Recreating the Chong Qing Grilled Fish experience at home

Once in a while, when we’re in the mood for both spicy food and fish, we head down to Chong Qing Grilled Fish for some seabass submerged in a wide variety of soups.

Being a Sichuan restaurant, it’s not surprising that more than half the choices involve chillies in varying degrees of spiciness, with generous bunches of Sichuan pepper corns floating in the oily, rich and savoury broth.

The fish is served in a large and fancy warmer that keeps the dish hot and bubbly throughout most of the meal, contributing to a festive dining-in experience.

But what if you feel like having the dish but don’t feel like dining in at the moment? Well, the folks at CQGF clearly thought about this and came up with quite an interesting way of recreating the experience for their delivery and takeaway customers.

The fish and its accompaniments are pre-packed in an inner plastic container, with the broth in a separate pouch that has an easy-to-open cap. Underneath the fish container is a chemical heating pack that activates when it comes into contact with water.

The outer container is covered and when the heating pack starts boiling the water, the steam circulates inside to heat everything up. The step-by-step instructions are clearly printed out in both English and Chinese, together with simple graphics.

All that was left to do was to follow the instructions and let chemistry do its thing. I wasn’t expecting too much, given how small the heating pack seemed to be, but after 3-4 minutes, steam started coming out of the opening quite violently, lasting for a good 5 minutes or so. It was quite impressive.

While we were waiting for the grilled fish to be sufficiently heated up, we started on the side dishes.

First was the saliva chicken (口水鸡), which earned its name because we definitely started salivating with the very first bite. The spiciness hits the tongue, and it’s quickly followed by the numbing tingling from the ground Sichuan pepper.

The chilli wantons (红油抄手) were less spicy and tasted only average. The skins were a bit too thick, resulting in too high a skin-to-filling ratio. We dipped them in the saliva chicken sauce, which improved the flavour significantly.

Once the steam died down, we opened the outer plastic cover to reveal the main dish. It definitely looked the same as what we had in the restaurant, and even the broth wasn’t quite boiling hot, it was hot enough that we had to blow on our spoons before drinking it.

The flavour was similar to what we remembered, from the fragrant Sichuan pepper to the generous half-inch thick layer of chilli oil. However, the fish was unfortunately cooked to death. And then cooked again, just to be sure.

It definitely wasn’t due to the heating pack, because it couldn’t have generated enough heat given the short duration.

Our best guess was that the restaurant probably didn’t want to risk any accidental under-cooking, and chose to go overboard in an abundance of caution. I can’t say that I blame them.

Which was a pity because when we had it in the restaurant, the fish was cooked just right. I guess we won’t be ordering this for delivery in the future, and when we next have a craving for the dish, we’ll just head down to the restaurant for the real deal.

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