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Crispy Thai style garlic fried fish

Updated on October 21, 2008

In Thailand, when you order fish…you’re probably getting the WHOLE fish on a plate, and while it's not what we are as used to, fish cooked whole always tastes better, and it's a relatively easy process to separate the meat from the bones tableside.

As a general rule, everything tastes better when cooked on the bone, and fish is no exception, it also makes preparation a breeze, and guarantees and impressive presentation!

The other somewhat different thing about Thai style fried fish is that they simply plop the fish into hot oil, without first covering it in any form of protective batter, and let the oil crisp up the naturally fatty fish skin into something delightfully crispy and flavorful. Not really so different from simply fried chicken, but something that I had never seen before.

The best fish to use for this is a sweet and mild freshwater fish, but sea fish such as sea bass or tilapia will also work. Try pickerel, small or large mouth bass or pretty much anything else you bring home from a successful fishing expedition!

Crispy garlic fried fish (about 2 lbs)

2 lb whole fish

50 cloves of smashed but not cut garlic, still in the skin

Salt and pepper

If the fish is not yet prepared, clean and scale the fish. Rub salt all over the fish and leave for about five minutes before rinsing off. The salt removes any "fishiness", make sure to dry the fish very well, both to ensure crispy skin, and also to avoid dangerous oil splatter as you place the fish in the hot oil.

Sprinkle the fish again with salt and black pepper and rub with loads of smashed garlic, still in the skin (40-50 cloves is about right!), and make three deep slashes perpendicular to the spine on each side of the fish (makes for extra crispy bits!)

Heat oil for deep frying until 350 degrees, and add the fish and garlic; after about a minute, the garlic will brown and crisp and float to the surface. At this point skim out all of the garlic and reserve. Continue frying the fish until browned and very crispy, about 10-15 minutes.

Plate and top with all the reserved and crispy garlic, and fresh cilantro as a garnish, and serve as a part of larger Thai meal with jasmine rice.

The fish is best eaten by hand, grabbing crunchy bits directly off of the fish a la fried chicken.

A Thai Street Fish Market


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    • profile image


      10 years ago

      how long do you fry the whole fish for??

    • profile image

      Karen Rockwell 

      10 years ago

      This is a good simple recipe, works well.

      I find frying in a large wok the easiest way to fry the fish.

      Woks are cheap, you don't need an expensive one.


    • John D Lee profile imageAUTHOR

      John D Lee 

      10 years ago

      Hi Ayesha,

      The fish is best if deep fried, so that it is completely submerged in hot oil as it cooks. This method does not require you to flip the fish as it cooks and you should not have any sticking problems either.

      I hope you like it,


    • profile image


      10 years ago

      how to make sure that the fish does not stick to the pan. and also do we turn the side of teh fish once one side is done

    • John D Lee profile imageAUTHOR

      John D Lee 

      12 years ago

      Hi Jean,

      Peanut oil will work well, although any vegetable oil will provide a high enough smoke point. The fish is fried at a relatively moderate temp. so that it will cook through without burning. You don't want to use something very flavorfull like olive oil though, as this will alter the taste. Anything neutral, palm, peanut, corn, soy, vegetable...

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      Is peanut oil the best to cook this in since it has a high heating point?

      Thanks. This is the way I've had it in THailand and not even being a fish lover it is the best I have ever had!


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