Deep-Fried Fish with Lemongrass
Since I gave birth, I've been eating for my baby girl. I’m a sucker for old wives' tales, and anyone who tells me a certain food enhances lactation for breast-feeding mothers I rush into the kitchen and make it. I don’t know if they work, but at least some of them taste good!
One in particular comes from my Aunt Danielle. She suggested that boiled sweet potato leaves were great for mothers to produce milk. I was able to find the greens at an Asian market in San Jose. At the store, I saw that fresh pomfret fish (cá chim trang in Vietnamese) was available. I bought some and fried the whole fish in a small amount of oil in a shallow pan. The preparation is very simple; the fish is coated with a mixture of seasoned rice flour and lemongrass.
The texture from the crispy skin of the fish contrasts well with the boiled sweet potato leaves, which taste similar to spinach, but with a thicker, more velvety texture (the texture is close to rau mồng tơi).
Yields: 4 servings2 whole pomfret fish (or tilapia)
1 lemon, freshly squeezed
1 clove fresh garlic, finely minced
1-½ tablespoons rice flour
1 tablespoons fresh lemongrass (see tips ), finely chopped
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 yellow onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon red chili powder
3/4 cup canola oil (or any neutral oil), as needed
Marinating the fish:
Ask your fishmonger to prep the fish (clean and scale the fish but leave them whole). Wash and pat dry using paper towels. Place the fish in a shallow glass dish. Score the flesh with 3 to 4 longitudinal slits. Brush the fish with lemon juice.
In a small bowl, combine the garlic, rice flour, lemongrass, chili powder and salt. Season the fish with the mixture. Make sure the spices coat the fish. Marinate the fish for 5 minutes.
Drizzle the fish with 2 tablespoons of oil.
In a wok, heat the oil and fry the onions until golden (so the oil is fragrant). Remove the fried onions using a slotted spoon and set aside. Place the fish in the hot oil. Fry for about 10 minutes until the skin is crunchy (using a spoon, constantly cover the top of the fish with the hot oil from the wok). Flip each piece (I use chopsticks which I find easier to maneuver; you could use a slotted fish turner) and shallow-fry the other side for another 8 minutes until crispy.
Transfer the fish onto paper towels.
Serve on a bed of boiled sweet potato leaves and steamed jasmine rice with nước mắm on the side.
My trick to crispy skin is to sprinkle rice flour over the fish. Vietnamese cuisine calls for rice flour for a lot of fried items for a nice texture. You can find rice flour in most Asian stores, but I prefer grinding my own. I get finer flour using the Nutrimill brand mill. It's very useful to make any kind of flour.
Little reminder on how to prep lemongrass: Wash the lemongrass and remove the white powder from the leaves. Cut the stalk in half. Crush the younger part with the back of a chef's knife and set it aside (you can use it for making broth). Cut the remaining stalk into extremely thin slices using a chef's knife. In a mortar and pestle, grind the thin slices of lemongrass, then transfer and mix everything using a mini food processor. It should turn into a fine moist powder.January 5, 2012.