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Chrysanthemum Fish In Sweet Vinegar Sauce

1 pound firm white fish fillets
= (such as catfish or grouper)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground white pepper
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons plum sauce
3 tablespoons chicken stock
= (or canned chicken broth)
2 tablespoons light brown sugar - (packed)
1 tablespoon pickled cucumber
= (or pickled ginger)
=== FOR THE DISH ===
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup finely-chopped celery
1/4 cup finely-chopped carrot
1/4 cup finely-chopped onion
1/4 cup finely-chopped green bell pepper
Vegetable oil -- for deep-frying
1/4 cup cornstarch

Lay one of the fillets on a cutting board with the tail end facing you. Working with a thin-bladed knife and holding the blade parallel to the cutting board, cut through the center of the fillet starting at one of the long sides. Do not cut all the way through the fillet; the idea is to 'butterfly' it, so it opens up like a book. Close the fillet back up and cut it crosswise -- through the uncut side -- into 1/2-inch strips. Sprinkle fish filets with salt and pepper. Let stand for 10 minutes.

For the Seasonings: Stir the ketchup, vinegar, plum sauce, chicken stock, brown sugar and pickled cucumber or ginger together in a small bowl until well blended.

For the Dish: Heat a 2-quart saucepan over high heat until hot. Add oil and swirl to coat the bottom. Add the celery, carrot, onion and bell pepper and stir-fry until the carrots are tender-crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in the seasonings, bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to low to keep the sauce warm.

Pour enough vegetable oil into the wok to fill 3 inches. Heat over medium heat to 375 degrees. Dust the fish strips with cornstarch to coat them lightly and shake gently to remove any excess. Hold one of the fish strips by the uncut end and slowly lower the cut end into the oil. Move the fish constantly as you lower it so the cut ends begin to curl. When the ends begin to curl, release the fish into the oil. Repeat with as many of the remaining fish fillets as will fit into the oil without crowding. Cook until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the fillets with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining fillet strips.

Arrange the fried fillets on a warm platter with the curled ends facing up or toward the side. Spoon the sauce over the fish and serve immediately.

This recipe yields 4 servings.

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