Start to Finish: 40 minutes
Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced
Crispy fried flounder, also known as ganjian longli or dry fried flounder, is a special-occasion Chinese dish. A whole, seasoned flounder is deep fried until the exterior is crispy, including the fin and pin bones. The frying of the bones makes them edible as a crunchy accompaniment to the fried, tender white flesh. The whole fish then is sauced just before serving so the fried portions stay crisp. This recipe is based on ones from The Gourmet Chinese Regional Cookbook and Radio New Zealand.
Mushroom, Vegetable and Oyster Sauce
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, sliced thin
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted and quartered
1/4 cup rice wine
1/2 cup oyster sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 6 green onions, sliced and cut into 2-inch lengths
Single 1-pound whole flounder, gutted and scaled
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons rice wine
1 cup rice flour
1 cup cornstarch
- Vegetable oil for deep-frying
Heat a medium-sized pot on high, then add the ginger, cooking until the exterior of the slices are dry. Transfer the ginger to a separate bowl.
Add 2 tablespoons of oil and the minced garlic, and cook on medium-high heat for 5 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant. Return the sliced ginger to the pot.
Add the shiitake, rice wine, oyster sauce, soy sauce and sugar to the pot. Stir to incorporate the ingredients and heat them until the mixture just begins to bubble.
Mix the cornstarch and the water in a small bowl until the cornstarch is suspended in the water, creating a slurry. Pour the slurry into the pot and stir to incorporate.
Stir continuously until the mixture has thickened. Turn off the heat and set the sauce to the side. Thin out the sauce with water to the desired consistency and season with salt to taste.
Score both sides of the flounder. Cut lines parallel to the head. Make the incisions deep enough so they almost reach the inside bones of the fish.
Rub the fish and the cuts with sea salt. Let the fish rest for 10 minutes.
Mix the rice flour and cornstarch in a large plate. Dip the flounder into the flour mix, covering all parts, including inside the cuts.
Frying and Assembling
Heat a wok on medium-high with enough vegetable oil to deep-fry the flounder whole. You will need at least 1 1/2 inches of vegetable oil in the wok.
Test the oil temperature with a quick-read thermometer. When the oil is at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, carefully lower the entire fish, head first, into the oil. Keep the fish flat side down.
The oil will be extremely hot and will splatter and bubble as you lower the fish. Do not drop the fish straight into the wok, as it can cause excess oil to splash up and out of the pan.
Use metal tongs to lower the fish rather than hands. This minimizes the chances you will be splashed with hot oil.
Use metal tongs to adjust the placement of the fish -- the widest part needs to be near the center of the wok. Using a metal ladle, carefully spoon hot oil over the parts of the exposed fish, covering the tail, head and fins on either side.
After seven minutes, test the doneness of the fish. When it is done, the fish is golden brown and crispy everywhere. The fin bone and tail is a darker shade of brown and easily breaks when bent.
Transfer the cooked fish to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Reheat the sauce on medium-high heat.
Scatter half the green onions on the fish, cover it with the heated sauce and scatter the remaining onions on top. Serve very hot.
Only the crispy fried fin bones and tail bones are edible. The spine and larger bones are not edible without further cooking.
Change the sauce for the fish to have a lighter-tasting dish. For example, sweet red chili sauce with sauteed vegetables makes for a sweeter, lighter dish.
Season the rice flour and cornstarch mixture with dried spices or herbs before cooking. Doubling the salt and adding 3 teaspoons ground black pepper gives the fish a taste similar to salt and pepper squid. For something spicier, add 1 to 3 tablespoons of cayenne powder or ground Sichuan peppercorns.
Save the larger, interior fish bones, dip them in a seasoned coating of flour then fry to make a crispy, lightly fishy snack.