This Timeless Pan-Fried Belt Fish Recipe Delights with Its Crispy Texture and Buttery Flavor
This recipe for Simple Pan-Fried Belt Fish has been passed down through generations, admired for its straightforward taste, delightful crispness, and velvety texture. I have fond memories of my grandmother and mother preparing it for me, and over the years, I’ve shared this dish with friends and family. Let me tell you all about this delicious fish and how to make it just right.
What is Belt Fish?
Belt fish, also known as cutlass fish or ribbon fish, resembles a slender ribbon or belt with a sharp, pointed head. One distinguishing feature that catches the eye is its shiny, silvery skin, which gives it the name cutlass fish. You can easily find belt fish in Asian markets, either whole on ice or pre-cut in sections in the freezer aisle. It’s a rarity to come across this fish in non-Asian grocery stores.
In China, particularly in and around Zhejiang province, belt fish is commonly prepared by steaming, red-braising, or pan-frying, similar to this recipe. However, it is rarely seen on restaurant menus. In Japanese cuisine, it is served as sashimi, and Korean cooking often features it in pan-fried dishes or spicy stews. I’m curious about how other cultures enjoy this fish, as there don’t seem to be many recipes available. If you have any insights, please share in the comments!
What to Look for When Buying Belt Fish
When it comes to belt fish, there is a noticeable difference in texture and taste between fresh and frozen varieties. Fresh, never frozen belt fish is highly prized. My grandmother often steamed it with just Shaoxing wine, salt, ginger, and scallions. The fish turns out incredibly light and buttery, a true delicacy cherished by those from the Zhejiang region. Unfortunately, fresh belt fish is not readily available everywhere, so it’s best to braise or pan-fry it.
How to Serve Pan-fried Belt Fish
Whenever I cook fish, I am reminded of an old saying from my grandmother: “咸鱼淡肉” (xian yu dan rou). This classic four-word idiom suggests that when cooking fish, it should be slightly saltier to bring out its flavor. Conversely, when preparing meats, it’s best to lightly season them to preserve their natural taste. In this recipe, I offer a suggested salt range, but I encourage you to adjust it according to your personal preference.
Pan-fried belt fish can be served hot, at room temperature, or even cold. Although it may sound unconventional, trust me, all three variations are equally delightful, especially when accompanied by a bowl of hot steamed rice or porridge. As a general rule, it’s best not to reheat fish, as it can often develop an overpowering fishy taste. If you don’t like the idea of eating cold fish straight from the refrigerator, you can let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before enjoying it.
1. Clean the Fish
Using a dull knife or the side of a scissor blade, scrape off the shiny silvery outer layer of the fish. This step is optional, but it helps eliminate any fishy taste that the skin might impart. Next, remove the fish gills, guts, black membrane, and any traces of blood from the central bone. Give the fish a thorough rinse, shake off the excess water, and cut it into 2-inch sections.
2. Marinate the Fish
Transfer the fish sections to a bowl and sprinkle salt evenly over them. Add the Shaoxing wine and julienned ginger. Let the fish marinate for at least 3 hours or overnight, uncovered in the refrigerator. Place the fish pieces on a large plate or sheet pan to allow any surface moisture to evaporate.
3. Cook the Fish
Remove the ginger pieces from the marinated fish. Now, you have two options: you can either pan-fry the fish as is or coat it in flour to create a crunchy crust and prevent sticking or falling apart. Coating the fish with flour requires more oil, but it ensures a crispy exterior while keeping the fish intact. If you’re new to pan-frying fish, this is a great safeguard to try.
If you choose the flour coating, simply add flour to a shallow bowl or plate and coat the fish on both sides, shaking off any excess. Heat a flat-bottomed cast iron skillet over medium heat until it lightly smokes. Add 3 tablespoons of oil and arrange the fish in the pan, leaving about an inch of space between each piece. Pan-fry the fish until it turns a deep golden brown on both sides. Depending on the size of the fish sections, each batch will take about 10-15 minutes to cook.
Pan-frying fish requires patience to achieve the perfect golden color, so resist the temptation to rush. The fish is fully cooked when it easily detaches from the center bone. Garnish with chopped scallions and serve.
Enjoy this Simple Pan-Fried Belt Fish with its delightful flavors and inviting textures. It’s a dish that balances simplicity and taste, perfect for sharing with loved ones or impressing guests. For more delicious recipes and cooking inspiration, visit Ekilove.