Vietnamese Fried Flounder “Boat” with Spicy Dipping Sauce [with Full Video]

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.

Perfect fall day for flounder fishing

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.

** Disclaimer: Please note that the highlighted links in this post are affiliate links, in which I will earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you) if you purchase through those links. I have purchased all the products I recommend with my own funds and have tested and used each product before I post. Please know that I only recommend products that I like and trust and genuinely believe would help my audience. Thank you for your support of my blog in this way!

Vietnamese Fried Flounder “Boat” with Spicy Dipping Sauce

Ingredients: (1 fish makes about 4 servings)

For the Fish:

  1. 1 very fresh flounder, approximately 2 pounds and 14-16″ in length
  2. All-purpose flour for dredging
  3. Salt and pepper to taste, or your choice of seafood seasoning
  4. Peanut oil for frying

For the Spicy Fish Dipping Sauce:

  1. 1/2 cup good quality fish sauce (I use either Red Boat or 3 Crabs Brand)
  2. 1 cup filtered hot water
  3. 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  4. 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (or rice vinegar if no limes available)
  5. 1 teaspoon freshly minced red chili peppers (more or less to desired spiciness)
  6. 1 teaspoon freshly minced garlic (more or less to taste)

Useful Equipment:


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.

Descaled and gutted flounder
Flounder separated into 2 large filets, one from each side. I kept the skin on the filets because I like eating the skin, but you can remove the skin from the filets before cutting into nuggets and frying. Leave the entire skeleton intact.

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.

Cut the flounder filets into nuggets. Season with salt and black pepper.

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.

Dredge the entire fish skeleton in flour.

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”.

Place fried flounder nuggets into the fish “boat”
Voila! Finished flounder masterpiece!

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:

For the video version of my story and recipe, please view my YouTube link. šŸ™‚

Crispy Fried Snapper with Sweet and Sour Tamarind Sauce

Beautiful morning from my home on the canal.

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.

What I like to call a “silken tofu” sea –perfect conditions for offshore fishing!

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. 

**Disclaimer: Please note that the blue highlighted links in this post are affiliate links, in which I will earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you) if you purchase through those links. I have purchased all the products I recommend with my own funds and have tested and used each product before I post. Please know that I only recommend products that I trust and find valuable. Thank you for your support of my blog in this way!

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.

Add enough water to submerge your fish.
Descaling with fish submerged prevents scales flying everwhere.

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.

The beheading of Mr. Fish

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.

Tamarind fruit concentrate
Add in fish sauce and sugar.
Add fried shallots for more flavor (this can be homemade or store-bought at an Asian market).
Stir-fry garlic, onions, and peppers until fragrant and just tender.
Finished Sweet and Sour Tamarind Sauce

 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.

Fry the fish 5 minutes on each side.

Crispy fish is now ready to dress with tamarind sauce.
Tastes delicious with rice and salad!
My best critics approved of this dish whole-heartedly! šŸ™‚

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: