Adapted from a recipe in my cookbook, The Food of Taiwan, this recipe makes a formidable Holiday centerpiece, what with the festive color palette, but you can eat it on any occasion. For more on how to choose the right fish, see the full article.
1 1/2 to 2 lb whole, white-fleshed fish (such as black bass)
ground white pepper
vegetable or peanut oil
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
garlic cloves, thinly sliced
red Thai chilies, sliced thinly (or substitute with another type of small red chili)
rice wine (or sake)
light soy sauce
fresh Thai basil leaves (or substitute with Italian basil)
In This Recipe
Rinse the fish and pat dry with paper towels. Lightly score the fish with 2 slashes one each side (not deep enough to hit the bone). Rub with salt and white pepper across its surface and inside its cavity.
Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok big enough to fit the whole fish, over medium-high heat. Once the oil is very hot and beginning to pop and sizzle a little, carefully place the fish on one side in the oil. Cook undisturbed until gently browned on the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully flip the fish over (with the help of tongs or two spatulas if necessary). Brown the opposite side for another 3 to 5 minutes. Touch the top of the fish and peek inside the slash to check if the flesh appears to be entirely opaque and not clear-white toward the center. Once fully cooked, transfer the fish carefully to a serving platter.
In the same pan, add the ginger, garlic, and chilies, and stir until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the rice wine and bring to a boil. Stir in the sugar and soy sauce until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved. Stir in half of the basil and remove from the heat. Pour the sauce over the plated fish. Garnish with the remaining basil leaves and serve immediately.