Squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish – A Culinary Masterpiece

Squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish

The Squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish, known as “Song Shu Gui Yu” in Chinese (松鼠鳜鱼), is a traditional banquet dish and a representative masterpiece of Suzhou-style cuisine, celebrated for its harmonious blend of color, aroma, and taste. The outer layer is crispy while the inside boasts tender fish meat, complemented by a delicious sweet and sour sauce that makes it irresistible.

The name “Squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish” is derived from its appearance when the fish is deep-fried. The fish’s flesh protrudes outward, with the head raised and the tail curled, resembling a squirrel. During the cooking process, hot marinade is poured over the freshly fried mandarin fish, and as the fish absorbs the flavorful liquid, it produces a sizzling sound reminiscent of a squirrel’s chatter.

Dating back to the Qing Dynasty, this dish has a rich history. Legend has it that Emperor Qianlong, during his visit to Jiangnan, discreetly dined at the Songhe Lou restaurant in Suzhou. The chef used carp as the main ingredient, carved patterns onto the fish, added a slightly seasoned marinade, coated it with egg yolk batter, and deep-fried it until tender. The fish was then drizzled with hot sweet and sour sauce, resembling a squirrel in shape. Emperor Qianlong was highly pleased with the dish, and its fame spread throughout Suzhou. Eventually, the dish evolved to be made with Mandarin Fish, leading to the creation of “Squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish.”

Preparing this dish at home requires mastering four key points: decorative knife skills, marinating, coating with flour, and the precise sequence of frying, drizzling, and saucing. Firstly, it is crucial to use a diagonal knife to create decorative cuts on the fish, requiring a certain level of knife proficiency. Secondly, care should be taken not to cut through the fish skin to facilitate frying and shaping. Thirdly, the dipping sauce can be customized according to personal preference. Lastly, when preparing Squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish at home, the intricate squirrel-shaped presentation can be omitted to simplify the cooking process.

The visually appealing and aromatic Squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish represents a significant part of China’s traditional culinary culture, particularly in the realm of Suzhou-style cuisine. It stands as a culinary masterpiece that has withstood the test of time, embodying the collective wisdom of the people. This dish not only showcases the region’s cultural environment but also reflects the local pursuit of a high-quality dining experience. As a classic in Suzhou cuisine, the Squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish continues to be a symbol of culinary excellence and a testament to the rich culinary heritage of China. So, on its one-year birthday, let’s celebrate this dish that has brought joy and flavor to countless tables.

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