There’s something familiar about deep frying fish, but there can also be an exotic side.
As Americans, we’re comfortable with battered or breaded and deep-fried seafood: shrimp, fish, squid, oysters. I’m thinking especially of that quintessential slice of culinary Americana: fried catfish and hush puppies. Now who wouldn’t go for some of that, y’all?
But if you’ve ever eaten at an authentic Chinese, Thai or Singaporean restaurant and have been served deep-fried whole fish, there’s also a faraway feeling when you first glimpse the platter headed your way and you see the fish’s head, fins and skin cooked to a crispy crunch — sometimes with the fish’s mouth ajar, bearing horror movie teeth. At first you may feel revulsion, but you’re quickly overwhelmed with curiosity, stoked by the aroma and sheer visual effect of the dish. Food is one of those things that is like time traveling for me. When I eat something like deep-fried whole fish, I’m instantly transported to my stay in Thailand in the ’70s and being served pompano deep fried until its skin was crispy and drenched with a fiery, sweat-inducing red chili sauce, and my visits to Hong Kong and Singapore where I was served deep-fried whole fish that was covered with a sweet and sour sauce or a brown soy sauce with mushrooms. Mom, Dad and I would duel with our chopsticks for the portions of the fish with the most-crispy skin, and savor biting into the crunchy morsel with its faint flavor of the sea and smoky aftertaste before being drenched with the succulent sweet flavors of the fish flesh beneath the skin. Then came the wave of pungent heat from the chili sauce, or the pucker-inducing sweet and sour sauce, or the savory earthy flavor of the soy mushroom sauce that put your saliva glands and taste buds into overdrive. Mom would usually go for the head. I would fight my Dad for the tail. I still love the crunchy, briny and slightly smoky flavor of the tails and fins of deep-fried fish.
Ah. Glorious. I’ve died and gone to heaven again.
Thinking back to those fond memories, I decided to experiment with a fish more commonly found in Oregon — some wild trout that I had caught at Mt. Hebo Lake and frozen after I got home. Trout and salmon have distinctive flavors. I remember loving the crunchy flavor of salmon skin rolls at Japanese restaurants, so I figured that deep-fried trout would have a similarly irresistible flavor. I must insert a word of caution here for those who have never deep-fried seafood in your home, particularly salt-water fish: Open all the windows and turn on that stove-top vent to the highest possible setting. If you have dogs, they will run and hide from the odor emanating from your kitchen. But what to do after deep frying the trout? Enter the kiwifruit, courtesy of Zespri, a company that markets the signature fruit from New Zealand. I had always loved the tangy taste of kiwis, as they’re called in the U.S., and thought they’d be a perfect foil to the rich sweet flavor of mangoes when used in a fresh fruit salsa dressed with fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, mirin, and toasted sesame oil. Many people love the flavor of kiwi but don’t ever think of using it as an ingredient in cooking.
Besides tasting great, kiwifruit are also highly nutritious. Kiwifruit are a good source of zinc, magnesium, potassium, and it’s tops for vitamin C. One serving of kiwi contains 240 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, according to Zespri. Kiwifruit also are an excellent source of antioxidants. Tastes good and it’s good for you! Who knew?
The salsa provided a wonderful and beautiful counterpoint to the deep-fried trout, mildly sweet and tangy without overwhelming the wild flavors of the trout. It ended up being a perfect pairing. Now I have another dish to time-warp back to the Far East with. Won’t you give it a try? Just remember to pack an adventurous appetite along with those chopsticks.
Crispy Trout with Kiwi and Mango Salsa
- 1 ripe kiwifruit
- 1 ripe mango
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) mirin
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml.) rice wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml.) fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) water
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml.) sugar
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml.) toasted sesame seed oil
- 4-6 cups (960 ml. – 1.4 l.) oil for deep frying fish
- 1 medium-sized trout, filleted with skin on
- Cilantro sprigs to garnish
- Peel and slice kiwi and mango into small slices and place into a small bowl.
- In a small liquid measuring cup or small bowl, mix together mirin, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, water, sugar and toasted sesame seed oil, and then pour into bowl of fruit and set aside.
- Heat oil over high heat in a pan large enough to hold the fish fillets and fry fish skin-side down first before turning over, cooking until both sides are crispy and golden brown (about 2-3 minutes per side).
- When fish is done, remove from oil to a plate with a paper towel to absorb the excess oil before plating.
- Top each fish with fruit pieces and then pour the sauce over each piece and garnish with cilantro sprigs.