The Saturday Paper
O Tama Carey
I am all too aware that this recipe has the potential to be dismissed. Not only does it use a fiddly, lesser-known cut of fish, but you must also deal with the idea of deep-frying at home. If you are willing to try it, however, the rewards will be great.
Let’s start with what a fish wing is, as we all know that fish don’t really fly. The wing is a triangular-ish cut of fish, taken from behind the head, that includes the pectoral fin. You cut through this and then follow it around to release it from the gills. This forms one edge, the rest of the wing includes the side, and sometimes bottom, fin and the flesh that lies beneath. If you follow this cut so it encompasses both sides of the fish, then it’s known as the collar. Don’t worry too much about the technicalities, you just need to sweet talk your fish monger.
I think you can split people into those happiest with a knife and fork and others who relish eating with their hands and who aren’t afraid to make an effort with tricky bits. Fish wings have it all: fattiness, texture and delight. And as with all meats and seafoods, cooking on the bone provides protection for the delicate flesh, so you can do things like deep fry it to get a beautiful crust yet still have an unctuous bite in the middle.
Fish come in many sizes, as do their wings. I have chosen snapper here as there is usually a lot about and you can generally find manageable-sized wings to start you off. They have a nice amount of fat on them, and their sweet flesh will stand up nicely to the frying and spicy sauce you are going to coat them with.
As for deep frying at home, I know this can seem overwhelming and is one of the more dangerous ways to cook, but who doesn’t love a well-fried morsel, crisp yet not oily?
For this recipe we are going to coat the wings in besan, or gram flour, which is made from chickpeas. This flour creates a lovely crisp crust with a slightly nutty flavour.
The sauce is the start of a simple Sri Lankan red curry. It has all the base ingredients you expect to find using a red curry powder full of sweet spices and chilli, seasoned with tamarind and jaggery. You end up with a rich, sweet-and-sour sauce laden with chilli. Pour this over the hot, fried wings and see the besan crust soak in the sauce.
Curry leaves are easy to come across nowadays, but you will need to find a Sri Lankan grocer to buy the jaggery, which is simply the Sri Lankan version of palm sugar. You can use palm sugar instead, but the Lankan variety has a distinct molasses flavour, a hint of smokiness and is usually far less sweet than its Thai counterpart. While you are at the grocer’s, you should be able to find a red or Jaffna curry powder to use. And, if you are feeling clever, you might also find a nice Sri Lankan cookbook to make your own.