The Oven has baked its last loaf. This blog is no longer being updated.

My cooking videos appear at

I write on food at

Any night fish fry

Friday, January 15, 2010

When we were young, my siblings and I would fish in the nearby paddy fields and ditches. We caught mostly sepat or gourami, a small flat fish with a spot in the middle of its body that looks like an extra eye. These were fish that could be eaten whole ­­– head, tail, fins and bones (similar to the whitebait of Western menus) ­­– and were usually dusted with a little curry powder and deep-fried.

Another freshwater fish commonly found in the rice fields was haruan. It's called snakehead in English (scientific name: Channa stiatus), which gives you an idea of what this creature looks like. Well, what it lacks in beauty, it makes up for in taste. Haruan is said to have medicinal value ­­– among its many claims are that it cleanses the blood and helps wounds heal, it's good for those suffering from asthma and boosts energy. But if taste is what you're after, you won't be disappointed. This is a tender fish with white, sweet flesh which doesn't need much jazzing up other than being simply fried (Chinese restaurants, however, have all kinds of delicious ways to prepare it.)

So, one day, we catch a small haruan, about 10cm long, and decide to put it in an old oil drum filled with water so that we could regularly admire our catch over the next few days. But being little children with short attention spans, we forgot about the fish.

Some time later, our neighbour dips his hand into the oil drum (I can't remember why) and gets a "terrible bite" (that I remember because he told the story in such melodramatic fashion!). Then we remember the fish and when we dump out the water, out slithers this angry-looking thing as big as my 10-year-old forearm (and I was a chubby youngster)!

With a lot of shrieking children in the way, trying to catch that fellow as it wriggled about on the ground seemed hopeless but someone finally managed to get hold of it and there was some blood, I remember ­­– haruan have spiky fins – but then, my ma fried it up real good and everyone was happy.

The fish must have been in the drum for about three weeks and it's amazing how it managed to survive all that time and grow three times its original size. Maybe I'm just seeing it again through the eyes of a child when everything seems bigger than it really is, or maybe it had really mutated, feeding on the remnants of that oil drum. Well, nothing happened to those who ate it.

Fish fried well is delicious. Here's a recipe that comes with a sauce. Louis Jordan may have had his fish fry only on a Saturday night; this I could eat any night of the week.

Serves 2 with rice

200g white fish (a meaty and firm-fleshed kind is ideal)
Salt and pepper
Cornflour for dusting
1 shallot
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon tamarind paste mixed with 2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoon palm sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce 
2-3 bird's eye chilli, chopped
Chopped spring onion, to garnish
Vegetable or sunflower oil, for frying
  • Score fish with diagonal criss-cross lines and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Dust with cornflour and shake off excess. Pound shallot and garlic with a pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle. Set aside.
  • In a skillet, heat about 2cm of oil over medium heat. Fry fish until golden, 5-6 minutes on each side. Drain from oil and keep warm while you make the sauce.
  • Pour off all but 1 teaspoon of oil from the pan. Over medium heat, fry the shallot-garlic paste, stirring constantly, until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Add tamarind paste, sugar and fish sauce, and continue stirring until mixture bubbles and thickens. Stir in chopped chilli. Pour sauce over fish. Sprinkle with chopped spring onion before serving.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your views are welcome and appreciated. Have a nice day!