February 3, 2021

Chinese Winter Sun Dried Salted Fish 臘鯪魚

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Dear readers...it's been a hard year, hasn't it?  Well there's a new year ahead of us and here's hoping (fingers very seriously crossed) that the coming year is better,  much better.  Aristotle Onassis said "It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light."  Well said, sir.

As with everyone else all around the world, we've been staying mostly inside our homes for a while now.  I've noticed that limitations, at first seemingly restrictive, can in the end actually push you to exercise your mind in interesting and less used pathways.  Thus we present our slash of light in the darkness, an experiment born out of a bit of boredom (umm...still at home...) and a bit of necessity (umm...still must stay at home...)  

Out of this time of 'limitations' comes my 老公's very successful attempt at Chinese Winter Sun Dried Salted Fish 臘鯪魚: fresh fish, lightly salted, marinated and then hung dried in the winter sun, resulting in a preserved fish that tastes fresh but intensified, slightly salty yet still sea sweet with a chewy texture similar to very soft jerky.  

This whole procedure, done in our tiny kitchen and hung to dry in our common stairwell is a simple yet strong reaffirmation back to our roots as humans with just the sun to preserve our precious food. 

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Sneak peek: this is the final dish that we made with our lovely sun dried fish: Chen Pi Steamed Chinese Sun Dried Fish 陳皮蒸臘鯪魚.  The dried fish is sliced into bite sized pieces and steamed with Chen Pi 陳皮, also known as dried tangerine peel or mandarin peel (check out how to make your own Chen Pi here).  Isn't it just gorgeous?  

Taste wise and visually these two are a match made in food heaven.  The aged citrusy notes of the Chen Pi dried tangerine peel enhance and complement the intense sun dried fish meat.  If you're a fish lover this is a real treat, a new version of the same fish, the taste more concentrated but still fresh and salty sweet with a wonderfully chewy texture.  We found that we would finish nibbling the first yummilicious piece and then just one more and then just please one more...

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Dace fish illustration from 'Annals of the Carnegie Museum" 1919

This preparation, if done with the freshwater Dace fish 鯪魚, is a classic Shunde 順德 dish.   Shunde 順德 is a city in the Guangdong 廣東 province and is the hometown of my 老公 as well as being famed for its ingredients first refined cuisine and super talented chefs.  The Dace fish is a favorite fish of this cuisine, loved for its sweet and flavorful flesh but 'ware of the bones, this tasty little fish has got a lot.

I think that other fish would work just as well for this drying method.  My 老公 says that all fresh water fish will work, but I think that salt water fish would be okay to preserve this way as well.  Oily fish I'm not so sure about however.  I think that one would require some experimentation.

The one vital thing to note about this preparation is that this sun drying should be done in cold sunny dry weather.  In other words, winter.  The cold dry weather of winter preserves the meat long enough for the sun to work its drying magic.  If this is done in hot humid weather it's a recipe for disaster.

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Start with very fresh fish.  The final product will definitely reflect the original freshness.  We found our fresh dace fish at the wet market; asked our usual fish vendor to hold back a few big dace fish for us.  Make sure the fish is scaled, gutted and washed, and all the blood and blood vessels cleaned away.  

Dry the fish thoroughly, then score the fish along the middle all the way to the bone (you can see the slashes in photo above) and also slash on two sides along the top fin (photo three below will show more clearly). This slashing is to open up the meatier parts of the fish to allow in air and heat for the drying.  

Now it's time to lightly salt the fish, the first step of preservation.  How long the fish is salted will affect the final saltiness of the dried fish so if the first time you make this it's too salty then next time reduce the time of salting to your preference.

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After salting the fish is rinsed and then prepared for hanging.   We used an a length of twine tied tight around the tail to hang the fish  Use toothpicks cut to appropriate lengths to prop open the fish meat along the slashes.  This is to allow for better air and sun penetration for drying.

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The de-gutted belly is also propped open to allow for better drying.  A super duper cool cleaning tip for fish (which I only recently learned),  is to look for and remove the blood vessel along the spine (we're looking right at the spine inside the gut in this photo) that all fishes have.  

The fishmonger usually misses this bit when they de-gut because it really sticks to the spine, but its removal is important to keep fishy smells at bay.  Even if the fish is super fresh any blood left inside to cook is going to smell a bit fishy.

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In this photo we're looking down at the top fin of the fish and there are slashes to the bone along each side of the fin down to the bone. If your fish is small and flat this slash may not be necessary.  Prop open with toothpicks cut to the appropriate lengths.

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The fish is then hung for a day in a sunny dry spot before a sweetened soy sauce marinade is brushed on a few times and then the fish is left to soak in the winter sun for a further two days.  Remember that the key is the weather, a dry, cold sunny couple of winter days is perfect.  

Note:  This is for those of you who live in tight spaces with no gardens or balconies like us.  Invention being the mother of necessity we discovered that hanging the fish in our common south facing stairwell window gave our fishes the best winter sun.  Yay for all stairwells!

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This is the fish after two days of hanging.  See how the winter sunlight is shining all the way through the fish?   Just gorgeous!  Check the fish meat for about 75% dryness and a firmness that still has a give when squeezed (tip: if completely dry the fish would be rock hard.)  Your naturally sun dried fish is done!  

At this point you can leave hanging in a cool spot in the kitchen and eat within a week.  Or wrap airtight in plastic and store in fridge for up to a month.

Keep in mind that this preservation is a short term preservation, meant to balance between the saltiness needed for long term preservation and the keeping of the sweet sea taste of the fresh fish as much as possible.  For long term preservation you need the longer salt treatment that leads to Chinese Salted Fish, which is a different yet still delicious thing altogether.

 Your Chinese Winter Sun Dried Fish 臘鯪魚 is now ready to prepare for dinner.  Try out the classic Shunde way to cook this preserved fish: simply steam it with a bit of dried tangerine peel (also known as Chen Pi or 陳皮.)  Ooh so yummilicious, a real treat for fish lovers!

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Chinese Winter Sun Dried Fish Recipe

(3 sun dried fish) Prep time: 1 hr 40 mins Dry time: 3 days


  • 3 fresh whole Dace fish 鯪魚 (or any other fresh or salt water fish, non oily)
  • 3-4 tbsp salt
    Marinade for sun drying fish
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 1/4 tbsp sugar
    Steaming the fish


Sun drying the fish: Scale, gut and wash fish thoroughly, making sure to remove all blood and blood vessels in cavity.  Use paper towels to dry fish thoroughly.  Slash the fish to the bone along the spine on both sides, then along the top fin on both sides, cutting at an angle to meet the bone. 

Place fish in container or plate and generously add the salt on outside, inside and into the slashes made earlier.  Let sit for 1 1/2 hours.  

Wash off salt. Dry then hang the fish in an airy, dry spot that can get direct sun most of the day.  Let air dry for 1 day.   

Make the marinade by mixing everything together til sugar is dissolved.  Place a newspaper beneath to catch drips, then use a brush to brush marinade all over the fish, inside and out.   After two hours brush again.   

Let air dry for two more days, making sure that the fish is getting the sun.  Check the fish meat by squeezing the meat with fingers, the meat should be firm, around 75% dry, but still give when squeezed.  The sun dried fish is ready for eating.  

Store in a cool dry place for a week (out of the sun to prevent further drying) or wrap air tight and store in fridge for up to a month.

Steaming the sun dried salted fish:  Soak dried Chen Pi tangerine peel in water to cover until softened.  Use a small knife to carefully scrape away the bitter white pith, then slice the peel to matchsticks.

Chop one fish into bite sized pieces.  Place fish pieces onto a plate, rub oil all over fish and sprinkle mandarin peels evenly over.  Steam for 12 mins over high heat.  Serve hot and enjoy!

*Note:  Our photo shows ginger matchsticks which can be added before steaming but my 老公 says that the ginger was a mistake and that this dish really only needs dried tangerine peel.  But it is up to your preference of course.



  1. I was looking for affirmation for something I remember from childhood in Canton village in China and this is basically it! I do a lot of fishing in California for 30+ years now and thought I’d try this with some of my fishes.not sure why it took me so long since I’ve been salting all my fishes and anchovies for all ethnic uses.

  2. Wow, to do this with your own freshly caught fish, lovely! I wish we could do that. I hope you like this traditional recipe, it's a keeper for us! We used to buy these sun dried fish from a lady in our wet market, but she's retired now so we have to make our own. Let me know how it turns out. ~ellen