Fried fish is common in most cultures, from ethereally light tempura in Japan to Britain's heavier fish 'n' chips. Frying fish is quick and efficient, although it does use a large amount of oil (which should only be reused for frying more fish; if you use it to cook other ingredients, they'll taste of fish).
As I do with many other fried ingredients, I double-fry fish: the first frying cooks the fish, while the second, at a higher temperature, makes it crisp.
Fried whitebait with tartare sauce (pictured)
The tiny fish known as whitebait are easy to prepare - just dredge them in seasoned flour and fry them. Choose fish that are about 3cm in length; if they're too large, the bones will be hard, even with double-frying.
I make my own mayonnaise because it's something I love to do, but if you like, substitute commercial mayonnaise (preferably Hellmann's) for the home-made in the tartare sauce. You'll need about 250 grams of commercial mayonnaise.
300 grams whitebait
250 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
3/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Sprigs of thyme
Oil, for frying
For the tartare sauce and to serve:
5-10 grams grainy Dijon mustard
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
About 250ml mild-tasting extra-virgin olive oil (or use 125ml extra-virgin and 125ml grapeseed oil)
About 20ml fresh lemon juice, at room temperature
3-5 cornichons, drained and patted dry
A heaped tbsp capers, drained and patted dry
3-5 chives, minced
1 shallot, minced
A few drops Tabasco sauce
A few drops Worcestershire sauce
Rough-flaked sea salt such as Maldon or fleur de sel
Salad greens (optional)
For the tartare sauce, whisk the mustard with the egg yolks and salt. Add a few drops of oil and whisk it in. Continue to add the oil a little at a time, whisking it in as you go. Don't add it too quickly or the mayonnaise will curdle. When a stable emulsion has been established, add the oil in a very thin, steady stream, whisking constantly. If the mixture gets too thick, whisk in a little lemon juice. After adding all the oil and lemon juice, taste the mayonnaise and add more lemon juice if needed. Chop the cornichons and capers and gently mix them in. Stir in the chives, shallot, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce. Cover with cling-film and refrigerate while cooking the whitebait.
Pour oil to a depth of about 2cm in a wide pan and heat it to 170 degrees Celsius.
While the oil is heating, put the flour in a medium-sized bowl and thoroughly mix in the salt, paprika, cayenne and black pepper. Pat dry the whitebait with paper towels then dredge them in the flour. The easiest way to do this is to put a handful of fish into the bowl, toss to coat them thoroughly then put them in a sieve and shake off the excess flour, letting it fall back into the bowl. Add the floured whitebait to the oil and fry for a few minutes so they're cooked through. Fry them in batches. Use a shallow sieve to scoop them from the oil and drain on paper towels.
After all the whitebait have been fried, heat the oil to 190 degrees. Add the fish to the oil and fry for about 30 seconds, until they're golden brown and crisp, then drain on paper towels. Add a few thyme sprigs to the oil and fry them again for a few seconds (they'll sizzle and crackle, so take care). Pile the whitebait onto a plate and sprinkle with rough-flaked sea salt. Add the fried thyme sprigs and the lemon wedges, then serve with the tartare sauce and salad greens.
Fried pomfret with shredded green mango sauce
1 whole pomfret, about 500 grams, thawed, if frozen
Cooking oil, for frying
For the green mango sauce:
60 grams bottled fish sauce
About 40ml fresh lime juice
5-10 grams sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
2-3 shallots, finely sliced
1-2 red bird's-eye chillies, minced
1/2 green mango, peeled and finely shredded
Mix the fish sauce, lime juice and sugar and stir until dissolved. Stir in the garlic, shallot, chilli and mango. Taste for seasonings and add more lime juice, sugar or chilli if needed. Set it aside while preparing the fish.
Make two or three slashes on each side of the fish, cutting all the way to the bone. Use paper towels to dry the fish as much as possible. Pour oil to a depth of about 3cm in a skillet large enough to hold the fish. Heat the oil to 170 degrees and, when it's hot, fry the fish for about four minutes then carefully turn it over and fry the other side. Drain briefly on paper towels while heating the oil to 190 degrees.
When the oil is hot, fry the fish again for about a minute on each side. Drain once more on paper towels then transfer to a serving dish. Spoon the mango sauce into a bowl and serve it on the side.
Styling Nellie Ming Lee