Vernon Summerlin

Let’s go the other side of the world to try a Chinese dish for our crappie. Shui Zhu Yu is one of the most common Sichuan fish dishes. The essential ingredient is Sichuan bean sauce. Shui means water and Zhu means boil.
Sichuan cuisine is very popular not only throughout China but worldwide. “One dish, one shape, hundreds of dishes, hundreds of tastes” is how they describe their diverse recipes.
Sichuan, a southwestern Chinese province, contains a stretch of Yangtze River, one Asia’s longest water ways and is home to basa (a type of catfish). This fish is commonly used in Shui Zhu Yu. In North America basa is often labeled as basa fish, swai or bocourti. As Shui Zhu Yu and other Sichuan fish dishes grew in popularity and made their way into kitchens around the world different game fish were substituted.
This month we’re substituting our favorite piscatorial species, crappie, instead of oriental catfish. This recipe makes only two servings, so you may want to double or quadruple it, depending on how many tummies you’re filling.

2 3-ounce crappie fillets cut into bite-sized pieces
1 egg white, beaten
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
3 thin slices fresh ginger root
1 tablespoon canola oil
10 Sichuan peppercorns
5 dried chile de arbol peppers*
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons Sichuan bean sauce
2 cups water
3 stalks celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup sliced Napa cabbage (Chinese cabbage)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 sprigs cilantro

*Chile de arbol, a Mexican pepper rated 15,000-30,000 Scoville units. To fire up your dish, substitute Cayenne pepper (30,000–50,000) or Pequin pepper (60,000–140,000). To tone it down use Jalapeño (1,000-20,000).

Stir the egg white, cornstarch, white pepper and ginger together in a bowl. Add crappie and mix to coat. Set aside to marinate at least 15 minutes.
Heat one tablespoon vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat; cook and stir the peppercorns and dried chile peppers in the hot oil until they turn a very dark red (they will look almost black, so be careful not to burn the chilies). Remove the dried chili peppers and peppercorns from the skillet. Mince the chile peppers. Mash the peppercorns finely and set aside.
Return the skillet to the medium heat and add one tablespoon vegetable oil and bean sauce; cook and stir the bean sauce with the oil until the mixture turns red. Stir water into the sauce, increase heat to high and cook until the sauce simmers.
Remove the ginger slices from the marinating fish and add them to boiling sauce. Add fish and cook at a boil until done.
Divide the celery and cabbage between two soup bowls. Pour the fish and sauce over the celery and cabbage. Top with the garlic, peppercorns and chile peppers.
Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over high heat until it just begins to smoke; carefully pour hot oil over the garlic, peppercorns and chile peppers. Garnish each portion with cilantro.