Deep-fried Fish with Chillies and Basil


The little Thai CookbookThis is one of the most popular fish dishes in Thailand and you can use most types of fish to make it. The fish has a mildly spicy flavour and is garnished with deep-fried chilli and basil leaves. The dusting of flour isn’t traditional but it helps crisp the skin.

  • Yield: 4 Servings


  • 1 large or 2 smaller red snapper (total weight about 1 kg/2 lb 4 oz)
  • 3 tablespoons plain (all-purpose) flour
  • pinch of ground black pepper
  • 1½ tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ tablespoon red curry paste or bought paste
  • 2 tablespoons palm sugar (jaggery)
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • vegetable oil, for deep-frying
  • a handful of Thai sweet basil leaves
  • 1 dried long red chilli, cut into 5 mm (¼ in) pieces, seeds discarded
  • 3 makrut (kaffir) lime leaves, very thinly sliced, for garnish
How to Make It
  1. Clean and gut the snapper, leaving the head on. Thoroughly dry the fish and score it three or four times on both sides with a sharp knife. Rub it inside and out with a pinch of salt. Place the flour and pepper on a plate and press the fish lightly into it until coated with flour from head to tail. Shake off any excess.
  2. Heat the oil in a small saucepan, add the red curry paste and stir over medium heat for 1–2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the palm sugar, fish sauce and 2 tablespoons water and cook for 1–2 minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat.
  3. Heat 10 cm (4 in) oil in a large wok or pan large enough to deep-fry the whole fish. When the oil is hot, drop a few basil leaves into it. If they sizzle immediately, the oil is ready. Deep-fry half of the basil leaves for 1 minute, or until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Deep-fry the rest.
  4. In the same wok, deep-fry the dried chilli pieces for a few seconds until light brown. Be careful not to burn them. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Lower the heat to medium and gently slide the fish into the oil. Be careful as the hot oil may splash. Deep-fry the fish on just one side (but make sure the oil covers the whole fish) for 5–10 minutes, or until the fish is cooked and light brown (if you cook the fish until it is very brown, it will be too dry). Drain off the oil and drain the fish on paper towels.
  5. Put the curry sauce in the wok and gently warm it. Add the fried fish and coat both sides with the sauce. Transfer the fish to a warm plate with any remaining sauce and sprinkle with the crisp basil, fried chilli pieces and makrut lime leaves.

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