Crisp-Fried Whole Stewart Island Blue Cod with Tamarind & Chilli Caramel & Lemongrass Dressing

11:30 am on 5 November 2012

This dish is a slight variation of one of my all-time favourite Thai dishes. The fish is cooked in very hot oil, which crisps and seals the outer skin, allowing the flesh to remain moist and succulent.

You will need a large wok, deep-fryer or a pan that can comfortably handle the fish. The addition of the sesame oil adds a slight smokiness and depth of flavour to the skin of the fish.

Taste of Central Otago: More Recipes from Arrowtown's Saffron by Pete Gawron, published by Random House NZ.

(Serves 4 as an entrée)

cod fish tamarind chilli lemongrassIngredients

  • 5 cm piece of lemongrass, white part only, very finely sliced
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 kaffir lime leaf, finely sliced
  • 1∕2 block palm sugar
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 2 cups coriander leaves
  • 2 cups mint leaves
  • 1 cup spring onion, green tops only, thinly sliced on the bias, then placed in ice water to crisp
  • 4 purple shallots, thinly sliced
  • a few slices of chilli
  • 2 blocks palm sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1∕4 block tamarind paste, reconstituted in 500 ml of water and left to stand for an hour, then passed through a sieve, retaining the liquid
  • 1∕2 cup Thai fish sauce
  • 1∕2 red chilli, thinly sliced
  • 1 whole blue cod, or trout, snapper, etc, scaled and gutted, about 750 g
  • 60 ml fish sauce
  • 4 litres neutral vegetable oil for frying (approx.)
  • 1∕2 cup sesame oil
  • jasmine rice, steamed


Lemongrass dressing & salad

Place the lemongrass and salt in a mortar and pestle and pound. Add the lime leaf, then the sugar, and pound until a smooth paste is formed. Finally add the lime juice, incorporate, and set aside.

Just before cooking the fish, prepare the salad. Mix all of the greens and the slices of chilli, then toss lightly with the lemongrass dressing.

Tamarind & chilli caramel

Place the palm sugar and water into a saucepan over a high heat and boil until the sugar begins to form a deep-coloured caramel. Remove from the heat, and carefully add the tamarind water, return to the heat and stir to incorporate the tamarind. Add the fish sauce and, just before serving, the thinly sliced chilli.

Blue cod

Five hours before cooking, take a sharp knife and make six or seven incisions down each side of the fish, about 1 cm deep. Gently massage the fish sauce into the flesh: as well as seasoning the fish, the salt content of the fish sauce slightly cures it, firming up the flesh. Combine the oils, and heat to a high temperature. It is crucial that the fish is placed into very hot oil, and that you maintain that temperature during cooking; five or six minutes depending on the size of the fish. Place the fish in the hot oil. If cooking a deep-bodied fish like snapper, you will need to turn it carefully once, halfway through cooking. A rounder fish, such as blue cod or trout, can be cooked fully immersed in hot oil without turning. Test doneness by removing the fish from the heat and inserting the tip of a small knife just behind the head, at the thickest point. The flesh should appear cooked and opaque. Remove the cooked fish from the oil and drain on absorbent paper for a minute, making sure any residual oil has drained from the stomach cavity. Spoon some tamarind caramel on a plate, then top with the fish. Scatter the greens over and around the fish.

Serve with steamed jasmine rice.

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