Fried fish with corn sauce is a common dish in Cantonese restaurants. At the inexpensive places, you’ll get fried frozen fillets with a cloying, too-thick creamed corn sauce straight out of the can. Occasionally, however, at upmarket restaurants, you can find delicious versions made with fresh fish (the best I ever had was emperor fish) in a light breading (or batter) and house-made corn sauce.

Fried fish with corn sauce

Buy whatever mild white-fleshed fish is freshest in the market. The ones we used for this photo shoot came from three fish – each about 24cm long from head to tail – which the vendor cut into six fillets about 16cm long (she gave us the bones, which were made into fish broth). You can either fry and serve the fillets whole (which seems more formal), or cut them into strips about 2.5cm wide.

One of the best versions of this dish I’ve tasted had an unusual coating – fine rice vermicelli that had been broken into small pieces, then mixed with flour and cornstarch; when fried, the vermicelli becomes very crisp. Uncooked rice vermicelli is so brittle you can crush it just by squeezing it. It has a tendency to fly all over the place, though. To prevent this, put the vermicelli in a roomy, clean bag (to contain the mess), then insert your hand and crush the contents.

About 700 grams fresh fish fillets
About 125 grams plain (all-purpose) flour, divided

About 50 grams cornstarch

About 75 grams fine rice vermicelli, crushed

2 large eggs

Fine sea salt

Cooking oil, as needed

For the corn sauce:
500 grams fresh corn kernels, from three to four earsAbout 15ml Chinese red vinegar

About 5 grams granulated sugar, if needed

10 grams cornstarch

1 large egg

2-3 fresh spring onions

Fresh coriander sprigs

1 Make the corn sauce first. Put the kernels in a pan with 400ml of water and about one teaspoon of salt. Bring to the boil and cook until the corn is tender. Remove about half of the kernels and roughly purée them (I use an immersion blender, but you can use a standard blender or a food processor). Pour the puréed corn back into the pan with the whole kernels and water, add the red vinegar and stir well. Taste the corn and, if needed, mix in five grams of sugar, or to taste.

Heat the mixture until simmering. Mix the cornstarch with 30ml of cold water, then add this to the corn and stir until the mixture thickens. Whisk the egg and drizzle it into the simmering corn mix­ture, stirring slowly but constantly. Simmer for about a minute, then turn off the heat.

2 Prepare the fish. Sprinkle salt lightly but evenly over both sides of the fish fillets. If you like, cut the fish into strips about 2.5cm wide.

3 Prepare the coating. Put 75 grams of flour into a shallow dish and mix in 1½ teaspoons of salt. Whisk the eggs in another dish. Put 50 grams of flour, 50 grams of cornstarch and 75 grams of crushed rice vermicelli in a third dish and mix well.

4 Pour oil to a depth of about 1cm in a skillet and heat to 170 degrees Celsius. Coat the fish pieces lightly but evenly with the flour/salt mixture and shake off the excess, then dip them into the egg. Dredge with the flour/cornstarch/rice vermicelli mixture, pressing on the coating to make sure it adheres. Fry until the fish is cooked and the coating is golden brown (about one to two minutes for small pieces, eight to 10 minutes for whole fillets). If the fish browns too quickly, lower the heat. When the fish pieces are cooked, drain them on paper towels.

5 If the corn sauce has cooled too much, heat it until simmering, and if it’s too thick, stir in more water. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasonings, if needed. Ladle the corn sauce into a bowl. Mince the spring onions and scatter them on top of the sauce.

6 Arrange the fish on a serving plate and garnish with fresh coriander sprigs. Serve the fish with the corn sauce on the side.