During Western China's desert summers, freshwater fish from the Tarim River are barbecued, butterflied, and splayed across long, thin salt-cedar branches. The skewers are then stuck, stake-like, into the ground around a burning fire, which roasts them slowly and evenly. In this version, a hot oven or a traditional western grill will work similarly, roasting the cumin-, garlic-, and pepper-rubbed fish to a fragrant burnish. While carp and perch are more common in western China, bass and branzino are fine substitutes.
Recipe adapted from All Under Heaven.
Featured in: Eating on the Western Edge of China
- 2 tsp. whole cumin seeds
- 2 garlic cloves, minced to a paste
- 2 red jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded, and minced
- 4 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
- One 1-lb. fish (such as carp, branzino, or bass), butterflied
Combine the cumin seeds, garlic, and jalapeño in a small bowl and set aside. Light a grill to medium-high heat (about 450°) and oil a fish-grilling basket with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Rub 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the salt all over the fish and place it in the grilling basket.
Place the fish, skin side up, on the grill and sprinkle it with half of the jalapeño mixture. Grill, uncovered, until golden, about 4 minutes. Flip the fish and drizzle with the remaining olive oil, then sprinkle with the remaining jalapeño mixture. Grill 4–5 minutes more, until the skin is crispy. Serve immediately.