By Pierre Thiam
Firire, a corruption of the French frire (“to fry”), is what we call fried fish in Senegal. You can use fish fillets if you don’t want to deal with fish bones, but in Senegal we like to eat with our hands, grabbing the head or the tail of the fish to better extract the hidden crispy bits of flesh that are missing from boneless fillets. Besides, I think that there is nothing more elegant than a whole fish served on a platter. Serve your sea bass with a side of Garlicky Mojo Root Vegetable Salad or rice and you’ll have a complete, satisfying meal.
Recipe from Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl by Pierre Thiam.
Pan-Fried Sea Bass
- 2 whole sea bass or red snapper (1 1/2 to 2 pounds each), scaled and gutted
- 2 tablespoons Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce, or fine sea salt
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups vegetable oil
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- Lime wedges, for serving
- Tomato Onion Relish, for serving
Tomato Onion Relish
- 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
- Juice of 2 limes
- 1 yellow tomato, diced
- 1 red tomato, diced
- 1 Scotch bonnet pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Rinse the fish well and pat dry with paper towels. With a sharp knife, make two or three shallow slashes on each side of the fish.
Place the fish in a shallow bowl or platter and sprinkle both sides with the fish sauce, lime juice, salt, and pepper. Allow the seasoning to penetrate the fish, 5 to 10 minutes.
Line a baking sheet or platter with several layers of paper towels. In a large frying pan or cast-iron skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
Lightly dredge a fish in the flour and carefully place it in the hot oil; it should sizzle. Reduce the heat to medium and fry for 3 to 5 minutes, undisturbed. When the skin is crisp and has a deep golden color, carefully turn the fish onto its other side using a spatula. Cook undisturbed for another 3 to 5 minutes. Briefly drain the fried fish on the paper towels before transferring it to a serving dish. Keep warm, tented with aluminum foil. Repeat with the second fish.
When both fish are cooked, serve hot with lime wedges and relish on the side.
Tomato Onion Relish
Combine the onion, lime juice, tomatoes, Scotch bonnet, and oil. Stir to mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, fold in the cilantro.
Reprinted from Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl by Pierre Thiam with Jennifer Sit (Lake Isle Press, 2015). Photo credits Evan Sung.