Crisp-and-Fiery Catfish Fry

Namazu no Kara Agé

In America, catfish used to be a local southern dish, enjoyed by ordinary folks. In recent years, thanks to the popularity of Cajun and Creole cooking, the once-lowly catfish has become an American delicacy. Japanese restaurants in the United States most often serve it deep-fried, with just a dusting of cornstarch and a fiery dipping sauce.

Ingredients

  • 6-8 ounces fillet of catfish, skinned
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

Dipping Sauce

  • ¼ cup dashi (basic sea stock)
  • 1 tablespoon mirin (syrupy rice wine)
  • 1 tablespoon usukuchi shōyu (light soy sauce)
  • pinch ichimi tōgarashi (powdered red chili pepper)

Garnish

  • 1 small lemon or lime
  • 2-3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • vegetable oil for deep-frying

Method

  1. With a sharp knife held at a 45-degree angle to the cutting board, slice the fish slightly on the diagonal, to make 8-10 pieces. Each piece should be about 1½ to 2 inches square and fairly even in thickness.
  2. Toss the fish in the soy sauce, then let it marinate for 5-10 minutes while you make the dipping sauce.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine the sea stock, syrupy rice wine, and light soy sauce, and simmer for about 3 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Stir in the powdered chili pepper, and set the sauce aside.
  4. Cut the lemon or lime in half lengthwise. Cut each half lengthwise into five wedges. Arrange the wedges to resemble a feather, and garnish each plate with a lemon or lime “feather.”
  5. Remove the fish from the soy sauce and pat off excess soy with paper towels. Dust the fish with the cornstarch, and set it aside for 5 minutes. The coating will turn reddish brown as it absorbs the soy.
  6. Fill a wok or other deep-fryer with 1½-2 inches of oil. Heat the oil to about 375 degrees. Test the temperature with a pinch of cornstarch moistened with soy sauce. It should sizzle and slowly turn to a light gold.
  7. At the table, each person adds a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to the dipping sauce. To eat, dip the fried fish in the seasoned sauce.

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