March 22, 2014

Chinese Pan Fried Salted White Herring Fish 香煎曹白咸魚

cantonese, chinese, pan fried, salted fish, white herring, recipe, 曹白, 咸魚,

Yum, yum...  My mouth is watering already!  If you've never tried Chinese Salted Fish before, why not start at the best?  This amazingly deliciously tasty treat is a very traditionally Cantonese way to prepare Chinese Salted Fish, or 咸魚 and you can only really make it properly with the right kind of fish, the best kind of salted fish: Salted White Herring, or 曹白咸魚.   

This is the best way to have Chinese Salted Fish!  This Chinese Pan Fried Salted White Herring Fish is a dish that we all (young and old!) fight over when it appears on the dinner table.

cantonese, chinese, pan fried, salted fish, white herring, recipe, 曹白, 咸魚,
Preserved Salted White Herring, not yet cooked

You only need to prepare a little bit of this fish for a meal, as it is salted fish and a little bit of salt goes a long way.  But mind you, this Chinese Pan Fried Salted White Herring is not just salty, this delectable dish is packed with a briny sea flavor tempered with a caramel sweet crunchy golden crust that perfectly complements the tender fish meat.  You just pick up a bit of fish and crunchy skin with your chopsticks and eat it with a big bite of fragrant rice.  Yummilicious!

Check it out!  My little girl got all creative and so here's the one and only singing Chinese Salted White Herring:

The Chinese Salted White Herring is produced mostly in Hong Kong, I believe.  Hong Kong (you may be surprised to know/recall) started out as a rag tag collection of fishing villages on a barren rocky island, so it is no surprise that many of the local traditional foods come from the sea.  This best of the best Salted White Herring Fish is rather more expensive than other Salted Fish; the most expensive goes for a price of up to HKD600 per catty!  But it's worth it, trust me...

cantonese, chinese, pan fried, salted fish, white herring, recipe, 曹白, 咸魚,
Preserved Salted White Herring, whole fish

To locate Salted White Herring, try at your wet market first at the stalls that sell preserved goods.  If you can't get it locally then go to Seafood Street in Sheung Wan 海味街 and ask for it by the Chinese name '曹白咸魚' at the many vendors for dried seafood which run along the length of the street.  Look for a nice shiny fish that doesn't have any whiff of rancid oil or staleness.

cantonese, chinese, pan fried, salted fish, white herring, 曹白咸魚, salted white herring, seafood street
(Photo by Enoch Lau)

It's a good idea to save your Seafood Street foray for a lazy afternoon and then, while you hunt for Salted White Herring, you can also wander up and down Des Voeux Road amongst the clatter and bluster of buyers, sellers, freight movers, traffic and dried seafood of every imaginable kind hanging, packed and crowded every which way on all sides.  It's a fantastic sight and one that, if you're interested in history, will take you back to a sense of the era when Sheung Wan was one of the major commerce/trade centers in Hong Kong.  

The pier used to be just one short street out from Seafood Street, running along Connaught Road.  So ships used to dock at the pier and the coolies would rush to and fro the short distance carrying the cargo from the swaying ships straight to the godowns (warehouses) that lined Connaught Road and Des Voeux Road.  Some of the old godowns actually still exist and you can spot them if you look carefully, beautiful old 4 story buildings.  If you're interested in this sort of thing there's a great old Hong Kong movie called Hong Kong 1941 that is set in the godown culture of those long past days and also tells the story of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong.

But if you can't get to Seafood Street you can also look for jars of Salted White Herring 曹白咸魚 at your local asian grocery store.  Salted fish is precut then packed with oil into small glass jars.  Just check to make sure that the label indicated 曹白, or White Herring.

Hope you like our classic chinese preparation of Pan Fried Salted White Herring!
Chinese Pan Fried Salted White Herring Fish 香煎曹白咸魚
(Prep time: 1 mins  Cook time: 5 mins)


  • 1 piece Chinese Salted White Herring 曹白咸魚
  • 3 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar


Rinse the piece of White Herring.  Place fish on plate and steam covered over high heat for 10 mins.  Remove from steamer, pour off water, let cool and then dry completely with paper towels (to avoid oil splatter).

In a cast iron pan (or non stick pan) heat oil until it starts smoking.  Immediately turn to low heat and when oil stops smoking add the salted fish.  Pan fry for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes until the fish skin turns a golden brown.  Flip fish and repeat.  Watch the fish carefully as you don't want to burn it.  When golden and crispy on both sides remove to serving plate.

Sprinkle sugar generously all over the top of fish.  Heat the leftover oil in pan until just before smoking.  (If you don't have any oil left, add 1 tbsp of fresh oil.)  Carefully pour enough oil over the fish to melt and cook the sugar.  Serve.



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