The piquant spiciness of Szechuan pepper is quite different from that of black or white pepper. Beware, though, too much can numb the mouth temporarily!
450 g (1 lb) whitefish fillets
Pinch salt and pepper
75 g (5 tbsps) flour
90 ml (6 tbsps) white wine
Oil for frying
60 g (2 oz) cooked ham, cut in small dice
2.5 cm (1 inch) piece fresh ginger, finely diced
1/2 - 1 red or green chilli pepper, cored, seeded and finely diced
6 water chestnuts, finely diced
4 spring onions, finely chopped
45 ml (3 tbsps) light soy sauce
5 ml (1 tsp) cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) ground Szechuan pepper (optional)
280 ml (1/2 pint) light stock
15 ml (1 tbsp) cornflour dissolved with 30 ml (2 tbsps) water
10 ml (2 tsps) sugar
1. To prepare the garnish, choose unblemished chilli peppers with the stems on. Using a small, sharp knife, cut the peppers in strips, starting from the pointed end.
2. Cut down to within 1.25 cm (1/2 inch) of the stem end. Rinse out the seeds under cold running water and place the peppers in iced water.
3. Leave the peppers to soak for at least 4 hours or overnight until they open up like flowers.
4. Cut the fish fillets into 5 cm (2 inch) pieces and season with salt and pepper. Beat the egg well and add flour and wine to make a batter. Dredge the fish lightly with flour and then dip into the batter. Mix the fish well.
5. Heat a wok and when hot, add enough oil to deep-fry the fish. When the oil is hot, fry a few pieces of fish at a time, until golden brown. Drain and proceed until all the fish is cooked.
6. Remove all but 15 ml (1 tbsp) of oil from the wok and add the ham, ginger, diced chilli pepper, water chestnuts and spring onions. Cook for about 1 minute and add the soy sauce and vinegar. If using Szechuan pepper, add at this point. Stir well and cook for a further 1 minute. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set them aside.
7. Add the stock to the wok and bring to the boil. When boiling, add 1 spoonful of the hot stock to the cornflour mixture. Add the mixture back to the stock and reboil, stirring constantly until thickened.
8. Stir in the sugar and return the fish and vegetables to the sauce. Heat through for 30 seconds and serve at once.
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