Braising cooks fish faster in under 10 minutes but still delivers a super tasty fish. A method I often use.

Do you like Huai Yang Style food? Make sure you check out other classic Huai Yang Style dishes:

Sweet and Sour Yellow Croaker {Traditional Huai Yang Style}

Sweet and Sour Yellow Croaker {Traditional Huai Yang 糖醋黄花鱼}

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Sweet and Sour Yellow Croaker {Tang Cu Huang Hua Yu 糖醋黄花鱼} is one of the most beloved Huai Yang style dishes. It features tender, flaky, and delicious yellow croaker pan-fried using low heat first, and then flavored via a traditional Huai Yang style sweet and sour sauce. They are full of flavor, absolutely appetizing, and mouth-watering.

Ingredients

For Pan-fry Fish:

  • 2 lb. yellow croaker or wild-caught croaker whole fish, net weight, fully cleaned, gutted, and descaled
  • 1/2 tsp salt, such as Himalayan pink salt
  • 1 tbsp. arrowroot flour
  • 2 tbsp. avocado oil
  • a small piece of ginger, about 12 grams, thinly julienne sliced
  • 2 stalks of green onions, chopped

For Sweet and Sour Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup Zhenjiang vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar, turbinado sugar, or organic cane sugar
  • 2 tbsp. Naturally Aged Soy Sauce, or dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. Light Soy Sauce
  • 2 tbsp. sake
  • 1/2 tbsp. Arrowroot Flour or other types of starch

For Garnishing:

  • 2 stems of cilantro, chopped
  • 1 cup of thin layers of carrots, optional
  • 1-2 cups of frozen shelled edamame {young soybeans}, optional

Instructions


Prep Work:
sweet & sour croaker ingredients

  1. Fill a small saucepan with water, bring to a boil, and then add the frozen young soybeans, bring to a boil first, turn to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes. Drain the edamame, and set aside
  2. Use a peeler, peel carrots, get a cup full of peeled carrots, and set aside
  3. Slice ginger, and cut green onions and cilantro

Pan-Fry the Fish:

  1. Wash and rinse the whole fish inside out thoroughly, cut the fins, and pat dry with a paper towel.
  2. If you are cooking wild-caught croaker, which weighs about 1 lb, then cut the fish into 2 pcs for easier cooking.
  3. Sprinkle the salt evenly on the fish, on both sides, and then coat a very thin layer of arrowroot flour. Gently pat to rub into the fish. If the fish is previously salted, then skip the salt.
    Coat Yellow Croaker with Arrowroot Flour
  4. Turn the heat to medium, heat a 12" hard anodized pan for 1 minute, and then add oil, spread evenly across the base of the frying pan using a silicone spatula, and then add green onions, and ginger. Stir and mix for about 10 seconds or till fragrant.
    Heat the Fry-Pan for Yellow Croaker
  5. Add fish into the pan, gently press down and cook for 2 minutes. Then flip to the other side and cook for another 2 minutes. Move the fish pcs around to have the fish absorb the oil.
  6. Turn the heat to low, cover the lid, and cook for 10 minutes. You may notice some juice coming out of the fish.
    Seared Yellow Croaker
  7. Remove the lid, flip the fish, and cook the other side for another 10 minutes. This step is to vaporize the juice and make the outside of the fish more crispy.
  8. Turn off the heat.

Make Huai Yang Style Sweet and Sour Sauce while waiting on the fish:

  1. Add everything under "For Sweet and Sour Sauce" into a small saucepan or frying pan, use a mini whisk to whisk vigorously until all is fully blended
    Sweet & Sour Sauce Ingredients for Yellow Croaker
  2. Turn the heat to medium-high, and bring it to a boil while stirring and mixing. Turn the heat off when you see many bubbles form, that is when the sugar in the sauce starts to burn.

Garnishing and Drizzle Sauce on the Fish:

  1. Place the fish on the serving plate. Organize them nicely. If you previously cut the fish into halves, you can re-assemble them together.
  2. Add cilantro, edamame, carrots slices and then pour the sauce over the fish in a circular motion.
  3. All done, enjoy a naturally delicious Huai Yang classic Sweet and Sour Croaker!
    Sweet & Sour Yellow Croaker {糖醋小黄花鱼}

Notes

  • Get the Little Yellow Croaker if you can. They are smaller by size but has much tender and delicious meat.
  • For Little Yellow Croak (小黄花鱼), each about 6-8 oz. after gutted, descaled and cleaned, takes less time to pan-fry them. For a croaker that is about 1 lb each, it takes a little longer time to pan-fry them.
  • Garnishing item edamame is optional, but goes very well with the sauce and complement the fish. It is also a traditional way of Huai Yang style cooking.

Nutrition Information
Yield 4 servings Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 644Total Fat 32gSaturated Fat 8gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 21gCholesterol 191mgSodium 1801mgCarbohydrates 41gFiber 4gSugar 17gProtein 45g

Nutrition calculation is provided by Nutritionix to the best knowledge per ingredients description and isn't always accurate.

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