Dragon Fish

Dragon Fish

Tomorrow is the Chinese New Year, and the beginning of the Year of the Goat. I asked my friend Nelly Salvacion, who worked as a chef in Hong Kong for four years, to teach me how to make Dragon Fish. Dragon Fish is a symbol of prosperity, a whole fish deep fried and served with the head pointed toward the guest of honor. The cheeks are considered the most delicate part of the fish. The Chinese word for fish, yu, also sounds like the word for abundance, so it is believed that eating fish on the first day of the new year is an auspicious beginning.

Dragon Fish for the Chinese New Year on America's Table

We used a whole red snapper, clear-eyed and fresh from a local Asian grocery, but any fresh rockfish, tilapia or grouper will do nicely. It’s called a Dragon Fish because the gill-like cuts made along the flesh of the fish cause it to resemble a dragon after it’s cooked, when the flesh of the fish turns outward like a dragon’s scales – and dragons are a symbol of power, strength, and good luck in China.

I was intimidated by this dish after seeing what an impressive presentation it made, but it turned out to be easy and accessible. Most of the prep time was taken up in chopping the veggies. The fish itself was incredibly tender and flaky, and the very light batter didn’t thicken it – it just made it crispier. Definitely worth a try!

Serves: 4

Prep time: 1 hour


  • 2-3 pound whole fresh snapper, grouper, rockfish or tilapia
  • salt and pepper for seasoning
  • 1 quart vegetable oil for deep frying

For the batter:


  • ½ cup rice flour or cornstarch
  • ¾ cup water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper

For the vegetables:

Dragon Fish for the Chinese New Year


  • ½ pound bok choy (Chinese cabbage)
  • ¼ pound shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, thinly and diagonally sliced
  • 1 pint baby enoki mushrooms
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 2 spring onions, chopped
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 ½ teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons of water
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil


  1. Scale and gut the fish, leaving the fins and tail intact.
  2. Make 3 parallel, slanted cuts in the sides of the fish, making the cuts in the direction of tail to head.

  3. Do not cut through the bones of the fish.
  4. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

    Dragon Fish for the Chinese New Year on America's Table

  5. Whisk together batter ingredients to form a wet paste and dredge fish with the batter.
  6. It will be very light, and will look like partially whipped eggwhites.

    Dragon Fish for the Chinese New Year on America's Table

  7. Heat oil to medium high heat in a deep pan.
  8. When oil is almost smoking, put in the fish, making sure that it is sitting on its stomach, as if it were swimming.
  9. Fry until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
    Dragon Fish for the Chinese New Year on America's Table
  10. For the vegetables:

  11. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a wok or deep frying pan.
  12. Add onion and cook until translucent, about five minutes.
  13. Add mushrooms and carrots and cook for 2 minutes.

  14. Add chicken stock and cook until carrots are soft.

  15. Add bok choy and string onions and cook for one minute.

  16. Add cornstarch to thicken mixture.

  17. To serve, place the fish on a platter and surround it with the vegetables.

  18. Serve with brown rice.

    Dragon Fish for the Chinese New Year on America's Table

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