Deep-frying whole fish is very popular in all parts of Asia; it creates a lovely, crunchy crust that goes well with strongly flavored sauces.
1 ounce dried tamarind pulp
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 small red chilies, finely sliced
1 small green chili, finely sliced
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
pinch of salt
vegetable oil for frying
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 whole sea bass, cleaned and gutted (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 scallion (white and green parts), thinly sliced on an angle
2 tablespoons finely minced lemongrass
fresh cilantro for garnish
1. Put tamarind pulp in 1/2 cup warm water for 15 minutes. Mash the pulp with a fork occasionally to help break it down. Strain liquid through a fine mesh strainer, pushing down hard on the solids. Reserve liquid.
2. Heat vegetable oil in a medium saucepan over moderately high heat. When hot but not smoking, add shallots and garlic and sauté, stirring once or twice, for 3 to 4 minutes. (They should have a deep caramel color but not be burnt.) Add 1 of the red chilies and the green chili, and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes.
3. Add reserved tamarind liquid, chicken stock, fish sauce, brown sugar, and salt. Stir well and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes. (The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.) Reserve.
4. Pour vegetable oil into a large, deep skillet or wok. The oil should be about 3/4 inch deep. Heat to 375 degrees.
5. Combine flour and black pepper and spread out on a plate. Rinse fish in cold water and dry well. Make 3 deep slashes on each side of the fish. Dip the sea bass into the flour and coat well on both sides. Let fish sit for 5 minutes.
6. When oil is hot, carefully slide the fish into the oil. Cook for 5 minutes, until the underside is deep golden brown. Gently turn the fish over with a spatula and a pair of tongs and fry for another 5 minutes. Remove the fish and drain on paper towels.
7. Put fish on a serving platter and cover with sauce. Garnish with the scallion, remaining sliced red chili, lemongrass, and cilantro.
Deep-frying whole fish is very popular in all parts of Asia; it creates a lovely, crunchy crust that goes well with strongly flavored sauces. The practice is particularly widespread in Thailand, where the whirling Thai palette of hot-sweet-sour-salty flavors comes into play. Serves 4 as part of a Thai dinner