Picked up a whole Porgy at my favorite Asian grocery store. Rockfish, Sea Bass, Pampano, Branzini, Barramundi, or any firm whole white fish (preferably wild and sustainably caught) are suitable substitutes; or whatever you can find locally.
Normally, I stuff the fish with fresh herbs and grill or pan-fry. But in my ever growing curiosity and search for new and interesting flavors, decided to do something a little different. Paired this whole Porgy with a tangy Asian sauce of tamarind, cilantro, fish sauce, serrano chiles, ginger, lemongrass, garlic, and a little brown sugar. Love the combination of these flavors — a bit of sweet, salty, sour, earthy, and heat; all combine to form a complex and tasty sauce to accompany this pan-roasted fish.
And, let me let you in on a little secret — this dish is really easy to prepare.
It may look like I spent a lot of effort to prepare this dish; on the contrary, it is surprisingly easy, and you need no more than about 20 minutes to whip this up. To prepare the sauce, simply toss the ingredients in a food processor or blender, and pulse for a few seconds (you can also make by hand if you wish using a mortar and pestle), then simmer for a few minutes. To prepare the fish, just season the fish, heat a pan, and cook for about 7 1/2 to 8 minutes per side. You’ll know the fish is ready to be flipped when the skin releases easily from the pan. While you may be tempted to fuss with the fish while it’s cooking, there is no need. Just allow it the full amount of time per side; otherwise, if you flip too soon, the skin may stick to the pan, and you’ll loose that crispy skin — one of the best parts of the fish. Easy as that!
One additional note, be sure to have your fishmonger clean and scale the fish (ask to them leave the head and tail intact). If, like me, you forgot to have it gutted and scaled, no worries. It really isn’t that difficult to scale and clean a fish, provided you don’t mind a little blood and guts. To scale the fish, run the edge of a sharp knife over the skin of the fish (in the direction of tail to head) until all the scales have been removed (do this over the kitchen sink). Run your fingers over the skin, it should be completely smooth. If you still feel or see any scales, repeat previous step until they are all removed. Next, run your knife along the under belly of the fish and, using your fingers, scoop out the guts. Rinse the cavity with water. Done.
Whole Fish with Asian-Inspired Sauce
1 to 1 1/2-pound whole flaky white fish, like Porgy, Rockfish, Sea Bass, Pampano, Branzini, or Barramundi
Small bunch cilantro leaves and stems, to stuff the cavity (optional)
Rinse the fish and then pat it dry. Make three diagonal cuts into the side of the fish (with the blade of the knife on an angle facing the head). Repeat on the other side. Sprinkle the cavity and surface of the fish with sea salt. Stuff the cavity with cilantro. Set aside while you prepare the sauce.
1/3 cup water
1 ½ teaspoons tamarind paste (you can substitute lime juice plus soy, if you can’t find tamarind paste)
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 heaping teaspoon brown sugar
1 thumb-size piece ginger, peeled and sliced
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, bottom two-thirds of tender inner bulb only, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 or 2 Serrano chiles, chopped (depending on desired level of heat)
Thinly sliced red pepper
Basil, thinly sliced
Scallions, thinly sliced
Dissolve the tamarind paste in the water. Place the tamarind-water, garlic, sugar, ginger, cilantro, Serrano chile, lemongrass, and fish sauce in a food processor, blender (or mortar and pestle). Process (or pound) well. Pour the sauce into a small sauce pan. Simmer over medium-low heat for 5 to 6 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover, and set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add about 2 tablespoons oil. When the pan is very hot, lay the fish in the pan. Cook 7 1/2 to 8 minutes, flip, and cook an additional 7 1/2 to 8 minutes on the other side.
Place the fish on a large serving plate. Pour the sauce over the fish. Garnish with thinly sliced red pepper, basil leaves, and scallions. Squeeze a little lime over the fish.
Serve with some brown rice and side of garlicky broccoli (or other favorite greens).