I look forward to days like today, when the coolness of autumn has set in, the sun is bright, the water is as smooth as silken tofu, and the fish are beginning to come closer inshore. The Gulf of Mexico is abundant with marine life, and finding fresh seafood to prepare for each meal of the day has been a blessing for us. One of the most abundant types of fish found here are snappers: red, lane, and mangrove, to name a few. The federal red snapper season is now closed, but thankfully, we can still catch and keep snappers within Texas waters. With the cooling temperatures, snappers tend to come closer inshore than in the summer months, so we don’t have to go out very far to catch them.
As beautiful as they are to look at, snappers are not my favorite fish to eat because they tend to be coarse and dry if not prepared properly. Today, I want to add some pep to my snapper. So we’ll be cooking Crispy Fried Snapper with Sweet and Sour Tamarind Sauce.
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Crispy Fried Snapper with Sweet and Sour Tamarind Sauce
For the Fish:
- 1 small to medium snapper of any kind, about 2 to 3 pounds (I am using mangrove snapper here)
- Vinh Thuan crispy flour mix, or cornstarch for dredging
- Kosher salt
- Peanut oil for frying
- large wok or deep fryer (my wok of choice is this model by Le Creuset)
For the Tamarind Sauce:
- Tamarind concentrate, mixed with 1 cup water. (If there are seeds, remove seeds.) If using premade liquid tamarin
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp fish sauce (preferably 3 crabs brand or Red Boat)
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 2 tbsp crispy fried shallots (optional, to enhance flavor)
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 1/2 cup diced bell pepper
For the Garnish:
- chopped green scallions
- chopped cilantro
1. If you are buying your fish, you can ask the fish monger to clean the fish for you. You will need to have your fish descaled, gutted, and beheaded (unless you want the head on, as is normally the case in most other countries). If you are cleaning your own catch, please do the same. I like to clean my fish outdoors to keep the mess to a minimum, but when the weather is too hot or rainy, I tend to clean my fish indoors. One way to keep the scales from flying everywhere when you descale fish inside is to fill your kitchen sink halfway with water, or enough to immerse your fish, and descale the fish keeping it submerged in the water. Be sure to have a screen mesh handy when it’s time to drain the sink, so that the scales don’t clog up your drain.
2. Once the fish has been cleaned, lay it on a cutting board, remove the head (optional) if you haven’t already, and make deep slits into the flesh, about 1 inch apart. This is to help cook the fish quickly and thoroughly, and to help absorb all that delicious sauce we’re going to make later.
3. Rub Kosher salt into the fish, about 2 teaspoons. Generously sprinkle the fish with frying mix or cornstarch. Don’t put on a heavy layer, but enough to lightly dredge the fish.
4. Prepare the sweet and sour tamarind sauce. For those of you who do not know what a tamarind is– it is a fruit that grows in tropical countries and has a tart, raisin-like taste. Tamarinds are widely used in Thai and other Southeast Asian cuisines. Pour a cup of tamarind concentrate into a saucepan. Add 3 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons fish sauce. Mix well and heat the mixture up over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. At this point, you can taste the sauce to see if it needs any more sugar or fish sauce to your desired taste. Stir in fried shallots (optional). Set aside.
In a separate pan, stir-fry the garlic, onions, and bell peppers until fragrant and tender. Add that to the sauce and stir well. You can also add in chili peppers if you want your sauce to be spicy, but since I’m cooking for small kids, I made mine mild. Your sauce is now ready.
5. Heat peanut oil in a wok or deep fryer to 375 degrees. Carefully place fish into the oil, being extremely careful not to splatter scalding oil on yourself. (I have many scars all over my arms from such oil splatters.) I use long sturdy tongs or wear kitchen mittens. Fry fish for 5 minutes on each side. Do not over-cook, because snapper will be dry and coarse. Drain fish on paper towels.
Hope you get to try out my recipe one day. Wishing everyone a fun and relaxing weekend!
To watch my offshore adventure on the first day of Federal red snapper season 2019, please click on the link below: