We normally steam apahap or local sea bass (it’s a relative of Australian barramundi btw) with some ginger, soy and sesame oil. It seems an ideal way to enjoy the creamy white flesh and mild flavor of the fish. But I recently wondered if frying the fish would yield palatable results.
Gut and scale a 500gram or so apahap (serves 3-4 roughly) and season with some salt and pepper all over and inside the stomach cavity. Cut diagonal slits on the side of the fish for more even cooking. Lightly coat with flour or cornstarch and deep fry in vegetable oil (or lard) for a few minutes on each side until the skin is crisp, lightly golden yet the meat remains moist. I can’t tell you exactly how long this will take, but it’s perhaps 4-5 minutes per side, or even less for a thinner fish. Meanwhile, make a classic Pinoy sweet and sour sauce with tomatoes, ginger, onions, garlic, sweet bell peppers, vinegar, a touch of sugar, salt and pepper.
Place the fish “swimming” upright on the platter if they balance that way, and spoon the sweet and sour (escabeche) sauce all around the fish. This serving method helps to preserve the crispiness of the skin and guests can take as much of the “sauce” as they like. My sauce in this version had way too many ingredients in it and not enough sauce, but you get the picture. Serve piping hot. This was incredibly delicious, almost identical to eating say a fried lapu-lapu or grouper or rock cod, which cost significantly more in the markets. For me, one of these fish and some steamed rice and nothing else would make a really hearty and satisfying lunch. Did I say serves 3-4 up top? Hmmm…