Dai grilled fish scented with lemongrass and fresh herbs is one of the great fish dishes of China’s Yunnan province, alongside the Bai fish stew made with carp from Dali’s commanding Erhai Lake.

The fish from Yunnan’s majestic lakes are generally highly prized. It is a land-locked province, and so it is unusual to find seafood and salt-water fish, but the small, often bony fish from the river show up in soups, or are coated in cornflour, then lightly fried. This recipe is excerpted from The Yunnan Cookbook by Annabel Jackson and Linda Chia.

Dai Grilled Fish with Lemongrass

This is a favourite, classic dish made by the Dai people of southwest Yunnan, near the border with Laos and Myanmar. Traditionally it is prepared over burning coals, which lends an appealing smoky character to the fish as it browns and turns a little crunchy. It can also be served cold, with chilli chutney and tomato salsa. The fish can also be pan-fried (choose a fish which fits snugly in your pan!), grilled in the oven, or baked in the oven.

1 whole fish, scaled, gutted and cleaned
2 stalks lemongrass, halved lengthwise
For the marinade:
2 spring onions, finely chopped
2 sprigs of garlic chives, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 sprigs of mint
2 sprigs of coriander
2 stalks lemongrass
1 knob ginger, finely chopped
1 tbsp chilli paste
Pinch salt
Salt, to sprinkle

1. Cut the fish in half horizontally to fan it out.
2. Mash together the marinade ingredients (this is traditionally done with bamboo pestle and mortar).
3. Place half in the cavity, and the other half on a plate. Lay the fish on it, cover, and rest in the fridge for 1 hour.
4. Remove fish from the fridge, sprinkle with salt, lay the lemongrass pieces across it, and clamp it with a BBQ grill. Barbecue for about 3 minutes on each side until cooked.

For grilling in the oven:
After an hour in the fridge, place the stuffed fish under the grill and cook on each side for about 4 minutes.

For oven-baking:
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C / 400°F. Drizzle an oven-proof pan with olive oil, and place 3 lemon slices at the bottom, top with lemongrass. Lay the fish on the top of these. Cover the fish with foil or paper. Reduce the oven temperature to 170°C / 340°F and bake for 50 minutes. Serve hot.

For pan-frying:
Coat the fish with a little cornflour and fry in a hot pan for 2 minutes until browned. Reduce the fire and cook for a further 5 minutes. Bring the heat up again, turn the fish, and cook for 1 minute. Reduce the heat and cook for a further 5 minutes. Garnish with sprigs of mint and coriander and serve.