A restaurant-styled dish of Chinese sweet and sour whole fish is easy to do at home! This is prepared with a whole fish, coated and fried twice for a crispier skin. Plus, get this fantastic recipe for a superior sweet and sour sauce!
Sweet and sour fish is by far my most popular post here. Yet, it just seemed out of sorts that I hadn’t yet written a post for how to cook a sweet and sour dish with a whole fish. I know!
Well, that’s because I tend to cook with fish fillet slices, 99% of the time. But there are occasions that call for serving up a whole fish, especially when we have festivities and celebrations. With family and friends coming over, a whole fish just offers more and is such a dazzling dish to present!
Does your family have their favourite parts of the fish that they love to eat? If my mum was here, she would always be accorded the fish head with the crispy eye balls, as well as the highly coveted tender flesh of the cheeks.
Hubby gets the fillet parts, where bones are minimal. Because he once had the most bothersome, tiny bone lodged deep down his throat, and it was pure HELL. No manner of home remedy could get it out. He ended up in hospital, the poor guy!
But that’s a story for another day, and probably explains why I cook with fillet most of the time. As for myself, I love the flesh off the tail bone, and all the crispy, crunchy fins. See? Everybody wins!
About this sweet and sour whole fish
This is a crispy, fried whole fish served with sauteed vegetables and glazed over with an authentic sweet and sour sauce. Tastefully garnished, it makes for a truly dazzling and appetising dish.
No doubt, it would almost appear as if you had spent lots of time and effort creating this beauty. But as you’ll find out, you can get this from wok to table in under 45 minutes.
But the real deal-maker here is the most amazing sweet and sour sauce you’ll get to taste! And I’m going to share a recipe here that makes a truly superior quality sauce!
Now, I love to load my dish with a mixed medley of diced and sliced coloured peppers, onions, tomatoes and pineapples. It turns this dish into a more wholesome meal, with a good helping of sauteed vegetables for everyone.
Of course, you can keep the veggies to a minimum, using just tomatoes and onions for example. I’ll leave the choice to you. It’s your dish, and you can dress it up or down as much as you like.
What fish can I use?
First of all, let’s talk about which fishes are more suited for a dish like sweet and sour fish. Fishes with very mild and light flavours and firm flesh are generally suitable options.
By far, my favourite choice is the the red snapper. Other popular choices include sea bass, grouper or garoupa, barramundi, catfish or dory, perch and trout.
Fishes with very delicate or flaky flesh aren’t as ideal. The flesh will come apart easily during the deep frying process. So fishes like cod for example, would not work well.
Ingredients for sweet and sour whole fish
Here are the typical ingredients used when you prepare Chinese-style sweet and sour fish:
- A whole fish, about 750 gm – scaled, gutted and cleaned
- Coloured peppers – mix of red, green and/or yellow (your choice)
- Pineapples, canned or fresh
- Spring onions
- Coriander or cilantro, for garnish
- Sweet and sour sauce, see below
Ingredients for superior sweet and sour sauce
At this moment, I have quite a few trusted sweet and sour sauce recipes. But this is my favourite go-to when I prepare sauce for a whole fish serving. In my humble opinion, this is no ordinary sweet and sour sauce.
It is authentic and superior in flavour, with a consistency similar to a sticky glaze. The taste is indelibly sweet and piquant with savoury nuances and subtle citrus notes. You’ll find that the flavour is bold, complex and sophisticated.
The sauce is an easy mixture of easy-to-get ingredients:
- Tomato sauce (ketchup)
- Chilli sauce
- Plum sauce
- Rice vinegar
- Lemon juice
- Salt, just a dash
Step-by-step: Cooking the fish
Here’s an essential tip! Deep frying the fish twice will result in a crispier fish. In the first round of frying, we fry the fish until near to 80 percent cooked. The second time, frying in hot oil is meant to draw out the excess oil, and to crisp up the fish.
- Step 1: Heat up a wok with enough oil until very hot. Meanwhile, coat the fish, including the cavity and slits. Fry one side until light golden brown, or near to 80 percent cooked. Do not move the fish once it’s in!
- Step 2: Turn over and fry the other side, placing it squarely in the oil. Again, don’t move the fish. When near to 80 percent cooked, remove with a slotted spoon and wait for 15 seconds for the oil to get hot again.
- Step 3: Put back the fish into the hot oil and this time, fry until the surface is golden brown and crispy.
- Step 4: Turn over the fish and do the same with the other side. Remove with a slotted spoon, and drain on a wire rack.
Step-by-step: cooking the vegetables and sauce
- Step 1: In a cleaned wok, heat up some oil over high heat. Once the oil is very hot, fry the garlic and onions until fragrant.
- Step 2: Next, put in the rest of the vegetables and continue to stir fry until they start to soften.
- Step 3: Pour in the sauce mix and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Step 4: Lower the heat until the mixture is at a gentle simmer. Then, stir in the corn starch solution and allow the sauce to thicken until the consistency is like a thick glaze.
- Step 5: Stir in the chopped spring onions.
- Step 6: Simmer for 10 seconds, then turn off the heat. Set the fried fish on a serving plate. Dish out the sauce over the fish, and garnish with chopped coriander or cilantro. Serve immediately.
And that’s all there is to it! Sweet and sour whole fish is best served immediately. If you’re cooking a few dishes, do leave this to the end. Even if the fish is fried until very crispy, it won’t stay crispy the longer it sits under the sauce. I do hope you’ll give this a go and enjoy it!
Sweet and sour whole fish goes well with:
- Cantonese Stir-Fried Prawns in Special Sauce (Har Lok)
- French Beans Stir-Fried with Minced Pork in Soy Bean Paste
- Stir-Fried Kailan with Garlic and Oyster Sauce
- Sweet (or Salted) Radish Omelette