西湖醋鱼 West Lake vinegar fish has to be most emblematic dish of Hangzhou’s West Lake. It is a revered Jiangnan recipe that dates back to the southern Song dynasty and is traditionally made with grass carp that’s been fasted for several days to temper its fishiness. Best practice is to bleed out the fish during dispatch and to scrub the body cavity and gills thoroughly with cold water. I’ve tried a lot of restaurant versions and my favorite one was at @jiangnanspring in the San Gabriel Valley.
The canonical method of preparation is to quickly cook the fish in boiling water (i.e., several minutes or so depending on the size and geometry of the fish), and then pouring over it a starch-thickened gravy of black vinegar, Shaoxing wine, sugar, and soy sauce. The reasoning here is to rapidly set the firmness of the flesh with a rolling boil, but the timing is unforgiving so I actually think it’s a lot easier and better to just steam the fish. The flavor should be a good balance of sweet & sour.