No, I’m not talking about bottled chili and garlic sauce. What went into this dish are chopped fresh garlic and finely sliced chilis. Also based on a Thai dish (which included coriander roots or stems which I didn’t have), the really interesting thing about this very easy to cook fish dish is how bold and daring the flavors are without overwhelming the palate. How is that possible? By scraping off the seeds of the chilis, you reduce the spiciness to a minimum. But with the amount of chilis that go into the sauce, you get more than a subtle sensation of their slightly sweet flavor.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would I rate the difficulty of cooking this dish? Somewhere between 3 and 4. That should encourage even the not so advanced cooks to at least try and make this dish at least once.
And how does my family assess the deliciousness of this dish? I served this last night with the cucumber salad and there were no leftovers. At all.
Fish in chili and garlic sauce
For the chili and garlic sauce:
- 1 whole garlic (not 1 clove or segment but a whole bulb)
- 3 finger chilis (I used the picante variety and)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons patis (fish sauce)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- If your fish fillets are rather large (I had three fillets that totaled a kilo in weight), cut them into serving size pieces. Score the flesh on one side by making slashes about a quarter of an inch deep. Score in two directions so that you have diamond patterns on the fish flesh. It isn’t just to make them look pretty — scoring them this way helps make them really crisp on the surface but still able to catch a lot of the sauce.
- Lightly sprinkle the fish with salt. Don’t overdo it because the sauce contains fish sauce which is also salty.
- Crush, peel and chop the garlic. How coarse or how fine the pieces is up to you.
- Thinly slice the chilis. I removed the seeds but you can choose not to — see tips — if you want a spicier sauce.
- Heat the cooking oil until it starts to smoke. Deep fry the fish in batches until lightly browned and crisp. I timed this stage and a batch consisting of three fillets were done in eight minutes flat. But, of course, the cooking time depends on how hot your cooking oil is and how much cooking oil you’re using. If you don’t use enough cooking oil and you have to flip the fish over, the cooking time will be longer. In my case, I had enough cooking oil in the wok so that all the fish fillets were totally submerged in oil. No flipping necessary.
- When the fish are nicely browned and crisp, drain them on paper towels then arrange on a serving platter.
- Pour off the oil until only about two tablespoonfuls remain. Over medium heat, fry the garlic and chilis just until fragrant, about a minute. Pour in the fish sauce and add the sugar, stirring constantly. Don’t take too long with this stage. With the little liquid and the amount of sugar, the mixture will burn fast with prolonged contact with the heat. As soon as the sauce thickens and the sugar is dissolved, turn off the heat.
- Pour the sauce over the fish and serve at once.