Photo: Almost Bourdain

Recipe: Crispy Whole Fish with Chili and Cilantro Sauce

Ever tried looking your food right in the eye?

In the United States, fish is generally prepared so that you don’t see any semblance of the original animal. No bones, no skin, no fins and certainly no head. But while this may be better for the squeamish, there’s no substitute for the flavor of a fresh, whole fish, with all of its juices, collagens and fats.

In China, fish is a popular dish to serve around the lunar New Year because in Chinese, fish is a homophone for surplus. So, eating fish is a means of assuring abundance for the coming year. The fish should also be served whole, not sliced or chopped up, because whole animals are thought to be symbolic of completeness and family togetherness. In fact, using any cleavers or knives is frowned upon, as you may be hacking away at your family’s good fortune!

Superstitions aside, we find that eating whole fish is perfect any time of the year. The following recipe makes a crispy fried fish, topped with cilantro and julienned carrots. With bold flavors and attractive colors, it is sure to be a hit at your dinner party.

Crispy Whole Fish with Chili and Coriander Sauce

Adapted from Almost Bourdain
Serves 4

1 whole fish, white-fleshed, approx. 2-3 lbs
1 T minced garlic
1/2 T minced ginger
2 red Thai chilis, mincd
2 scallions, chopped
1 T rice wine
4 T soy sauce
1 T fish sauce
3 T sugar
3 T rice vinegar
1/2 t white pepper
1/3 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
1 small carrot, shredded
Oil for deep frying

Pat the fish dry with paper towels. Make a few slits on both sides and season the fish with sea salt. Fill a wok with oil deep enough to submerge your fish and heat to 350 F. Deep-fry the fish until golden brown and cooked. Remove from the wok and drain on paper towels.

Add 1 T of oil to a sauté pan on medium heat. Brown the garlic, ginger, chili and scallions until fragrant. Add the rice wine, soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, rice vinegar and white pepper. Bring to a boil and immediately remove from heat.

Place the fish on the serving plate. Scatter half of the cilantro and shredded carrots over the fish. Pour the sauce over the fish, and put the remaining half of the cilantro and carrots on top. Serve immediately with steamed rice.