I normally wince when I see sweet and sour anything on a menu; in most takeaways or bog standard Cantonese restaurants, it usually denotes a sticky-sweet, lurid dish of deep fried protein with peppers and onions. Glossy sauce sticks to the batter, moulding said batter to your teeth while you gainfully try and chew through it, wondering what on earth could make it quite that orange. Now and then I get a sick craving for it, a yearning for a prawn ball dipped in that gloopy sauce. It's a guilty pleasure, one my mother would certainly tut at me for, the very core of her Chineser-ness bristling.
But sweet and sour is a classic flavour combination, and no doubt a good one. It just doesn't need to be sickly. This crispy fish with sweet and sour sauce is still slightly trashy (hello, ketchup) but also not that guilt-inducing, if you ignore the deep fried bit, which I usually do for any dish.
You might wonder why you'd make fish crispy, only to drench it in sauce but I love this dish because some bits you get crisp, some you get a little soggy. A bit like with Japanese tempura in hot broth - the texture contrasts make it worth the effort. The fish is fried twice for extra crispness, so it's best to keep them in large chunks so it doesn't over-cook. Any firm white fish works - I used pollock.
Crispy Fish with Sweet & Sour Sauce
Serves 2 as a main, or 4 with sides
250gr fillet of white fish like pollock
1 egg, beaten
Cornflour or rice flour for dusting, seasoned with a little salt
Cooking oil for deep frying
1 tomato (you could substitute this for a handful of fresh pineapple chunks. I would.)
1/2 a red onion
3 cloves of garlic
3cm piece of ginger
2 red chillis
3 tbsp ketchup
3 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
A pinch of white pepper
1 heaped tbsp cornflour loosened in 2 tbsp water
1 tbsp cooking oil
2 spring onions, sliced diagonally.
Chop the tomato into 8ths and the red onion into chunks and set aside. Mince the garlic, ginger and the chillis together. In a bowl, mix together the ketchup, oyster sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, white pepper and the water.
Heat the oil and fry the ginger, garlic and chilli together until fragrant. Add the onion and fry until softened. Add the wet ingredients and bring to the simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add the tomato (or pineapple). When the tomato has softened, thicken with the cornflour and keep at the barest simmer.
Meanwhile, chop the fish into even chunks, about the size of a dominos piece. Heat your oil (I do this in a small saucepan) until a breadcrumb sizzles in it. Dredge the fish first in egg, then the flour and then fry for two minutes on a medium heat. Remove, drain on kitchen paper, turn the heat up high, and fry again until browned. Remove and drain again on kitchen paper.
To serve, place in a serving dish and pour the sauce over. Try and pour it so that some pieces of fish are still sticking out, untouched. Garnish with the spring onions and serve with steamed white rice. Maybe a side of vegetables too.