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A fine kettle of fish most likely is fried


A STEADY DIET OF fried food may not be good for your arteries, but an occasional fried fish does wonders for your spirit. I am a fan of fried fish and have noticed that the aroma of fried fish gets stronger as I move closer to the Atlantic Ocean. After years of sniffing my way around Maryland on U.S. 50 east and U.S. 13 south, I have developed a mental map of fried-fish eateries.

It works this way. As I head east from the Bay Bridge, I start counting rivers. The more rivers I cross, the greater the likelihood that the fish served in local restaurants will be fried.

For example, when I cross the Choptank River and head toward the Nanticoke, I figure my chances of finding tasty fried fish are good. After I cross the Nanticoke and roll toward the Wicomico River, my chances are better. And when I have passed over the Wicomico River and turned toward the Pocomoke, my chances of finding fried fish are excellent. (Beyond the Pocomoke is fried-fish nirvana.)

While I enjoy eating fried fish in restaurants, I am reluctant to fry fish at home. Frying makes a mess in the kitchen and also stinks up the whole house. "Stinks" is probably a loaded word. When you are hungry, the fish has an "aroma." When your stomach is full, the "aroma" becomes an "odor."

The other night I was willing to overlook the drawbacks and start frying. I had a hunk of rockfish, or striped bass, in the freezer and an intriguing recipe -- crispy fried striped bass with spicy garlic sauce.

So I skinned the hunk of rockfish, dipped it in egg and flour, fried it in hot peanut oil, then served it with a sauce made of garlic, ginger, wine and soy sauce. I made a big mess in the kitchen. The entire house, even the upstairs closets, smelled like fried fish.

But my family ate every piece of fish and asked for second helpings of sauce.

Some folks west of the Bay Bridge might disparage such a meal as lowly "fried food." We called it a delicious supper.

Crispy Rockfish with Spicy Garlic Sauce

Serves 4

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon peanut oil

1-1 1/2 pound striped bass fillet, skinned

flour for dredging

1 large egg

1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon peeled and minced fresh ginger

1 tablespoon dry sherry (or Marsala wine)

1/2 cup chicken or fish stock

1 tablespoon high-quality soy sauce

1/4 teaspoon chili-garlic paste (optional)

Heat nonstick 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat for 3-5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup oil. When pinch of flour tossed into oil begins to sizzle, pan is ready.

Dredge fillet in flour, in egg, then back in flour. Cook fish in oil for about 4 minutes, regulating heat between medium and high so fish browns but does not burn. Turn fish and brown other side, cooking it about 4 minutes, until a knife easily passes through fillet. Transfer fish to paper towels to drain.

Either wipe pan clean or use another skillet: Place on high heat, and add tablespoon of peanut oil. Place the garlic and ginger in oil, stir, let cook for 15 seconds. Add the sherry, which will bubble away almost immediately. Add the stock, let bubble for 30 seconds. Add the soy sauce and let it cook for a few seconds. Then, add chili-garlic paste, stir, pour the sauce over the fish. Serve with rice.

Adapted from "Fish" by Mark Bittman, 1994

Pub Date: 01/24/99

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