Fried labahita (surgeonfish) with chili-pineapple sauce
The combination of chili peppers and crushed pineapple in a sweet and sour sauce was something that had been playing in my mind for days. I knew that lemon juice in lieu of vinegar would create a wonderful aroma but I couldn’t quite figure out how to add a dash of color to the sauce without adding tomato paste which would just make the cooked dish a look alike of the traditional fish with sweet and sour sauce that is a mainstay in Chinese restaurants. Then, one night I was making a cup of tea for myself and for my husband. See, he never takes his tea plain. I do but he likes a teasoonful of sugar or honey in his. That was when I solved the puzzle. Honey with lemon juice… of course. How could I have been so stupid? I should have figured that out when reader Malou recommended the lemon and honey drink. Ah, well…
I had this fried labahita with chili-pineapple sauce for lunch last Tuesday. The kids were in school and their dad was at work and… well, they will just have to taste the dish through the photos. Nah, I’ll do this dish again soon with enough fish and chili-pineapple sauce for everyone. The honey gives the sauce a golden hue and the lemon juice imparts a pleasant citrusy aroma that you just can’t get from vinegar. Best of all, the old boring sweet and sour fish takes on an entirely new apprearance and a whole new gastronomic dimension.
- 1 whole labahita (surgeonfish) or any fleshy fish, about 200 grams
- 1-2 siling haba, depending on how spicy you want your cooked dish
- ½ to ¾ cup of crushed pineapple (canned)
- ¼ cup of pineapple juice (from the canned crushed pineapple)
- 1 tbsp. of onion leaves, chopped
- ½ tsp. of finely minced garlic
- juice of half a lemon
- 2 tbsps. of honey
- 1 tsp. of starch (tapioca or cassava starch, if available; otherwise, corn starch will do)
- a cup of vegetable cooking oil
- Cut the fish on the diagonal into two pieces. Season inside and out with salt.
- Heat the cooking oil in a frying pan. When the cooking oil is hot (it is hot enough when it starts to smoke), fry the fish until browned and the skin is a little crisp, flipping halfway through the frying to brown both sides evenly. Drain on paper towels and keep warm.
- In a small bowl, mix together the pineapple juice, lemon juice, honey and starch.
- Cut the sili vertically in half. Scrape off the seeds and membranes; discard. Slice the sili finely.
- In a small sauce pan, heat 1 tsp. of cooking oil. Add the garlic and sliced chili. Stir fry for about 15 seconds (do not brown). Add the crushed pineapple and cook for another 15 seconds. Pour in the juice-honey-starch mixture and cook, stirring, until the sauce is thick. Off the heat, stir in the chopped onion leaves.
- To serve, arrange the fish on a plate about an inch apart. Spoon the chili-pineapple-garlic-onion leaves mixture between the two then pour the sauce over the entire fish.