Every day I cycle around the inner West of Sydney. Most days, I pass the Sydney Fish Markets. Some days, I remember to bring the lock for my bike so that I can make a quick, red faced stop to buy fresh seafood for the night’s dinner. Today, an abundance of New Zealand snappers caught my eye. They looked super fresh and plump and weren’t expensive either. Fighting my way through the tourists I finally managed to get to the counter, pay and get it home, whereupon I cooked this delicious Vietnamese dish. Deep fried needn’t mean unhealthy. If the oil you fry in is hot enough, the fish will not be greasy at all. It will almost steam itself cooked around the hot oil. The results are crisp on the outside and deliciously delicate and soft on the inside. The aromatic marinade is the perfect balance, letting the fish be the star of the show, while still bringing a complex and unique blend of south east Asian flavour.
1 medium fish, I used NZ snapper. (about 1kg, gutted and descaled)
1 shallot (chopped)
3 cloves garlic (peeled & chopped)
2 lemon grass stalks (whites only, chopped)
5cm piece fresh ginger (peeled & chopped)
1 hot Thai chilli (seeds in, chopped)
1 tablespoon palm sugar (or brown sugar)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
500ml peanut oil (or vegetable, canola etc).
4 garlic cloves (peeled and thinly sliced)
3 spring onions (finely sliced)
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 lime (cut into wedges)
To make the marinade: Using a hand blender, food processor or pestle & mortar, blend together all the marinade ingredients into a smooth paste.
Make deep cuts diagonally on both sides of the fish to make diamond shapes. Rub the marinade into the skin and inside the fish carcass. Wrap in foil and refrigerate for 3-4 hours.
When you’re ready, heat the oil in a large deep frying pan or wok over full heat until hot and rippling on the surface. Drop in the sliced garlic and let this sizzle until turning brown, about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside.
Pick up the fish by its tail and with the head towards you carefully lower the fish, head first and away from yourself into the hot oil. The fish will fry vigorously. Using the slotted spoon, splash the oil over to top of the fish as it cooks. After 3-4 minutes, using a fish slice, carefully turn the fish over. Cook for a further 3-4 minutes until the fish is cooked through and the skin crispy. Remove from heat and carefully lift it out with a fish slice and drain on paper towels.
Place the fish on a platter. Combine the soy sauce and fish sauce and pour over, then scatter over the spring onion and the fried garlic.
Serve with lime wedges. I had mine alongside a delicious vermicelli noodle salad and Nước mắm pya to pour over everything.