Crispy Fried Whole Fish

Hello and welcome to my pretend cooking show - I wanted to be the next Emeril Lagasse when I discovered the Food Network over a decade ago. I guess now I would want to be the next Ingrid Hoffmann. My audience for the day…

…that’s right, a bunch of babies.
Anyway, todays dish is one that is perfect for summer, especially if you like to fish. I’m going to teach you how to cook with a whole fish. I am working with a set of absolutely beautiful black tilapia that my mother-in-law and her husband brought for my husband and I.
Keep in mind that one whole fish yields 2 large fillets so this dish could feed two food monsters like my husband and I or 4-6 normal people.

With a very sharp, thin knife or fillet knife, put the tip into the little area between the two tiny fins near the middle bottom of the fish. Make sure you force the knife through the bones between the pelvic fins. I slice up towards the head and stop at the gills.
Now you are going to feel in the base of the head for where everything connects and grab and pull it all out. On larger fish this will sometimes be tough and need to be cut out. Look in and scrape out the liver, swim bladder and everything left until the inner cavity is clean.
Using some kitchen shears cut out the gills because they can make your fish bitter; on smaller fish they can literally be pulled out. Now just give it a good rinse and the gross part is over. If you need to take a breather, put the fish in some ice water and go hang your head between your knees and take a few deep breaths.

I simply take a butter knife, hold the tail and almost like a good men’s shave slowly scrape up in one inch sections towards the head. I like to start left and scale an entire inch to the right then go just above where you have just scaled and repeat until the whole fish body is done on both sides.
Please do this outside. Scales fly everywhere. I suggest around a hose in nasty clothes for your first time and out of direct wind. If you do this in your home you will be finding tiny scales all around the house for months. If you would like, you can cut off the side fins and bottom fins. Hose your fish down or rinse well in the sink to remove all the scales.

2 medium whole fish -or- 4 small whole fish
1-2 cups peanut oil
2 lemons or limes

I take my fish and score it with 2-3 cuts in the fattest part of the fish. This helps the fish to cook as quick in the thickest part as the thinnest part. I then take the lime and squeeze it into the scores and into the body cavity and then salt into the scores and body cavity.

You can pretty much go crazy with the salt here. I have really piled it on and it seems the more the better. I always go a little heavy to make up for what washes off.

Fill your frying pan up with at least one inch of oil and heat on medium low heat for 5-7 minutes. Lightly place your whole fish into the hot oil. Depending on the size I cook 5-8 minutes per side.
As with most of my recipes, set it into the oil and DO NOT TOUCH IT! It will stick at first and moving it around will make the skin come off. If you leave it, the natural oils in the fish will first be pushed into the fish when the oil hits it.
As the temperature begins to regulate the oils will disperse and the fish will release itself. You should be cooking 5-8 minutes, flipping once and cooking 5-8 minutes on the other side.

Simply drain on some paper towels and you can serve your fish whole or if you’re having a dinner party, carve the fish table side. For just my husband and I in a hurry I serve with some rice and a bottle of Riesling.
This dish is absolutely stunning served with any type of couscous or rice and a green vegetable of your choice. For a dinner party I would suggest a light salad for starters or chilled cucumber, basil and mint soup, a plate of freshly sliced mango and avocado would be nice and follow it up with a beautiful raspberry frozen yogurt topped with fresh raspberries.
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