Deep in the archive of Home Cooking Rocks! is a recipe for sweet and sour fish. I used whole tilapia and took photos with my first digital camera — a point-and-shoot 1.3 megapixel Olympus. That entry was posted in April 2003, one of the first entries in my food blog. I look at that entry now and realized that cooks do get better with practice. The same thing is true with photography buffs.
While the recipe itself has stayed pretty much the same, I have picked up a few techniques here and there that makes this version of sweet and sour fish just a little bit better. Why better? For one, I have learned how to keep the shredded vegetables tender-crisp even after they get in contact with the hot sauce. Second, I have learned to fry the fish properly so that the outside is crusty even after the sauce is poured over. Most importantly, I no longer underestimate the importance of ginger in this dish. Instead of using just a bit of ginger, I now used ginger liberally on my sweet and sour fish.
Ingredients for sweet and sour fish
1 whole fleshy fish, about 1.5 kg. in weight
1 small bunch of onion leaves
3-4 cloves of garlic
2 thumb-sized pieces of ginger
2 to 3 c. of cooking oil for deep frying
Ingredients for basic sweet and sour sauce
1/3 c. of rice vinegar (use more or less if using a variety other than rice vinegar)
1 tbsp. of tomato paste
1 c. of water
1/2 c. of sugar (more or less)
1/2 tsp. of salt
1 tbsp. of tapioca or corn starch
1/2 tsp. of sesame seed oil
Clean the fish by removing the scales, gills and guts. Make two to three half-inch deep incisions on each side. Take one piece of ginger, peel and rub all over the fish including the crevice and incisions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Heat the cooking oil in a large frying pan. When the oil is hot (smoking), deep fry the fish about 8 minutes on each side. The heat should be very high all throughout. Do not cover the frying pan so that no condensation forms. Condensation will affect the crispiness and crustiness of the fish. Take care not to overcook the fish too. You want the outside to be crispy and golden but you want the white flesh to remain moist.
While the fish fries, prepare the sauce and the vegetables.
Mix together all the ingredients for the sweet and sour sauce. Cook over medium heat in a small sauce pan until thick and clear. For best results, cover, lower the heat and simmer for five minutes longer to make sure that no starchy taste remains.
Peel the carrot and remaining piece of ginger. Cut into matchsticks.
Peel and finely slice the onion and garlic.
Cut the onion leaves into one-inch lengths.
Take a tablespoonful of hot oil from the frying pan and coat the bottom of a small frying pan. Lightly fry the vegetables for about two minutes.
When the fish is done, scoop out of the oil and lay on a serving platter. Pour the sweet and sour sauce over the fish then sprinkle the vegetables on top. Drizzle with sesame seed oil and serve at once.