I grew up eating a lot of small fish. Some of my most vivid childhood memories were weekend afternoons spent at the local lake, walking the banks with a homemade cane pole and filling stringers with sunfish of various sizes. Catching bigger fish was always the goal, but sunfish, perch, croaker, and spot were always welcome and reliable. Fried, steamed, roasted, or stewed, the smaller catches were treated with as much care and attention as a catch of keeper rockfish, flounder, or drum.
Having worked in the restaurant industry most of my life, I’ve been astonished how many people shy away from eating whole fish. Admittedly, there is more nuance to navigating the bones of a perch versus the large flakes of a halibut, but efforts are well worth it. White perch, in particular, are just as good, if not better, than any of its more glamorous counterparts, like rockfish, flounder, or speckled trout. Cooking small fish whole also maximizes the yield and encourages getting your hands dirty.
I like to fry up a batch of fresh perch, make a tangy and spicy sauce to accompany it, and pick fish like I would pick crabs–with friends, hoppy beverages, and a lot of laughs.
|8 - 12 whole perch or any small panfish, scaled and gutted (2 - 3 per person)
|1/4 cup mirin
|1/4 cup fresh lime juice
|rice wine vinegar
|1 - 2 chili peppers cut into small pieces
How to Prepare
- With a sharp knife, score the skin and flesh of the fish in a diamond pattern, taking special care not to cut the bones. This increases surface area, allowing for crisper fish and more even cooking.
- Season the fish with salt and pepper.
- Dredge the fish in rice flour and shake off any excess. The rice four yields a light, yet very crispy, crust. An extra-fine flour like Wondra will also work.
- Preheat oil to 350 degrees and fry in batches (1 – 2 minutes per side). Allow excess oil to drain and place fish on a paper towel-lined plate and serve immediately.
- Mix ingredients for sauce (mirin, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce) together, add chili peppers, and serve with the fried fish for dipping.