Diary of a Foodie

Lemongrass Grouper in Shrimp Paste

Diary of a Foodie: Season Two: Hidden Hong Kong

  • Active time:45 min
  • Start to finish:45 min
January 2008
  • 1 stalk fresh lemongrass, tough outer layers discarded
  • 2 heaping tablespoons belachan (Southeast Asian shrimp paste)
  • 2 to 4 teaspoons water
  • 1 (1 1/2-lb) whole white-fleshed fish, cleaned, with head and tail left on, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 pummelo (3 1/4 lb)
  • 1 to 3 (2- to 2 1/2-inch) fresh Thai bird chiles (to taste), thinly sliced, including seeds if desired
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • About 6 cups peanut oil for deep-frying
  • 1/4 cup water-chestnut starch or cornstarch
  • Equipment:

    an electric coffee/spice grinder; a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok; a deep-fat thermometer
  • Garnish:

    1/2 peeled green (unripe) mango, cut into thin matchsticks; cilantro sprigs
  • Coarsely chop lower 5 inches of lemongrass, then finely chop in grinder. Mash belachan (it will be pungent) with water in a small bowl until it forms a spreadable paste (add more water if needed). Stir in lemongrass.
  • Cut 3 or 4 slashes in each side of fleshy part of fish. Spread fish paste evenly on inside and outside of fish, rubbing it into slashes. Marinate 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cut peel, including most of white pith, from pummelo with a sharp knife. (Peel is very thick.) Using your hands, split pummelo from center of one end, like an orange. Pull off interior pith and remove segments 1 at a time, then remove segment membranes and any small seeds, separating pulp. (Fruit may remain in small clumps.)
  • Stir together 1 1/2 cups pummelo pulp (reserve remainder for another use), chiles, lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar until sugar has dissolved.
  • Fill wok two-thirds full with peanut oil and heat over medium heat until oil registers 350ºF.
  • Just before frying fish, put starch into a sieve and dust fish evenly with it inside and out, gently shaking off excess. Carefully lower fish into oil and fry until just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Increase heat to high and cook 30 seconds more for crisper, more fragrant fish.
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