May 3, 2015

Chilled Bigeye Fish - Chiu Chow Style 潮州凍大眼雞

Chilled, cold, Bigeye Fish, fish, big eye chicken, Chiu Chow,  潮州, 凍, 大眼雞, recipe, chinese, pu ning, bean sauce, 普宁豆酱

The thing about spring in Hong Kong is that it lasts only a few cool windswept weeks and then it's gone forever.  BAM! and just like that we're right in the midst of hot summer heat.  Yuck!   If there is one thing that I could do without it's those endless summery months!  

And yet one must soldier on nevertheless and thus we find our thoughts turned longingly towards those delicious cold dishes in the Chinese repertoire. We've posted about several Northern Chinese style cold dishes like the crunchilicious Chinese Cold Cucumber Salad and the cold Chinese Spiced Beef Shin.

Today I want to share our latest obsession, a Southern style Chinese cold dish, the very easy to make and really, really amazingly fresh and sweet Chilled Bigeye Fish - Chiu Chow Style, or 潮州凍大眼雞.  This cold fish dish is so tasty and it keeps so well in the fridge that we're making batches of it so we can have it all the time! It's that good!

Chilled, cold, Bigeye Fish, fish, big eye chicken, Chiu Chow,  潮州, 凍, 大眼雞, recipe, chinese, pu ning, bean sauce, 普宁豆酱
Bigeye Fish (top/bottom), Mullet* (middle) 

The Chilled Bigeye Fish is a standard offering you will see at every Chiu Chow Style Chinese restaurant, usually as a part of the spectacular display of various chilled meat and seafood near the restaurant entrance.  

Chiu Chow is a part of the Guangdong province bordering on the ocean so they incorporate a lot of fresh seafood in their cuisine.  The very clever method of preparing Chilled Bigeye Fish comes to us from generations of fishermen at sea who used steaming and then chilling fishes to allow them to keep their fresh fishes in an (very!) edible state for a longer time.  

This chilled fish dish is quite pricey if you order it at restaurants, so if you can access fresh (or even frozen) fish for this dish you can save a bundle and it will taste even sweeter and fresher homemade.

Chilled, cold, Bigeye Fish, fish, big eye chicken, Chiu Chow,  潮州, 凍, 大眼雞, recipe, chinese, pu ning, bean sauce, 普宁豆酱
The Bigeye Fish after steaming: the white of the eye pops out when done

This dish is most famously made with the distinctive Bigeye Fish, also known as Red Bigeye and Short tailed Bigeye.  (Yes they have really big eyes)  In Chinese the name is 大眼雞, which literally means 'Big Eye Chicken.'  Which is hilarious!  I love the nicknames that the Cantonese give to things!  Why the heck would a perfectly respectable looking fish be called a big eyed chicken!?

The special attributes of this fish are the enormous eyes, the very, very tiny scales that make scaling improbable and the very firm and sea sweet meat. Because the scales are so tiny, this fish is not scaled, just gutted and cleaned. Then after you steam it (as we are going to do) or make a soup with it, the skin along with the scales stays hard and intact in one piece and you can pluck the fish meat off the skin with little effort.  

If you can find this Bigeye Fish really fresh you will be rewarded with probably the best, sweetest fish meat you have ever tasted! ( might even be tastier than Steamed Garoupa Fish!)

If you can't find the Bigeye Fish you can substitute the Four Finger Threadfin 馬友, Sea Bream 鯛魚or Sea Bass 鱸魚 in its stead.  Don't use mullet, we tried it and it was not so good.  Just remember to scale any alternative fish first.

Chilled, cold, Bigeye Fish, fish, big eye chicken, Chiu Chow,  潮州, 凍, 大眼雞, recipe, chinese, pu ning, bean sauce, 普宁豆酱

To be absolutely authentic for this Chilled Bigeye Fish one must locate a source for the special Chiu Chow Pu Ning Bean Sauce, or 普宁豆酱, that is used for this dish.  A briny miso like naturally fermented soy bean sauce, it's the perfect compliment to the fresh sweet fish meat.

We found ours at the local wet market at a vendor who sells mostly Chiu Chow food stuffs.  If you can't find it, no matter, just substitute with a small saucer of your best soy sauce instead.  Yummy!

Chilled, cold, Bigeye Fish, fish, big eye chicken, Chiu Chow,  潮州, 凍, 大眼雞, recipe, chinese, pu ning, bean sauce, 普宁豆酱
Chilled Bigeye Fish - Chiu Chow Style Recipe 
(Prep time: 15 mins  Cook time: 7 mins   Chilling time: 2 hours)


  • 2 medium size Bigeye Fish 大眼雞
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 6 large slices ginger
  • 1 tbsp Pu Ning bean sauce 普宁豆酱
  • 1 tbsp cool boiled water


Rinse the fish thoroughly. Sprinkle salt generously all over and inside the fish. Let marinate for 15-20 mins. Pour off any accumulated juices.  Put one slice ginger under, inside and on top of each fish. Steam over high heat for seven minutes.

Remove from heat immediately and carefully pour out any juices in the steaming plate. Let cool to room temperature, then remove the ginger slices, cover and chill in the fridge for at least 2-3 hours or until completely chilled.

When ready to serve, take a sharp knife and make two cuts through to the bone at the tail and at the head from top to bottom of fish. Then slip knife in very carefully along bottom (belly) of the fish and slide up along the top of the fish bone until you reach the top of the fish but don't slice all the way through (leave the skin at top of the fish intact). 

This will allow you to 'open' the fish on the serving plate, (see very first image of this post), allowing folks to easily pluck the fish meat from the skin. If you want to go a bit fancier you can remove the fish bone as well.  Just be careful when slicing, it can be a bit tricky until you get the hang of it.

For the sauce mix 1 tbsp of the Pu Ning bean sauce with 1 tbsp of cooled boiled water or until the sauce is to taste.  (It's very salty when you don't water down so add water until salty enough for you.)  Serve fish cold with a saucer of dip by its side.  Hope you enjoy our fish obsession as much as we do!

Tip:  We usually steam four medium fishes at one time and have it over the course of several days. For each meal we have one to two fish.  Fish prepared this way and covered will keep for up to 4-5 days in the fridge.

And actually the longer you keep it, the better it tastes!  Saves a lot of time each day for dinner preparation too if you can just pull it out of the fridge.  Yeah, it's win win!



  1. I tried this tonight and it was really good! Are there other uses for the bean sauce? Now that I have a whole jar, haha.

  2. Hi Lolai - Glad you liked it! As for the sauce you can use it as a general dip for seafood. Like for drunken shrimp, I think that would be good. Also you can steam fish with it. We haven't tried that yet but I think we just might cuz it looks yummy. ~ellen😊