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Sichuan Crispy-Fried Carp

sichuan crispy sweet sour carp

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

When life gives you carp, think to the East; it’s a prized fish in Asia. Even so, carp are normally thought of as trash fish, dirty, muddy and bony — and they can be all of these things. But if you catch one in clean water, they will not taste muddy at all.

Carp is farmed all over the world, and indeed was brought to the United States as a food fish by the Germans in the 1800s. It is cheap, and, when properly farmed, firmer and cleaner-tasting than tilapia. It’s often cheaper, too.

But, there is one thing you will need to get used to: Bones. Carp have an extra set of bones you will need to deal with. In Asian cultures, they are not so frightened of a few bones — besides, eating with chopsticks makes it easy to pick around them. The technique I am using here goes a long way to thwarting the bones. You need to slice the carp to the backbone every 1/4 inch or so, which cuts the little bones and opens them up to the hot oil. It’s the hot oil that softens the bones to the point where you can barely notice them. This technique works really well with pike and shad, too.

Keep in mind there is no reason you need to use carp here; it’s just that carp is traditional. Any small fish that can fit in a wok will do: Rock cod, bluegills, smallmouth bass, white bass, black seabass, porgies, spot, croaker — you get the point. Any fish that’s a little too small to properly fillet works.

Serves 4

  • 2 whole (but scaled and gutted) carp or other pan-sized fish


  • 3 chopped green onions
  • A 1-inch piece of finely chopped, peeled ginger
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine (or Japanese Mirin)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 chopped hot chile
  • 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns (optional)


  • A 3-inch piece of peeled ginger
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 finely chopped habanero chile, or 1-2 Thai chiles or 1 serrano


  • 5 tablespoons water
  • 5 tablespoons tomato sauce or ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine (or Japanese Mirin)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons corn starch


  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 finely chopped green onions or chives
  • 2-4 cups peanut or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup rice, potato or regular flour for dredging


  1. Prepare the fish. Cut off the fins of each fish with kitchen shears or scissors. Remove the gills of the fish if they are still attached by cutting them out with the kitchen shears. Make vertical slices along each side of the fish evenly spaced along its length, about 1/4 inch apart from each other — this is very important, because carp have an extra set of bones you need to cut. Doing this shortens the bones and opens them up to the hot oil, which softens them enough to eat. Rinse the fish under cold water and pat dry.
  2. Marinate the fish. Put the 3 chopped green onions, chile, the 1-inch piece of finely chopped ginger, the Chinese cooking wine, soy sauce and the black pepper into a blender and buzz to combine. Pour the mixture into a glass or plastic container, or a Ziploc bag. Add the Sichuan peppercorns, if using. Place the fish in the container and make sure the marinade surrounds the fish. Let this sit in the fridge for 30 minutes to 3 hours.
  3. When you are ready to cook the fish, take it out of the fridge to come to room temperature.
  4. Prepare the vegetables. Julienne the 3-inch piece of ginger. Keep in mind 3 inches is a guideline, so the ginger can be a bit larger or smaller. Cut the ginger into a rectangle, then slice it into thin rectangles about 1/8 inch thick. Then slice these thin rectangles into very thin strips — as thin as you can make them.
  5. Slice the 1/2 onion into very thin half-moons. Slice the garlic cloves as thinly as you can along the long side of the clove to make long pieces.
  6. Pour the oil into a wok and turn the heat on to medium-high. If you do not have a wok, use the largest, deepest skillet you have. A wok really matters here, though, as its shape prevents the tail fin from burning to charcoal.
  7. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Mix the tomato sauce — I use pureed tomatoes — sugar, soy sauce, Chinese cooking wine, water and corn starch and stir vigorously to combine. Set it aside.
  8. Check the oil temperature. You want it to be about 325°F. If you do not have a thermometer (you should buy one!) the oil is ready when a drop of flour tossed into the oil sizzles immediately. Fry the fish. Remove the carp from the marinade and dredge in flour. Shake off excess, and when the oil is at hot, slip the fish one at a time into the oil. You are probably going to have to cook one fish at time. If so, turn the oven on to “warm.”
  9. Fry the fish for at least 5 minutes per side. You want it to be golden brown. I will fry a 1-pound fish for 8 minutes on the first side, 5 minutes on the other side. Larger fish will need more time. When the first fish is done, remove it to a plate and put the plate in the warm oven. Fry the second fish the same way as the first.
  10. Finish the dish. When the fish are done, ladle out all but about 1/4 cup of oil. Toss in the slivered ginger, the onion, the chiles and the slivered garlic and stir-fry over high heat for 2 minutes. Add the sweet-and-sour sauce and stir well to combine. Bring this to a rapid boil and stir well. Cook for 2 minutes.
  11. To serve, pour some sauce on a plate, place the fish on top of it and garnish with the finely chopped chives and cilantro. This dish goes best with simple steamed white rice.

More Fish Recipes

2 responses to “Sichuan Crispy-Fried Carp”

  1. The Judge

    I stumbled on your site. Tried pan searing fresh artic char. It was wonderful. Then some fresh caught grouper and wahoo. Tonite is a beautiful skin on wild salmon withou a single pinbone from Costco. Thank you for teaching me the technique.

    It is somewhat similar to the weiner schnitzel I do with wild turkey breast. Awesome, kicked up with a few capers and a wedge of Meyer lemon. Also make several different kinds of WT sausage. My WT tettrazini some say isb”the best meal I ever ate.”

    Now venison. I have the best v recipes you can imagine. V steak tartare. Smoked v meatloaf latticed with bacon cooked in a mesh basket. Braided loin grilled in the Masman Argentine manner. Stir fry.

    Here is my point. If you are working on another book, I will send you some winners.

    I had a guy just last week say “Judge, you be sure and call me when you cook your squirrel and dumplings this fall.” It was 102f !

    I am an old man who lives in the woods. Maybe, I can remember to send you some stuff as I cook it. If I had your cell, Icould put you on my list and text you some pix and receipts.

    I aint selling nothing. Just appreciate a kindred outdoor cook who shares. Thanks again.


  2. David

    I caught carp, years ago. Then, and for decades, I considered them worthless – a mere nuisance. “Trash fish,” in other words. Today, however, It is I that has changed. I view them as at least useful, now. I figure a gazillion Asians and Eastern Europeans can’t be wrong. I fly fish and will have my eye out for Ol’ Bugle Mouth. If I manage to catch one, I’ll remember this recipe. Thank you.
    Leesville, SC

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