Kung Pao-ish Fish
Are you seeing this ridiculous piece of fish? This shiny iridescence; beaming with rainbows and a an overall silvery sheen, a thing of beauty, for realz. And while I probably should have preserved the perfect nature of this piece of fish, paying my respects by doing a simple dish; perhaps highlighting the purity of it with a quick slick of oil and some heat in a pan, I had other intentions when I brought this guy home. The flavors of China or Korea or American takeout were calling to me from deep within my hungry-gut. Singing a song of salty goodness that could only be quenched with just the right amount of battered, fried and smothered in sticky sauced stuff. This is why this fish had two moments to shine in it’s afterlife. Once when we admired it’s shear beauty, and again when we tucked into some juicy crunchy pieces of fish and were amazed at its flavor and succulent-ness. I don’t think I’ve ever described fish as succulent before – but succulent it was.
After reading about LA based food truck chef phenom Roy Choi I was thinking about only one thing: rocking out a mean version (I use this term very loosely here) of his Kung Pao with whatever I could find within a two block radius of my house. This meant fish instead of chicken. This meant regular basil from a dying plant in the garden instead of Thai basil. This meant chili flakes and onion instead of arbols and scallions. No sichuan peppercorns, er…like I said, this was a loosely based version, reminiscent of a Kung Pao.
I love cooking this method of cooking; prepping things in an orderly way with precision and forethought so that the end result will have just the right balance. Skipping stuff is okay. You can play it off, you can substitute no problem. But you should know what you are working with and not working with ahead of time so you are prepared to make moves. This is thinking on your toes kind of cooking. For example I knew I wanted a good crunchy coating on my fish nuggets, so looking on our snack shelf for help I grabbed a handful of sweet coconut/sesame Thai crackers and crushed that ‘ish up, tossed it with some rice flour and boom, crunchy coating. This works best if you have a garden that just so happens to have lemongrass growing in it.
And as with most of my experiments in cooking there were hits and there were misses to this attempt. Well, not exactly misses – just things that I would do differently if I were to make this dish again. Things that I can tell would have improved my outcome had I considered them ahead of time. But fuck it, that’s not the point. The point is that it was damn tasty and succulent. Succulent-ness should be measured on a daily basis I think. Your mouth should be given more opportunity to savor all this succulent.
Kung Pao-ish Fish with Noodles
*serves 4 pretty easily
1 filet of a big fatty fish, or 2 filet if your fish is smaller (like how technical I am here?)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 glug mirin
1 glug rice wine vinegar
1 small squirt sesame oil
1 packet coconut crackers
1/2 cup rice flour
1 egg whisked
salt and pepper
veggie oil FOR FRYING
1 head of garlic roasted in tin foil in a hot oven with olive oil for 40 min, then squeezed from its skin
2 tablespoons sambal
1/3 cup fish sauce
1/3 cup oyster sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons siracha
1 tablespoons gochujang
1/4 cup lemon grass minced
1/2 cup basil (thai basil if you got it)
1 tablespoon sugar
handful toasted sesame seeds
noodles of your liking, skinny ones are best or the vermicelli variety
1 onion sliced
2 tablespoons chopped lemongrass
1 red bell pepper chopped
couple handfuls of greens, bok choy, chard whatevs
2 small chinese eggplants sliced in long chunks
2 tomatoes chopped
pinch chili flakes
cilantro, peanuts, sesame seeds for garnish
Start by marinating the fish in the first 4 ingredients.
In a small shallow bowl crush up your crackers and combine with the rice four, season with salt and pepper and set aside. Whisk your egg in another bowl and set that aside, too.
Prep all of your sauce ingredients, blend everything together and leave to the side.
Heat a large cast iron pan and add your oil for frying
Prep the ingredients for ‘the rest’. Your noodles will probably just need to sit in boiling water for a minute or two so do that, toss with some sesame oil and then leave those to the side.
When you oil is nice and hot start frying your fish batches. First coat it in the egg then in the cracker and flour mixture and drop it in in the oil. Be sure to work in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan. After about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes remove from the oil and drain on a paper towel. Continue this process until all of your fish has been fried.
Heat a wok with some veggie oil, get it hot and start with your onion and lemon grass, once they are heated through add the remaining vegetables except for the greens. Cook until soft, maybe 2 minutes tops, add your greens.
Stir to heat through and then add 1/2 your sauce, stir to coat the vegetables and cook through.
Use the remaining sauce to coat your fried fish pieces – because they are delicate coat them in a bowl and then add them to the wok only at the end.
Place portioned noodles in bowls, spoon your veggie mixture – making sure to get a few pieces of fish in there. Garnish and DIG IN.