Fish in spicy coconut sauce

Posted on January 31, 2014


Happy new year guys! Yes Chinese new year (CNY) has come around again :). The past week or so has been a little nutty with getting things ready. I’ve spent the long weekend cleaning the house, getting all my gift shopping in order, making CNY treats and preparing for the big family dinner tonight (officially the night before given it’s past midnight now). So while I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the kitchen, there has been little time for preparing regular food to eat. This is one of my ultimate cheat recipes. Would you believe me if I told you this took ~15mins and only required 4 ingredients?


Looks pretty darn good for minimal effort wouldn’t you say? And really, about 15 mins is all it takes. It only looks impressive because it’s a whole fish. But you know, I’ve said it before, fish doesn’t take very long to cook so fish recipes needn’t be overly complicated. The 3 necessary ingredients are a whole fish (obviously), XO sauce and coconut milk. The 4th ingredient of greens was a last minute addition for colour and to introduce some fibre into my meal – it’s completely optional.

This is almost like a curry, but not. The complex spicy flavours come from XO sauce, which is like the best cheat ingredient to stock in your fridge. It is a flavoursome sauce comprising of assorted goodies like conpoy (dried scallop), dried shrimp, bacon bits and chilli – a bit like an unami smack in the face. Each variety of XO sauce will have it’s own mix of ingredients, but I regard conpoy and at least one other dried seafood as must haves. For those uninitiated; xo sauce is a chilli based sauce that originated in Hong Kong and used in Cantonese (or Southern Chinese) cooking. Its named is derived from XO (extra old) cognac because XO cognac is viewed as a very chi chi liquor in Hong Kong and thus ‘XO’ has been appropriated to denote things of high prestige/quality. XO sauce, given the amount of dried seafood it features, is regarded as a ‘top shelf’ product and worthy of the XO label. Most restaurants make their own XO sauce and there are are a few brands that make pretty decent versions for the supermarket selves. If your local Chinese restaurant makes an awesome XO sauce, you could always ask if they will sell you a small portion to take home. Luckily for me, a relative of mine makes a pretty darn good XO sauce with all the trimmings :).


RECIPE – Fish in spicy coconut sauce


  • 3 tablespoons XO sauce (pulp and oil)
  • 1 whole fish (scaled, gutted and cleaned)
  • 1 small can (165mL) coconut milk
  • 1 bunch baby bok choy, washed and chopped (optional)


  1. In a heavy based pan, heat XO sauce until nearly smoking. Sear both sides of fish on high heat for ~ 90 seconds each side. While fish is searing, distribute some of the XO sauce pulp into the cavity.IMG_8068
  2. Pour coconut milk into pan. Stir through, reduce heat to a low simmer and cover for ~10 minutes or until fish is 90% cooked through. (The time required depends on the size of your fish. For a small fish ~500g like the one pictured above, ~10 mins is sufficient, for larger fish you will need more time.)
  3. Add chopped greens into the pan, cover and steam for a final ~90 seconds.
  4. Serve immediately.IMG_8074

A flavoursome, nutritious and colourful 1 pot wonder. A great dish for CNY eve dinner (in fact this was actually a part of my CNY eve dinner tonight) because in Chinese, fish is a homonym for surplus which implies riches, abundance and all that good stuff. So to have fish for CNY eve and to save some for CNY day means ‘every year there will be fish’ or ‘every year there will be surplus’. May you gallop into a prosperous Year of the Horse!