I've yet to be won over by fish and chips, although it's not through lack of trying - I've tasted the iconic dish at places in England that are famous for it and ordered it at gastropubs run by celebrity chefs. While there is nothing wrong with it, I don't understand why people love the meal so much. But that doesn't mean I dislike all fried fish - on the contrary. When steaming a fish, only the freshest catch should be used, and the seasonings should be subtle. But with fried fish, stronger flavours are needed.
Thai-style fried pomfret with lemongrass, lime, coriander and chilli sauce (pictured)
Our Thai helper, Kamonwan, cooks this dish often for my husband and me. When she makes it for company, she uses thicker pieces of boneless fish.
With its balanced flavours of hot, sour, salty and sweet, this sauce is fantastic. If you have any leftover, serve it with other types of seafood or grilled meat.
1 fresh pomfret, about 350 grams (it can be larger, but check that it fits into your pan)
Cooking oil, for frying
1 lemongrass stalk (the juicy base part only), chopped
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3-4 red bird's-eye chillies,
2-3 coriander stalks with root attached, roughly chopped
35 grams palm sugar
About 60ml fish sauce
About 70ml fresh lime juice
Fine sea salt
Garlic cloves, sliced
Red or green bird's-eye chillies
Make the sauce. Dissolve the palm sugar in 45ml of hot water then put it in the bowl of a food processor (or you can use an immersion blender). Add the lemongrass, garlic, chillies, coriander, fish sauce and lime juice, then purée. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning, if needed.
Cut three slashes on each side of the pomfret, cutting to the bone. Dry the fish with paper towels. Sprinkle salt lightly over the fish and into the cavity.
Pour cooking oil to the depth of about 1.5cm into a skillet. Heat the oil to 180 degrees Celsius, then fry the fish for about five minutes in total, or until cooked through, flipping it over once. Drain on paper towels.
Put the fish on a plate and generously spoon the sauce over and around it (you might not need it all). Garnish the plate, then serve immediately.
Fried fish tacos
This is probably my favourite way to eat fried fish - something I'd be happy to have at least once a week. It's similar to the fried fish in fish and chips but, instead of serving it with mushy peas and vinegar, you wrap it in a warm corn tortilla and add shredded cabbage, fresh tomatoes and a light creamy sauce.
6-8 corn tortillas, about 15cm in diameter
200 grams green cabbage
150 grams cherry tomatoes (I use the oval or pear-shaped local tomatoes)
Fresh lime juice, to taste
50 grams mayonnaise,
50 grams sour cream
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
600 grams white-fleshed fish, cut into long, evenly sized pieces
140 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
½ tsp garlic salt
½ tsp ground paprika
About 200ml sparkling water, chilled
Oil, for frying
Fresh lime wedges
Bottled Mexican chilli sauces
Pickled jalapenos (optional)
Thinly shred the cabbage. Dice the tomatoes, then season to taste with salt and lime juice. Mix the mayonnaise with the sour cream, then stir in enough warm water so the mixture can be drizzled.
Use paper towels to dry the fish, then season it lightly with salt and pepper. Pour oil to the depth of about 2cm in a skillet and heat it to 180 degrees.
While the oil is heating, make the batter. In a bowl, use a whisk to thoroughly combine the flour with the garlic salt, paprika, one teaspoon of salt and some black pepper. Add the chilled sparkling water and mix to make a batter that's slightly lumpy. The batter should lightly coat a wooden spoon; if it's too thick, stir in more chilled water until it's the right consistency. Dip the fish in the batter and carefully lay it in the hot oil - cook only a few pieces at a time; do not crowd the pan. Fry the fish until it's cooked through and the batter is golden brown, then drain on paper towels.
Warm the tortillas over the open flame of a gas burner, turning them over so they heat evenly without burning (it's OK if they char slightly). As each tortilla becomes hot and pliable, stack them in a folded-up clean kitchen towel, covering them so they stay warm.
Put one or two pieces of fish on each tortilla and top with some cabbage and tomatoes. Drizzle with the mayonnaise/sour cream mixture, add a few drops (or to taste) of chilli sauce, then squeeze lime juice over the top. Serve immediately.