Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Fried Little Yellow Fishes


There are many foods that I believe you need to acquire a taste for. I'm still working on broad beans, and probably to the horror of many, macarons, meringues and beer. I used to hate spring onions, peas, aubergines, which I now love. And I've even taught myself over the years to like sashimi, which I once thought of (stop reading if you're Japanese) as the equivalent of jazz in the food world-- it's cool but few people actually really like it. I love fish now, but as a child, seafood in general wasn't my favourite sight on the dinner table, and the raw, fishy taste of cold slabs of fish wasn't the best way to convince me.

Long before I discovered I like fish, these fried little fishes were the only way my mum could get me and my sisters to eat fish. She might steam an expensive cod with superior soy sauce, wine, shreds of ginger and spring onions, or braise a fresh whole carp with black bean sauce,  and we wouldn't touch it. Funnily, we went for the cheapest of fishes, cooked in the simplest of ways, just seasoned with salt and turmeric, and fried till crisp and golden. The cheap little fish is called ikan kuning in Singapore,  often one of those many simple accompaniments to the fragrant coconut rice nasi lemak. I can't find kuning in London so I've gone for another cheap little fish that deserves more attention and love- sardines.



These small oily fishes are full of flavour and the same healthy omega 3 fats that we celebrate the popular, expensive, and over-fished cod or salmon for, and because they're little fishes that are lower in the food chain there's less mercury accumulation. I used to complain about its 'fishy' smell, which I realise is no issue when you get fresh sardines. I used to complain about the little bones in them too, but I've found a way to get most of the bones out in two seconds, and the ones remaining I just crunch down, tasty calcium. If you really don't fancy sardines, try mackerel, my other favourite oily fish (no bones, cheap, sustainable, also in season now), filleted first or perhaps cut crosswise into little steaks, like my mum would with the bigger mackerels we get in Asia.

Fried Little Yellow Fishes
serves 2 as a side
3-4 whole fresh sardines
generous pinch of ground turmeric
generous pinch of unrefined sea salt
oil for frying (I use coconut oil)

Method
1. To prepare sardines, snip along belly and scrape the guts out. You can snip head off too if you're scared but I kind of relish seeing the head on my fish. Run the dull edge of a knife lengthwise against the skin to remove scales. Wash well, pat dry.
2. Season generously with salt and turmeric, especially rubbing inside the belly.
3. Add enough oil to cover the base of a frying pan. Over moderate heat, fry the sardines, flipping over once, till crispy and golden on both sides, about 2-3 min per side. Leave to drain on paper towels.


Turmeric doesn't have much of a taste or aroma, but it lends just a little hint of Asian spice, and more than just a little hint of colour. I'm not sure why it's even there really, maybe some sort of granny/mummy wisdom; it's apparently found to be a natural miracle, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, anti-oxidant, anti-(insert health threat). There's usually a touch of it sneaked into many of Southeast asian curry pastes rempahs, fresh or dried.  It's also what separates this from other fried little fishes, which is actually pretty common across the street/peasant food of many cultures.

This couldn't be simpler, but it's good. The right way to go about eating it, is with your hands, letting the sardine's natural oils and juices run down your fingers and stain them a golden yellow; tearing through the salty, crispy skin into the warm, delicate flesh with your teeth. Now if you've also got some coconut rice, and a huge smear of sambal belachan chilli paste at the side..if not, a squeeze of lemon over will do I guess.


For another equally simple idea with sardines, try roasting them with a bit of lemon, garlic and fresh herbs 

35 comments:

  1. I know exactly what you mean... I used to hate avocado and Indian food but you can't keep me away now... I think our taste buds change quite a bit over the years... these little yellow fish are beautiful... really pretty and I bet they taste great... I adore your photography and little illustrations, they are stunning... thanks so much for all the lovely kind words you've written on my and The Vikings blog, they are greatly appreciated x

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    1. Oh I love avocado and Indian food, I can;t imagine people not liking it, but there you go! I expect people say the same about beer and macaroons. Thanks, I'm really happy to hear you like my photos and drawings (: And I'm also really happy to hear that my words have helped you and the viking, take care and hope all's better now x

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  2. Your entry just convinced me to try sardines aside from Mackarel and Salmon which i usually eat here! Good job :)

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  3. Ah, I love sardines... fresh ones I mean, not those nasty "eat it all" things in a can - still, those are better than nothing at all. I don't use turmeric nearly as much as I want to... I have a massive container of the stuff at home and am always meaning to use it a bit more. Last time I used it I got a big fish, made slits in the side and rubbed the skin with turmeric... lovely stuff.

    Looks great Shuhan - now you've got me wanting some sardines :D

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    1. I actually do like the sardines in cans too. I actually blogged about them before, I get plain ones with no nasties added, then fry them with chilli, caramelised onions and tomato. It's actually a pretty good storecupboard standby! I love how turmeric stains everything golden (: Hope you do get hold of some sardines!

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  4. Yummy little sardines..fried ones taste yum.

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  5. With a humongous gang of fish markets at the DC waterfront, I must get down there and try things, sardines among them. Like so many others, I don't really know how to use turmeric, although I always have some in the pantry.

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    1. You lucky thing, get yourself down there!
      Turmeric is a very background spice I feel, and I use it more so for the gorgeous colour, plus it's great for health!

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  6. i guess as we age, our tastebuds mature (or perhaps change) because i find myself accepting and liking more foods now than before. and for a moment when i looked at the title of the post, i was wondering what on earth were yellow fishes - it was only until i saw the picture that i went "ooohh ikan tuning" lol

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    1. I agree, I find myself trying and liking a lot more foods now, which makes food so much more exciting.

      hehe I didn't dare call them ikan kuning because they aren't really made with the kuning fish!

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  7. Shuhan, (now you will think I am an alien) I hate salmon. I mean the farmed salmon. I can eat smoked one from time to time (if there is no other smoked fish in view! haha!) but the fresh one is something I never ever order or buy for myself. I do like some expensive fish varieties (tuna, monkfish), but I also love mackerel, horse mackerel, whiting (I just had a great whiting fillets dish yesterday). I also love sardines, but they have to be fresh as you say. I still remember when I once went to the South of France and ordered a huge plate of special oven grilled sardines while everyone ordered something more expensive. I tasted my friends' plates and frankly didn't regret my sardines. They were the best!
    All this to say that I am totally on your side and as a child I also loved small fish (especially the tails, but I have already told you I think). On the other hand I also loved vinegar pickled herring... I would have never think of putting turmeric but I will try next time. Thank you for such a wonderful idea.

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    1. I already think you are an alien sissi.

      I'm glad to see someone also into the cheap fishes, they are full of flavour and it's such a pity that people don't seem to appreciate them more. Much better for the environment too if we all learn to eat the less popular fishes.

      I've yet to try vinegar pickled herring, they're called rollmops aren't they? I am not so much a fan of cold "raw" fish remember; even though I have grown to like sashimi, I still prefer fish cooked. Do try it with turmeric next time, makes everything look so pretty and golden (:

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  8. I love both sardines and mackerels, so underuse here in UK. When I was young , my mum would used to make me tinned sardine (in tomatoes ) sandwich and I still remember fondly of those sardine puff we used to get from a mama store. These days, I always buy them because not only are they cheap but they are also versatile and full of flavours, perfect for southeast asian flavourings like with curry, rempah or just simply BBQ.

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    1. I know what you mean, it's a shame they're not used more! Hah i remember the same chilli tomato sardine sandwiches, my mum didn't make them though I often had them in some kind of reception buffet.

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  9. This is awesome, I love sardines, this recipe makes me think of eating grilled sardines on the beach in Spain. Loving the international vibe of it all: a dish from your mom in Singapore adapted by you in London making me (french person in LA) think of Spain... LOVING the blogging world for that - and trying your recipe asap! Thanks for sharing :-)

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    1. I never even thought of all these connections myself, thanks a lot too!

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  10. ...the equivalent of jazz in the food world-- it's cool but few people actually really like it

    Ha ha! So true. Jazz is so pretentious, especially modern jazz.

    PS: Shame on you for not eating your mum's steamed fish w/ginger & spring onion.

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  11. Oh my goodness... My mouth completely watered from this post. Fried whole small fishes really are one of the best things to eat... Especially with a mountain of rice!! YUMMEHHHH... I like how you're introducing this dish that seems like a classic to ppl like us from our region of the world to everyone else in the UK and more! =D

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    1. Thanks winston!!! It's a simple homestyle dish I think more people should know/enjoy (:

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  12. It's been Loooooong time since I had this dish. Oh I love the smell of fish while frying it. Looking at your pictures made me crave it badly :D

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  13. I used to hate tomatoes! Strange to think that now? Liking the simple reminder that these fishes, although not screamingly trendy (unlike the enamel tin plate ; )), are tasty, healthy and oddly pretty! Know what i''m having for dinner now...

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    1. How can you hate tomatoes! Ok granted, I wasn't mad about them either, except for ketchup maybe. Hur hur I love my plate, it's oven-safe too ;)

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  14. Fried fish with turmeric is so easy and tasty. Mom still cooks it and I got to eat it when I visited very recently. I seldom fry fish in my kitchen as it is so tight and it can get pretty greasy.

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    1. I only shallow fry not deep fry so it's still pretty alright, I hate it when the kitchen gets greasy too!

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  15. I always thought sardines were tiiiiny, but I've never been a big fan of fish myself. Foods that I'd like to conquer: lamb, parsley, and I would've said beets up until last week, except I finally prepared them—raw, no less—and they're delicious!

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    1. Congrats on your first beets! It's one of my absolute favourite root vegetables, it's so sweet and earthy and dyes everything a gorgeous pink/red.

      They're not that tiny I think, they do look a lot smaller and shrunken in the tin though.

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  16. You used coconut oil to fry the fishes... They must be extra crispy :D

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  17. Simple but the best way to eat fish!

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  18. When I show the fish head on my post, I have a lot of comments from non-Asian persons that they are not used to seeing fish head. It doesn't bother me and I think the fish dish is photo worthy when the fish head is still attached. Look at this gorgeous click! I absolutely love your last photo!!!

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  19. Hi Shu Han,

    I love sardines and pilchards and so agree they are underrated fish but so delicious! But I have never cooked them like this and love the look and sound of it...but I am a bit of a wimp so will have to get mine beheaded and filleted first!!

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  20. omg, it's been a long time since i fried fish like this. It feels all so homey. Ikan kuning, ikan selar and ikan kembung all taste great fried this way. never had sardine fried this way so am really curious. As a typical nyonya i love everything marinated with turmeric and fried. I've been thinking of fried chicken since yesterday. need to stock up my freezer again soon. you must be having a blast with your wonderful job at the farmers' market. i thk it's fabulous! i've only been to 1 market in london & that's borough market. i love it!!!

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  21. Love this deep fried turmeric fish! yum!

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  22. Hello Shu Han,
    Fried Little Yellow Fishes is a great recipe. This post is very nice. It is very delicious to look at. Thank you for sharing the ingredients and recipe. Hope your next recipe will published soon.

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