I’m not sure about your family, but for ours, the holidays often revolves around food (and games, balderdash, scatergories and arguing about the latter are family favourites). This holidays I finally got around to teaching dad to deep fry whole fish. Deep frying whole fish is one of my “cant be bothered” recipes (bit like this garfish “recipe”, both make up for lack of effort in tastiness though)… A deep fried whole fish looks flashy and with a sweet, tangy and sour thai dressing is delicious. You can also knock the whole meal up in about 20 minutes flat, which is why its a go to when I don’t really feel like cooking.
So first of all you will need to go and catch yourself some fish. Bream, snapper and morwong are usually what I use, but experiment with other fish once you are confident. This holidays after we exhausted all the normal fish species in the fridge and people still wanted more, we tried a few flathead fillets, which worked well, the only drawback was there wasn’t a head or other boney bits to pick over which are personally my favourite bits 🙂 You could always procure fish fromt the markets of course if fishing isn’t your thing, but as a writer on a fishing blog, the catching is probably the most enjoyable bit for me personally, why waste a good excuse to go fishing by buying fish ;)…
So the ingredients:
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Tomatoes (a few)
Lebanese cucumber (one)
Ginger (2-3 inches)- half for the sauce- half julienned as a garnish- depending on how much you like ginger you can adjust how much you add
Garlic (2-6 cloves)- tailor to your tastes
Corriander (one bunch)
Spring onions (4 or 5 sliced prettily)
Red (birdseye) chillies (2-6)- tailor to your tastes- like it hot add more, like it mild add less- don’t like chilli at all, dont add any.
Lime juice (2 tbsp)
Fish sauce (4 tbsp)
Soy sauce (2 tbsps) optional- you can just use a little more fish sauce
Palm sugar (2-4 tbsps), you can use brown sugar if thats all you have
Tamarind water (4 tbsps)- I usually use a one to four ratio of tamarind pulp to water for this.
So to start, fill your wok with the oil for deep frying and get it hot (180-190 degrees). Then start your dressing. Finely dice your garlic, chillies, corriander root and half your ginger. Mix the fish sauce, soy sauce, lime juice and tamarind water in a small saucepan, add the minced ingredients and the palm sugar and put over a low heat for a few minutes, you only want to bring it up to simmering, then your done, its really just to speed up the infusion and melding of all your ingredients in your sauce. At this point make sure you taste, taste, taste. What you want is a balance between the sweet, salty and sour, each should come through and be given an equal starring part on your taste buds. So you may need to adjust the sauce, but adding more sugar, fish sauce or lime juice. This is really the key step. To be honest I don’t have a “recipe”, its just a glug of this a glug of that, taste, adjust, repeat until its “right”. Its only by teaching dad that I now have easily communicable common use measurements of how much of each ingredient goes into the sauce. A glug, a smigeon, a bit of this, some of that etc aren’t very useful to anyone when writing a recipe. Once you are happy with your dressing put it aside.
Hopefully by this point your oil is hot. Now, score the sides of your fish with a sharp knife (down to the bone usually, but if its a small fish, not as deeply or not at all if its a really small fish, say a garfish). Then dust your fish with flour and wack it in the wok. Deep fry it for between 5 and 8 minutes depending on the size of your fish. You want it golden brown and crispy. It also depends a little on taste. Personally, the only time I like “over cooked” fish is when its deep fried in this way. The chewy texture, the edible bones etc really do it for me. So you might need to experiment a little with cooking times to get it just the way you like it.
So now your fish is frying, get your garnishes ready. slice your shallots, tomato, the rest of your ginger and cucumber and gently rip up the rest of your corriander. Leave this aside, taste your dressing again, because its hopefully delicious and you want to eat it by the spoonful and then just wait for your fish to be cooked. Once it is pat it dry with paper towel, put your garnishes all over it (cucumber, spring onions, corriander, ginger and tomatoes) and pour over your dressing. Serve immediately with a nice Sauvignon blanc or a few XXXX golds if you’ve been out fishing all day and this is your first chance to relax since getting home.
There are endless variations on this recipe, the hardest thing about trying to teach dad was I’ve never had a recipe and most times I’ve made this dish its been slightly different, adapted to suit what is in the pantry and the garden or just my mood. You can lightly batter the fish if you want a slightly different textured skin (egg white and potato starch is a good one), you can steam the fish if you want and you can muck around and tinker with the dressing to your hearts content. The above recipe is more a vibe thing than a hard and fast set of instructions. Have fun with it, tinker it to your tastes, play with it a little, add a little sesame oil, try a soy and mirin base (its equally delicious and goes wonderfully with a little sesame oil) rather than the one above, if you have fresh lemon grass or galangal add them to the dressing! You can dump the lime and just use tamarind water or you can dump the tamarind water and just use lime juice. If your lucky enough to have access to green papaya or green mango can be used as garnishes (its best to add them to the dressing and marinate them for a while though). Thai basil and vietnamese mint are great garnishes, so if they are in your garden use them. There are so many variations! This sort of cooking is meant to be fun, its fun to eat and it should be fun to cook. Once you have the vibe down, its one of those recipes that will impress people that you can knock up in next to no time without any stress. Thats really what this recipe is for me, an easy, fun go to I can knock up at a moments notice when I cant really be bothered cooking. It really is that easy.
Anyway, until next time, good luck on the water and in the kitchen