One of my favorite things about the cooler autumn months is the prevalence of flounder in the Gulf of Mexico. My husband and I will either take our boat out and catch them at our favorite fishing hole, or we will take a canoe out into the grassy marshes in search of them while getting some exercise. Flounder is among the easiest fishes to cook and enjoy, and perhaps the most common preparation is frying. In Vietnam, flounder is commonly prepared fried whole (with the head on) and served as a family centerpiece dish, where each person flakes off some fish with their chopsticks and dips the sweet white flesh into spicy fish sauce.
The Vietnamese are also known to be very resourceful, not wasting any part of the fish if they can help it. In this recipe, I prepare one of my favorite flounder dishes (fried, of course!) that is simple to prepare but looks very sophisticated when presented at the dinner table. An added perk is that none of the fish goes to waste because if you fry up the fish skeleton to a crisp, you can even eat it like chips. But if you’re not into eating crunchy bones, the fried flounder skeleton serves as a creative way to hold the crispy flounder nuggets. And what Vietnamese dish is complete without some spicy dipping sauce? The spicy, sweet, tangy, and salty fish dipping sauce perfectly complements the delicious flounder!
As in my other posts, I always emphasize the use of fresh ingredients. I truly believe the reason why people who are not fans of eating fish because they find the taste and smell too “fishy” is because the fish they are consuming has been dead and transported over many miles for quite some time. By the time the fish reaches them, the smell of ammonia has ruined the fish. Fresh fish should smell like the ocean and not overwhelmingly “fishy”. The flesh should be firm, the eyes should be bulging and shiny, and the inner gills should still be red. If you go to the fish market and see fish that wreaks of rot, the flesh is soft and smooshy, the eyes are sunken and dull, and the gills are brown or rusty red, stay clear away because that is bad fish. Just as fruits and vegetables taste their best during peak season and harvested locally, the same applies for seafood. If you can get freshly caught flounder for this recipe, it will taste amazing! Also, be sure to use new oil to fry the fish.
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Vietnamese Fried Flounder “Boat” with Spicy Dipping Sauce
Ingredients: (1 fish makes about 4 servings)
For the Fish:
- 1 very fresh flounder, approximately 2 pounds and 14-16″ in length
- All-purpose flour for dredging
- Salt and pepper to taste, or your choice of seafood seasoning
- Peanut oil for frying
For the Spicy Fish Dipping Sauce:
- 1/2 cup good quality fish sauce (I use either Red Boat or 3 Crabs Brand)
- 1 cup filtered hot water
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (or rice vinegar if no limes available)
- 1 teaspoon freshly minced red chili peppers (more or less to desired spiciness)
- 1 teaspoon freshly minced garlic (more or less to taste)
- Large wok (I use Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Wok because I like the temperature stability and rapid heat-up, but a traditional, more affordable carbon steel wok like this one will work, too.)
- Long metal tongs for flipping and handling the fish
- Sharp filet knife (I highly recommend Shun filet knife or Cutco Fisherman’s Solution Knife)
- Knife sharpener (if your knife needs a refresher)
- Fish Scaler (There are many types, but this is the one I use and is the least expensive.)
- Large paper-towel lined colander or plate to place freshly fried fish on to absorb excess oil
1. If you are purchasing your flounder from the fish market, ask the fishmonger to descale both sides of the flounder and remove the guts and smaller fins. Cut out 2 large filets, one on each side of the flounder. You can opt to leave the skin on the fish or have it removed. Leave the skeleton intact with head and tail. If you are cleaning your own catch, then follow the same instructions.
2. Take the filets and cut into 1 to 2″ chunks. Season the fish nuggets with black pepper and salt or with seafood seasoning. Set aside.
3. Pour wok halfway full of fresh peanut oil and heat up to high.
4. Dredge the fish nuggets with all-purpose flour in a plastic or paper bag. Coat each piece well. There is no need to pre-dip the nuggets into an egg wash, unless you want a thicker coating.
5. Season and dredge the flounder skeleton in the bag of flour. I recycle clean grocery bags for this because they are big enough to hold the entire skeleton. Set aside.
6. Place the floured fish skeleton carefully into the hot oil. If the entire fish doesn’t fit, fry the body first, and then fry the head and the tail sections last. Press the skeleton against the rounded wok bottom while frying to form a bowl shape in the fish. You can use your tongs to bend and shape the fish skeleton while frying. Once the skeleton “bowl” is crispy and golden brown, drain on paper towels and set aside.
7. Add the flounder nuggets to the hot oil and fry until they turn a deep golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
8. Place the fried flounder skeleton onto a plate and arrange the flounder nuggets into the “boat”.
9. For the dipping sauce, dissolve the granulated sugar into the hot water. Next add the fish sauce to the sugar water. (If you have never worked with concentrated fish sauce (“nuoc mam”) before, a word of warning is that it smells like stinky butt. LOL! But once mixed with the lime juice and garlic, the smell eases up and the flavor is wonderful!) Once the diluted fish sauce has cooled down, add the lime juice/ vinegar, minced garlic, and chili peppers. Stir well and serve each diner a little bowl of fish sauce, so that they can dip their fried fish into the sauce. **If you absolutely do not like fish sauce, you can substitute your dipping sauce with soy sauce or sweet and sour sauce.
I hope you enjoyed reading this entry on a different way to prepare and present flounder. Thank you for stopping by! I hope all of you have a wonderful week ahead. If you would like to see more, please watch my YouTube video below: