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:
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
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.