Thai

Thai-Inspired Fried Fish With Green Papaya Salad

June  7, 2021
3 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop stylist: Veronica Olson.
Author Notes

I miss Thai food so much. So many of the flavors of Thai cuisine remind me of the food here in Mazatlán and along the Mexican Pacific coast. Both countries use a lot of bright flavors like lime juice, very hot chiles, cilantro, mint and ginger. And both countries have an abundance of tropical fruits like papaya.

I love papaya and eat it almost daily when it is in season. When I was in lockdown in an AirBnB near where I currently live, there was a papaya tree in the courtyard outside my front door and it was loaded with green papayas. I didn’t know it then, but it takes a long time for a papaya to ripen on the tree. Every morning I passed the tree wondering when I would be able to enjoy a sweet ripe papaya. About 2 months into lockdown, I couldn’t wait any longer: I picked a green papaya and made a green papaya salad. It made me so happy. And it was the first time, and thankfully not the last time that I was able to pick a fresh papaya off the tree.

If you can’t find a green papaya, you can use a green mango or jicama. It won’t be quite the same, but either substitute will pair well with the deliciously sweet, spicy, and funky dressing you will be tossing it in.

Cooks note: Save any aromatic scraps, like extra lemongrass, garlic, ginger, and chiles to flavor the frying oil.Rick Martinez

Watch This Recipe
Thai-Inspired Fried Fish With Green Papaya Salad
  • Prep time 45 minutes
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Serves 4
Ingredients
  • For the green papaya salad
  • 4 whole garlic cloves
  • 2 to 5 to 5 fresh red Thai bird chiles, chiles serranos, or chiles de árbol, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons (packed) palm sugar or light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dried ground shrimp, or fresh cooked shrimp, chopped
  • 3 Chinese long beans, halved crosswise, or ½ lb. green beans cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup roasted, salted peanuts, plus more for serving
  • 5 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
  • 1 medium green papaya (1 ½ to 1 ¾ lbs.) peeled, halved, seeded and julienned
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved or 3 roma tomatoes, cut into thin wedges
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves and tender stems, roughly chopped
  • 3 scallions, both green and white parts, very thinly sliced
  • For the fried fish
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from about 2 limes)
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped lemongrass
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped Thai bird chiles, chiles de árbol, or red pepper flakes
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to season the fish post-fry
  • 3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 pounds (1.3kg) whole fish or 2 smaller fish (such as tilapia, black sea bass, or red snapper), scaled and cleaned
  • 1/2 cup (75g/2.2 oz.) all-purpose flour (or more if using 2 fish)
  • 4 cups vegetable oil
  • Sliced scallion, mint, cilantro, lime wedges, sliced Thai bird chiles, and steamed rice, for serving
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Make the dressing for the papaya salad: Using a mortar and pestle, grind garlic and chiles until a chunky paste forms. Add sugar and shrimp and continue to grind until a wet, smooth paste forms. Scrape into a large bowl.
  2. Working in batches, add beans to the mortar and gently pound to bruise and lightly crush. Transfer beans to the large bowl with the dressing in it. To the now-empty mortar, add peanuts and lightly crush. Transfer to the same large bowl with the beans. Pour lime juice, fish sauce, and lime zest into the mortar and stir to combine, scraping up any bits of at the bottom of the mortar. Transfer to the same large bowl and stir until the sugar is totally dissolved.
  3. Make the dressing for the papaya salad: Using a mortar and pestle, grind garlic and chiles until a chunky paste forms. Add sugar and shrimp and continue to grind until a wet, smooth paste forms. Scrape into a large bowl.
  4. Working in batches, add beans to the mortar and gently pound to bruise and lightly crush. Transfer beans to the large bowl with the dressing in it. To the now-empty mortar, add peanuts and lightly crush. Transfer to the same large bowl with the beans. Pour lime juice, fish sauce, and lime zest into the mortar and stir to combine, scraping up any bits of at the bottom of the mortar. Transfer to the same large bowl and stir until the sugar is totally dissolved.
  5. Add papaya, tomatoes, cilantro, and scallion to the bowl with the dressing and toss until completely coated. Serve topped with additional peanuts.
  6. Next, make the marinade and prep the fish. In a small bowl, whisk together lime juice, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, and chile de árbol. Place fish on a rimmed baking sheet and thoroughly pat dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels. With a sharp knife, make deep diagonal cuts,along both sides of the body of the fish, 2 inches apart, cutting all the way down to the bone. Brush entire surface of fish with lime mixture, getting garlic and lime into all of the cuts and inside the cavity of the fish Season fish generously inside and out with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Let fish sit 15 minutes to absorb the marinade.
  7. Holding a small medium-mesh sieve over fish, add half the flour into sieve and evenly dust both sides of fish with a thin coat of flour. Add the remaining ¼ cup of the flour to the sieve as needed to fully coat the fish. Repeat with additional flour and second fish if using.
  8. In a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat, heat oil and any aromatic scraps until garlic and ginger are golden brown and the oil is approximately 325°F. The oil has been flavored and it’s time to fry the fish.
  9. Grip the fish firmly by the tail and carefully lower, head first, into skillet, making sure to lay it down, tail-side, away from you. (If the tail sticks out of the pan a bit, it’s not a big deal.) Fry until flesh on bottom side is cooked through and skin is deeply browned and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. While the fish is frying, use a metal spoon to baste the top of fish with hot oil periodically. Use tongs and a fish spatula to carefully turn fish over; make sure to turn the fish away from you in case any oil splatters. Fry until flesh on second side is cooked through and skin is deeply browned and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and season both sides with more salt.
  10. Plate the fish on a large platter and top with mint, cilantro, scallion, and sliced chiles; serve with papaya salad, lime wedges, and steamed rice.
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Rick Martinez

Recipe by: Rick Martinez

Rick Martinez is currently living his dream—cooking, eating and enjoying the Mexican Pacific coast in Mazatlán. He is finishing his first cookbook, Under the Papaya Tree, food from the seven regions of Mexico and loved traveling the country so much, he decided to buy a house on the beach. He is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit, New York Times and hosts live, weekly cooking classes for Food Network Kitchens. Earlier this year, he was nominated for a James Beard Award for “How to win the Cookie Swap” in Bon Appétit’s holiday issue.

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