My husband’s comfort food. Well, one of many. I had half a kilogram of cubed fish fillets marinating in the fridge and when I threw out the question to no one in particular as to how I should cook the fish, I received two answers. My husband wanted sweet sour fish; my younger daughter wanted it cooked a la lemon chicken.
We didn’t have complete ingredients for either dish, it turned out. But my husband was willing to go out and buy the bell peppers, pineapple and scallions that the sweet and sour fish needed. He won. Fried fish fillets with lemon sauce will have to wait.
What fish is good for this dish? Any firm fleshy fish. Tilapia is especially good. Skin-on, preferably, because the skin turns crisp like crackling during frying and that adds another layer of texture to this alreay texture-rich dish.
The tilapia fillets are cut into bite-size pieces, tossed with herb salt and left to marinate in the fridge. If you don’t have herb salt, a combination of salt and pepper will work too. Just don’t skip the step of seasoning and marinating the fish. The sweet sour sauce will flavor the surface but not the innermost part of the fish.
The marinated fish fillets are tossed in a mixture of flour and corn starch, and deep fried in batches. The fried fish fillets rest in a strainer while the rest of the components of the dish are prepared.
The lower portions of the scallions — the white and light green portions — are sauteed with ginger, garlic and diced bell pepper. The pineapple is not included in this step because it would have expelled juice and that’s something that I want to happen only during the last stage of cooking.
To make the sweet sour sauce, I melt sugar in rice vinegar and let the mixture boil until syrupy. For a fruity flavor, I add plum sauce. To give the sweet sour sauce it’s signature reddish color, a little tomato paste is stirred in. For a final touch, a little oyster sauce and a drizzle of sesame seed oil.
When the sauce is ready, the sauteed vegetables, pineapple and fish fish fillets are added. Everything is tossed together until the every piece of solid ingredient is coated with the sticky glossy sauce.
The dark green portion of the scallions, thinly sliced, are sprinkled in before the sweet sour fish fillets are transferred to a serving bowl.
Spices and vegetables
Sweet sour sauce
- ⅓ cup white sugar
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- 2 pinches salt
- 2 tablespoons plum sauce (available in Asian groceries)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- ½ teaspoon sesame seed oil
- 2 to 3 stalks scallions (dark green portion only) thinly sliced
- Wipe the fish dry with paper towels and cut into bite-size pieces.
- Place the fish in a bowl, add the herb salt (or salt and pepper) and toss thoroughly.
- Cover the bowl and marinate the fish in the fridge for a minimum of half an hour.
- In a wok or frying pan, start heating enough cooking oil to reach a depth of at least two inches.
- Toss the fish with the flour and starch, and shake each piece to let any excess fall off.
- Deep fry the fish fillets in batches until lightly golden and crisp on the outside.
- Place the fried fish in a strainer or spread on a rack.
- Heat two tablespoons cooking oil in a pan and saute the scallions, ginger, garlic and bell peppers.
- Scoop out and move to a plate.
- In the same pan with traces of a now flavorful oil, pour in the sugar and rice vinegar.
- Boil until the mixture reaches the consistency of a thin syrup.
- Stir in the plum sauce, tomato paste, oyster sauce and sesame seed oil.
- Cook, stirring, until thickened.
- Add the sauteed vegetables, pineapple chunks and fried fish fillets to the sweet sour sauce.
- Toss until everything is coated with sauce.
- Sprinkle in the scallions and serve.