Chinese crispy fried flounder or gan jian long li (干煎龙利) is a relatively easy Chinese fish dish to make at home. Serving a whole fried fish like this crispy fried founder is ideal for special occasions and Chinese New Year feasts.
The first step is to pat the fish dry with a paper towel on both sides. Next, rub the Shaoxing wine all over the fish on both sides. Mix together the salt and white pepper and rub it all over both sides of the flounder.
Next, lightly dredge both sides of the fish with cornstarch. I sifted the cornstarch over both sides of the fish to get a uniform, light coating. If you don’t have a sifter or fine-meshed strainer to do this, you may need to use a lot more than 3 tablespoons of cornstarch to dredge the fish. You can also try patting it all over the fish with your hands and then shaking off the excess.
Heat a carbon steel wok or very large frying pan over high heat until it just starts to smoke. Next, pour ⅔ cup canola oil around the perimeter of the wok to ensure it is fully coated and turn the heat down to medium high. Carefully place your fish in the wok.
A fish of this size will need 5 to 6 minutes on each side. You should be getting a good sizzle in the wok, and the oil should be bubbling as you cook the fish. Tilt the wok or pan so the oil reaches all parts of the fish, and soon the flounder will begin to slide around the wok with ease. At this point, you will have to use your wok spatula to hold the fish gently while you continue to tilt the wok to cook the fish evenly. Make sure that the side fins, tail, and fish head are fried evenly as well. This process takes some coordination, but it sounds harder than it is!
Note that this fried flounder recipe calls for ⅔ cup of oil, but if you double the amount, you can get better, crispier results and have a much easier time frying the flounder. However, keep in mind that all but a few tablespoons of oil will be discarded in the end.
You can check the fish by gently lifting up one side the flounder with a wok spatula (so it’s perpendicular to the fish) to see that it fried up to an even golden brown. If it’s ready, just continue the flipping motion steadily to turn it over. Flounder is large and unwieldy, so you can use two spatulas to do this. Another tip is to tilt the wok up on the side you are flipping to make things easier. If you are right handed, tilt the left side of the wok up and use your right hand to flip the fish to your left. Continue frying for another 5 minutes, tilting the wok as needed to make sure the edges fry up to a crispy finish.
Once the flounder is done on both sides, carefully scoop/slide it from the wok to a large plate. Before you do this, there’s a presentation decision--do you serve the flounder dark side (the “top” of the fish) or light side up (the “bottom” that skims the ocean floor)? Many restaurants like to serve it lighter side up, but I like to serve it dark side up. It’s the natural position of the fish, and it sits on the plate a bit better.
One you’ve plated the fish, scoop out the oil into a heatproof bowl, and wipe your wok clean with a paper towel.
Next, in a small bowl, mix the 2 teaspoons of hot water with the sugar, soy sauce and Shaoxing wine.
Use a spoon to skim out 3 tablespoons of oil from the bowl you set aside, taking care not to pick up any particles, and pour back into the wok, set over medium high heat. When the wok is just smoking, pour the sauce mixture in, stirring it until it comes to a boil, then turn off the heat.
Use the spatula to spread half of the sauce evenly over the fish, topping it off with the finely julienned scallions and chopped cilantro. Reserve the other half of the sauce for after you debone the fish. Alternatively, you can let your guests fiddle with the bones themselves, and spoon the sauce over as they like.