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Shanghai Xun Yu {Smoked Fish}

An Iconic Shanghai-Style Cold Appetizer Dish

by Shirley
Shanghai Xun Yu {Fried Fish} recipe

Shanghai Xun Yu {熏鱼}, which translates as “Smoked Fish” is a traditional Huai Yang {淮扬} food. This popular fish dish features thin fish steak, deep fried first and then soaked in a sweet savory sauce.

We usually enjoy Xun Yu as a cold appetizer, since they are perfectly fine to eat without being warmed up. Braised Beef Shank and You Bao Xia {Shrimp} are the other two iconic cold appetizers.

Shanghai Xun Yu {Fried Fish} recipe

Grass Carp is a Traditional Shanghai Xun Yu Ingredient Fish

During the 80s in China’s Yangtze River delta area, right before each Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival {Chun Jie 春节}, factories would award each of its employees one big grass carp, or Cao Yu {草鱼} in Chinese. It was popular for each family to make Xun Yu using grass carp then.

I am always a big fan of Xun Yu and have been wanting to make a Xun Yu recipe post for a while. Recently my husband caught a decent-sized grass carp. Guess the timing is now. LOL.

How to make authentic Shanghai Xun Yu {熏鱼}?

Fresh grass carp is the best to make Shanghai Smoked Fish {Xun Yu}. If the fish is fresh, you do not even need any marination before deep frying the thin-cut grass carp steak. The essence of this authentic Shanghai-style dish lies in the sauce.

A few tips on how to make authentic, tasty and healthy Shanghai Xun Yu:

  • Use avocado oil for deep frying if possible. Avocado oil has a higher smoking point and is loaded with nutrients.
  • Cut the fish steak as thin as possible, which makes it easier to deep fry and soak up the sauce.
  • Deep fry the fish twice. The first round is to cook the fish. The second round is to firm up the surface to form a crust.
  • Make the sauce first and place it in a deep glass bowl.
  • To streamline the sauce-making process, I use a spice grinder to grind bay leaf into a powder and use all the spices including ginger in the powder form. This way,
  • As you remove the fish from the fryer after the 2nd round of deep frying, place it in the sauce bowl.

How to make an old-fashioned healthy & tasty Xun Yu sauce?

Shanghai Xun Yu Sauce Ingredients

Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, and brown sugar provide the base for this yummy sweet soy sauce. A splash of Zhenjiang vinegar might be unexpected, but plays such a crucial role in forming the unique yumminess. Other seasoning ingredients include bay leaf, star anise, ginger powder, white pepper, and chili powder (optional if you like a hint of spiciness).

Shanghai Xun Yu {Fried Fish} recipe

Shanghai Xun Yu {熏鱼 Smoked Fish}

Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Additional Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

Shanghai Xun Yu {熏鱼}, which translates as “Smoked Fish” is a traditional Huai Yang {淮扬} food. This popular fish dish features thin fish steak, deep fried first and then soaked in a sweet savory sauce.


  • 2 lb fish steak, thinly cut, grass carp is preferred but other fish such as fresh cat fish can potentially work too
  • 4 cups of avocado oil, for deep frying
  • 2 stalks of green onion, chopped or julienne cut

For Xun Yu Sauce:

  • 2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp Zhenjiang vinegar
  • 2 tbsp brow sugar
  • 1/8 tsp bay leave powder, freshly ground
  • 1/8 tsp star aise powder
  • 1/8 tsp ginger powder
  • 1/8 tsp white pepper
  • 1/8 tsp Sichuan chili powder, optional
  • 4 tbsp water


  • Wash, rinse well the fish steak and pat dry, and set them aside.
  • Make the Xun Yu sauce first. Add everything under "For Xun Yu Sause" in a saucepan or small frying pan. Whisk well, turn the heat to medium, and bring it to a boil. Use a small silicone spatula to continuously stir using a "draw a line" motion to make sure the sugar is melted and nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.
    Shanghai Xun Yu Sauce Ingredients
  • Turn the heat to simmer and let it cook for 15 minutes and then turn the heat off, and set it aside.
  • Add 4 cups of avocado oil to a cast iron wok, turn the heat to medium, cover it with a lid, and let it cook for about 8 minutes, or till the temperature reaches 350 F (177 C).
  • Carefully place about 4 pcs of fish into the wok, and use a stainless steel spider strainer to separate them and prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the wok. Cook for 3-5 minutes, or till it looks golden brown, and then flip the fish and cook the other side for an additional 3 minutes.
  • Remove the fish using the spider strainer and place them on a plate.
  • Repeat the above steps to cook the rest of the fish.
  • If the temperature is way over 375 F (190 C), then turn the heat down one notch and do the second round of deep frying. This time, cook for about 3 minutes, or till the fish is golden brown.
  • Place the fish in a deep dish pour the sauce over, and let the sauce soak up the fish.
    freshly made Shanghai Xun Yu {Smoked Fish}
Nutrition Information
Yield 6 Serving Size 150 g fish
Amount Per Serving Calories 292Total Fat 18gSaturated Fat 2.7gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 15.3gCholesterol 100mgSodium 522mgCarbohydrates 3.5gFiber 0.1gSugar 2.9gProtein 28g

Nutrition calculation is provided by"NutritionValue.org" to the best of my knowledge. Nevertheless, I use lots of homemade, all natural, unprocessed, unrefined raw & wholesome ingredients which are not always readily available in the referenced source. Therefore the calculation may not always be accurate.

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