Taking advantage of the Chinese New Year sales, we finally have a proper flat-bottomed pan, which means we can pan-fry stuff without oil splattering everywhere. Which in turn means the revival of a classic.
Here we use pomfret, but honestly any fish with firm flesh that doesn’t flake when pan-seared should do. Spanish mackerel (batang) and tuna are awesome with this treatment. Sear, then cloak in the night-dark sauce and plenty of aromatics to finish, wafting the aromas of caramel, ginger, garlic… not all good things take a long time.
They do pay attention to their looks at Hong Tai Yang, but it’s the aroma that catches you. It’s complex – little tendrils of something greasy, aquatic, are mixed with the spicy-salty smell that clings to every place that sells (or proclaims to sell) Chongqing hotpot or Sichuan food. It’s vague, wispy, but there, even when we are the only ones in for dinner this early. And the smell is key. Their English name may say ‘theme restaurant’, but the theme is not for the eyes.
Before we go on, I’ll just say this – if you are quite health-conscious, you should probably look away now. Selegie Road has plenty to please the palate of any who seeks to eat healthily, but Hong Tai Yang cleaves to principles that have animated Sichuanese cuisine – principles like ‘more oil never spoiled a dish’, which a friend told me once while teaching me how to make the alluring, complex fish-fragrance (魚香) sauce of her homeland. In Sichuan, ‘healthy’ means they managed to pick out enough Sichuan peppercorns so the finished dish doesn’t physically hurt your mouth. Still with me? Good.