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.

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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:

Directions:

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. 🙂

How to Make Delicious Crispy Calamari Rings

Hi everyone! Welcome to my first blog post EVER!  Please forgive any grammatical mistakes or other blunders until I figure out what I’m actually doing. As I was going through old photos on my phone to get ideas about what I wanted to write for my first post, I came across some awesome fresh calamari shots from this past spring.  Since it’s not the hardest thing in the world to cook, but still impressive enough to attempt, I decided to stick to making fried calamari for my first entry.  I realize not everyone likes squid, but please bear with me. There will be a wide variety of recipes in the future, I promise. 🙂 If you decide not to use squid, you can still adopt some of the techniques and ingredients to use with other things— shrimp or fish nuggets, for example.

One of my favorite appetizers to try when going out to eat is fried calamari when it’s available. Personally, the way a restaurant prepares their calamari sets the tone for what I can expect of the rest of the meal. If it’s boring and soggy, forget the meal, I’m out. I really like calamari that is bursting with flavor and seafood goodness, that is crispy but not greasy and overwhelmed with batter.  I think I finally came up with a delicious way to prepare calamari at home. My kids, as picky as they are, love eating these fried calamari rings, and I hope you and your family will, too. 

Me and my beautiful plate of fresh calamari that I found at the Asian seafood market! Fresh calamari should not smell overly fishy. Instead, it should smell like salty ocean water.

First, start off by buying the freshest calamari you can find. If it’s not available where you live, you can also use frozen calamari rings from the grocer. Here in the Gulf, we have access to great seafood most of the year. I went to the local Asian seafood market to purchase these beauties. When you purchase, they should smell like the salty sea, not too fishy. Their flesh should be firm and almost translucent.  When I went to Vietnam a couple years ago, I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the harvest of calamari by village fisherman. They start off a clear blue color when taken out of the water and almost immediately turn reddish when landed. The taste of freshly caught calamari is just indescribably delectable!

Vietnamese fisherman in Vinh Hien province showing off his fresh catch of calamari.
Freshly caught calamari quickly changes color from a translucent blue to a translucent reddish purple.

Delicious Fried Calamari Rings Recipe:

(serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • 2 to 3 large fresh squid, about 2 pounds. Or frozen calamari rings, thawed.
  • All-purpose seasoning mix (I like Badia Complete Seasoning or Slap Ya’ Mama Cajun Seasoning for spicy lovers)
  • 3 egg whites (the yolks make the batter heavier)
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Peanut oil for frying
  • For the Chili Lime Dipping Sauce:  
  • 1/2 cup any brand Sweet Thai Chili Sauce (available in Asian section of grocery store)
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce,
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 clove finely minced garlic

1.  Clean the calamari by peeling off the dark outer membrane to expose the light flesh. Remove the eyes and the beak if you will be consuming the head.  Cut calamari into 1/2″ thick rings.

My older daughter is cleaning the calamari by peeling the outer dark membrane to reveal the white flesh underneath.
After the calamari is cleaned, it is sliced into rings. If the head is too big, you can separate the tentacles and cut the head into smaller pieces.  Make sure to remove the eyes and the “beak” (the hard mandibles or jaws). 

2.  Sprinkle complete seasoning on slices to taste and marinate calamari for about 30 minutes.

3.  I prefer using a deep fryer for consistent results, but you can use a large cast iron pot or pan if you don’t have a fryer. Heat the oil to 375 degrees F.

4. Whisk egg whites in a bowl.  In another bowl, mix together cornstarch, flour, pepper and salt.

5.  Dip the calamari rings into the egg whites, then toss into the cornstarch mixture to coat thoroughly.  Shake off excess breading.

6.  Fry the calamari in the hot oil in batches, being careful not to over-crowd the fryer. You want your calamari to by nice and crispy, not a sticky mess. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes. Do not over-cook, unless you intentionally want chewy and tough calamari. 

7.  Remove calamari rings from oil and place into a paper-towel-lined colander or plate. This will soak up the excess oil and keep your calamari crispier longer.

8.  Prepare dipping sauce by mixing all the sauce ingredients well with a spoon in a bowl.  Enjoy!

I hope you like this recipe.  Please feel free to share ideas and feedback.  Also, let me know how you like to prepare calamari?  Take care and talk to you soon!