For a people who considers fried fish and rice as a complete meal, it seems ridiculous to bust one’s head thinking of what else to add to the pair. In the Philippines, put fried fish and rice on the table and they will be contentedly and happily be gobbled up so long as there is a dipping sauce to go with the fish. Before Sam turned vegetarian, fried hito (catfish) and rice meal was often on her request list. Alex still considers fried tilapia and rice meal as a special treat. But I… I need more than a dipping sauce to feel truly satisfied with my fried fish and rice meal.
Just when I thought that my well of ideas for serving fried fish had dried up, the beloved formula of combining kangkong and bird’s eye chili came to mind. It’s a combination one often finds with partnered with pork (think lechon con kangkong) but I figured that there was no reason it shouldn’t work with fish too. Turns out I was right. I used labahita (surgeonfish) for this recipe but any firm and fleshy fish should be good. I used only the stalks of the kangkong (because the leaves went into the fish head sinigang that accompanied the fried fish for lunch) but there’s no reason why you can’t add the leaves too. The chili-kangkong can go on top of the fried fish or on the side.
Fried whole fish with chili kangkong (swamp spinach)
- 1 whole labahita or your fish of choice, about 800 g., gutted and cleaned
- cooking oil for deep frying
- 1 tablespoon tapioca starch or corn starch
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 onion thinly sliced
- 1 bird’s eye chili finely sliced
- 1 and 1/2 cups chopped kangkong stalks
- freshly ground pepper
- 1 generous pinch sugar
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- drizzle sesame seed oil
- Rinse the fish and pat dry with a kitchen towel.
- Score the fish (see how) and rub liberally with salt, pushing the salt into the slits.
Pour enough cooking oil in a frying pan to reach a depth of at least three inches. Heat the oil until wisps of smoke float on the surface.
- Dredge the fish in starch and deep fry until crisp and browned, flipping it over when the underside is nicely browned. Scoop out the fish and arrange on a platter.
- Pour off the oil leaving only a tablespoonful.
- Saute the onion, garlic and chili with a bit of salt and pepper, until softened and aromatic, about three to five minutes.
- Add the kangkong, sprinkle with a bit more salt and pepper, and sugar. Stir fry until done, about three minutes.
- Pour in the oyster sauce. Stir fry for another 10 seconds. Turn off the heat. Drizzle in the sesame seed oil. Toss.
- Spoon the chili kangkong on top or beside the fried whole fish. Serve at once.