"This is what I call modern South-east Asian food. The recipe came about one hot afternoon in Thailand when I was eating a delicious traditional dish called yam pla fuu, crisp fish salad with green mango. In Malaysia, we tend to use dry-roasted coconut in many of our salads, including a lovely salad made with watermelon rind. The idea of combining these two cooking styles kept plaguing me and the following recipe was born. Thai flavours, Malaysian innovation and Singaporean modernity are all represented in this dish. It also works well as finger food."
- 200 gm flathead or snapper fillet, or other white firm-fleshed fish
- For deep-frying: vegetable oil
- 1.5 kg seedless watermelon, cut into 2cm squares
- 2 tbsp fried shallots
- To serve: Thai basil
- 40 gm (½ cup) desiccated coconut
- 1 tbsp dried prawns
- 110 gm (½ cup) white sugar
- 2 tbsp maltose (see note)
- 3-4 long red chillies, coarsely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, bruised
- 2 coriander roots
- 2 tbsp fish sauce, or to taste
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar
- 2 tbsp ginger, finely chopped
- 1Preheat oven to 200C. Rub fish with 3 tsp sea salt, place on a lightly oiled wire rack in a roasting pan. Roast until golden (30-40 minutes), cool, transfer to a food processor, pulse until fish resembles fine crumbs (don’t over-process or the fish won’t puff when fried).
- 2Meanwhile, for coconut dressing, spread coconut on an oven tray and roast, stirring occasionally, until golden (3-4 minutes), set aside. Dry-roast prawns until crisp (1-2 minutes), finely chop, set aside. Combine sugar, maltose, chilli, garlic, coriander root and 125ml water in a saucepan, bring to the boil over medium-high heat, reduce heat to medium and simmer until syrupy (15-20 minutes). Remove from heat, add fish sauce and vinegar, discard coriander root, cool to room temperature. Process in a food processor until smooth (1-2 minutes), add coconut, prawn and ginger, season to taste, set aside.
- 3Preheat oil in wok to 170C. Add a handful of fish (be careful as hot oil may spit). It will immediately form a raft or nest. Pull fish toward you with a slotted spoon, then, when oil stops bubbling, turn and fry until golden (3-4 minutes). Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on absorbent paper, repeat with remaining fish.
- 4Combine watermelon and coconut dressing to taste in a bowl, toss lightly to combine, arrange on serving plates, scatter with fried shallot, basil and crisp fish and serve.
Note Maltose (also known as malt syrup) is available from health food shops and select Asian supermarkets.