Although deep-fried fish is surely a well-known worldwide treat, we can personally say it brings us some very special memories of home. Honduras has but one major lake…one lake! Lake Yojoa, with its roughly 80 square kilometers (30 square miles) and an average depth of 15 meters (50 feet), lies in a depression formed by volcanoes. The lake is surrounded by two large national parks and is situated alongside the highway that connects our two largest cities: Tegucigalpa & San Pedro Sula.
As a popular fishing destination, Lake Yojoa has a rich biodiversity and many of the inhabitants earn their living from the sale of fish originating from the lake – a somewhat bittersweet reality that mixes tourism with nature-threatening invasion. For many travellers, the area serves as a pitstop where they can appreciate the view and enjoy the fresh fried fish offered by the many local ‘restaurants’ on the lake’s banks. This is a wonderful experience in itself, but it sadly comes with an ever-growing human footprint taking over the natural habitat.
In many parts of the world, fried whole fish is an important food to the local cuisine. In many of our Spanish-derived cultures, fried fish is historically derived from the popular Spanish tapa dish pescado frito, a typical Andalusian dish found primarily in the Valencia, Canary Islands, & Balearic Islands regions. This historical dish is prepared by coating the fish (usually a white fish) in flour and deep-frying it in olive oil, then sprinkling it with salt as the only seasoning and serving it hot, freshly-fried with fresh lemon on the side. Other cultures that also enjoy a fried whole fish are Chinese, Thai, & Indian, among others.
Now, about deep-fat frying…terrible, I know. But oh-so-gosh-darn-good! Done with care, a great number of delicacies can emerge from hot oil crisp on the outside, moist on the inside, and not at all greasy. It’s an art in itself, but by knowing a few little tips & tricks anyone can pull it off. The secret is very hot oil…and knowing that fat absorption increases with cooking time and with the amount of surface exposed to the fat is also very important. Quick & simple, it shouldn’t be too terrible, and you don’t need any special equipment either!
Fish cooks very quickly when deep-fried and should be at room temperature when preparing. Make sure the oil is deep enough that the fish is covered completely – a painful waste in my books…especially since stinky fishy oil is of no use afterwards. Ugh! When deep-frying a whole fish, it will rise to the surface when done…that’s your clue! For best results, use firm-fleshed fish – catfish, snapper, blackfish, dogfish, grouper…
For the Deep-Fried Fish
- 4 whole firm-fleshed fish
- 1 cup of flour
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of pepper
- 1 teaspoon of paprika
- 1 teaspoon of oregano
- 5 cups of oil (or enough to completely cover the fish in the pan)
Wash the whole fish and pat dry. Heat the oil in a deep skillet to an approximate temperature of 350°F (180°C). In a large bag, add the flour and the rest of the dry ingredients and mix. Drop each fish in the bag and shake, shake, shake until completely coated. When the oil is very, very hot, drop one fish and cook until it rises to the surface, approximately 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Continue to cook each fish individually, but be sure to serve quickly! Drain on paper towels and serve very hot with a slice of lemon on the side.