Sakana no karaage (Deep Fried Whole Fish)

pagre3_I have deep-fried whitebait and fillets many times, but doing it with a big whole fish was a new surprising experience. In spite of its unappealing look, the result was utterly delicious. The flesh was soft, juicy and the lightly seasoned skin was a pure delight . (In case you are wondering, I did eat it with chopsticks; they are not for decoration only. One has to practice throughout the year to be a bit less ridiculous during future holidays in Japan…). 

If I hadn’t seen it in Japanese Soul Cooking, I’d have never dared even thinking about deep-frying a whole sea bream. I must say I was really happy I had stumbled upon this recipe. First of all, I realised that a big whole fish ended up less greasy than fillets or tiny fish. Apart from that, I think with this method makes overcooking more difficult (the tendency I have…). In short, if you don’t hate deep-frying, I strongly recommend trying this easy recipe!

The only problem was that the whole fish didn’t fit into my widest pan (and I didn’t want to fill half of my wok with oil!), so I had to cut its tail off…  (I did fry it separately though: I love crunchy fish tail and I would never throw it away). UPDATE: I have had deep-fried red sea bream again today and updated the photograph; this time I have fried it WITH the tail! (the fish was slightly smaller and I have found a simple trick… see the TIPS below).

As usually I have made slight changes to the original recipe, so I encourage you to read it in Japanese Soul Cooking, a highly inspiring cookery book.

The author advises to serve it with grated daikon (white radish), ponzu (citrusy Japanese sauce containing soy sauce; check how to make your own ponzu in Japanese Soul Cooking), green onion and red yuzu koshou (chilli and citrus zest condiment). I served it only with my Europeanised lime koshou, ponzu and lemon wedges and it was a fantastic addition.

I like sometimes to look back at my archives, so I thought maybe some of you might be also interested with what I posted more or less at the same time in previous years:

Deep-fried Tuna with Red Onion
Deep-fried Tuna with Red Onion
Mizuna, Carrot and Chicken Spring Rolls
Mizuna, Carrot and Chicken Spring Rolls
Savoury Cake with Goat Cheese and Dried Tomatoes
Savoury Cake with Goat Cheese and Dried Tomatoes
Light Matcha Crème Brûlée
Light Matcha Crème Brûlée

TIPS: If you don’t want to use lots of oil (it will have a fishy smell, so you will be able to reuse it only with seafood/fish), you can try shallow-frying.

If your fish is a bit too long to fit into your pan or wok, either cut the tail (you can fry it together, as I did, if you like crunchy tail, or throw it away) or, as I did the second time, first immerse the tail only in the hot oil; keep the fish tightly with tongs and make sure the tail is completely dry, only sprinkled with spices and flour. The tail fries very quickly, so as soon as it becomes golden, you can immerse the rest of the fish.

If you cannot get shichimi togarashi (7-ingredient Japanese dry spicy condiment), use medium hot chilli powder (though shichimi togarashi is easily found at Japanese grocery shops).

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves two as a big main dish):

2 red sea breams (or any other fish you find/like) measuring about 15-20 cm, gutted and scaled

 shichimi togarashi (use only medium hot chilli powder if you cannot get it)


1 tablespoon potato starch

oil for deep-frying

Side-dishes and condiments:

chopped chives or green onion

grated daikon

ponzu sauce

lemon wedges

yuzu koshou (I have served it with Europeanised lime koshou, see the recipe here)

Wash the fish, pat it dry.

Score it horizontally from the head to the tail (2 cuts) and then vertically, cutting slightly on an angle (4 cuts), until you feel the spine. Do it on both sides.

Pat the fish dry once more.

Season the fish with shichimi togarashi and salt, rubbing into the cuts.

Dust the fish generously on both sides with potato flour. Shake off the excess flour, but make sure the cuts are covered in flour too.

Heat the oil to 180°C (about 350°F) or until a small piece of bread stays on the surface and becomes golden without falling.

Fry each fish separately 5 minutes on each side. Then turn it and fry for 5 more minutes.

If you feel 5 minutes is not enough, add 5 more minutes just to make sure it’s fried. Everything depends on the amount of oil, the size of the deep-frying pan or wok and on the fish size.

Put the fried fish on paper towels to drain excess oil.

Serve with ponzu, grated daikon, yuzu koshou (or lime koshou), chopped green onion and lemon wedges.

16 Replies to “Sakana no karaage (Deep Fried Whole Fish)”

  1. I love that you used chopsticks to eat your sea bream Sissi!! (you are one skilled gal with the sticks 🙂 ) — and I have no trouble imagining how delicious this deep fried fish was. You are far braver than me though… I neither deep fry (mess/animals/splash danger — I know…) nor cook whole fish but I do like the idea. It’s wonderful when we come across inspirational posts that push us to try new things — especially when they work out as well as this experiment did!

    1. Thank you so much for the compliments, Kelly. Eating with chopsticks is not that difficult… eating properly with chopsticks IS 😉 especially a whole fish…
      I grew up loving very small freshwater fish… the one you rarely fillet, so I guess I’m used to having a whole fish on a plate, but I know many people who don’t want to struggle with it. I must tell you I even stopped asking the fishmonger to empty or scale the fish… It’s frankly a pleasure to prepare a beautiful fresh specimen! (Unless it’s an eel or something similarly difficult 😉 ). I also appreciate the fact that I can see how fresh a fish is when it’s whole.

  2. I had to laugh when you said that you fried the fish tails separately because you love fried fish tails. Well, Darlin, that’s were we differ. I’m not a fan. However, my mother is just like you so she always got my fried fish tails and fins. 🙂 Speaking of my mother, she was an expert in frying whole bream or blue gill which is a fresh water fish. Yes, the result isn’t that pretty but fried whole fish is awesome! You have now inspired me to do it myself. I usually fry fillets and left my mother to frying the whole fish. 🙂 But since she can cook anymore, it’s my turn. Great post Sissi!

    1. Thank you so much, MJ. Well, I guess in each family there is a person who eats chicken cartilage, fish tails, finishes pizza crust… In mine we all loved these, so I never felt it was strange (especially since there were people who liked cooked pork head, chicken stomachs, etc.), but with age I realised it was not frequent to like fish tails… (I changed the photograph yesterday by the way; I have found a way to fry the fish with the tail!).

      1. I always finish the pizza crust. 🙂 My mother was a country gal so she loved making hogs head cheese and tripe (cow’s stomach) in a variety of ways. Great new picture!

        1. Thank you so much, MJ. I’m struggling with this dish… at least this one has a fin 😉
          I love so much pizza crust, if I ever leave a bit because I’m unable to finish the whole pizza, I make sure I first eat the crust. (Not to mention finishing the crust left by my friends if I still am hungry…).
          Tripe! I had no idea it was eaten in the US too. I must have eaten tons of tripe in my life because in Poland tripe soup is something quite usual (you can even find it precooked in every supermarket) and I have always loved it too; unfortunately tripe eaten in France is really awful and it’s not popular in Switzerland so I don’t have it any more.

  3. Your food photos are so very pretty! I don’t make fried fish too often though I love it…just that we don’t get nice fresh fish at nearby market ( If I want fresh fish I have to drive 30 minutes). Your thoughtful cooking I enjoy very much!

    1. You are so kind, Nipponnin… I really don’t like this photo… (and the new updated one is not better, though with a tail at least!). Thank you for the compliments!

  4. Deep fried fish is yummy, whether whole or in pieces. Even battered, like the British do:)
    Interesting that the fish fits perfectly on the plate. They were meant to be together:)
    I’ve never tried eating fried whole fish with chop sticks.

    1. The British battered fish is my least favourite… too much batter, but I agree that fried fish is always excellent. I have updated the photograph. Now the tail is slightly out of the plate… but it’s still acceptable (moreover I started eating the tail first 😉 ).

  5. I love whole fried fish, but have never made myself…and I can imagine how tasty this fish is with shichimi togarashi…
    Have a great day Sissi 🙂

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