Thai Spicy Crispy Catfish (ผัดเผ็ดปลาดุกทอดกรอบ): A Clone of Ganda's Famous Dish

Serves 4

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2 pounds (1kg) 1/2-inch thick catfish steaks

3 tablespoons (48g) granulated sugar

2 tablespoons (28g) fish sauce

1 tablespoon (20g) oyster sauce

2 tablespoons (40g) red curry paste

1 (14g) large red jalapeno peppers (or 3-4 red bird eye's chilies)

3 large cloves (12g) garlic, peeled

3-4 thin slices (5g) lemongrass, optional

2-3 thin slices (5g) fresh galangal, optional

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3/4 cup water or no-sodium chicken stock

1/4 cup (10g) well-drained kra-chai

Chiffonade of 1 fresh kaffir lime leave, optional

About 20 fresh Thai basil leaves

Vegetable oil for frying

Garnish: one half of a red bell pepper, sliced thinly lengthwise

At Ganda, they fry the catfish steaks fresh. But at a restaurant, they deep-fry by placing the objects into a frying basket then lowering the basket into the hot oil. At home, depending on how tall you are, the hot oil and your face could be only 1-2 feet apart. In fact, the first time I made this, I ended up spending the rest of the day de-greasing the stove, hood, and backsplash while applying aloe vera on the burnt spots on my arms. So during my last experiment, I decided to dehydrate the catfish steaks in a very low oven (100°-120°F) for 2-3 hours, flipping them a few times, just to remove the surface moisture. This reduces the frying time and greatly minimizes the splattering of the hot oil.

Having said all this, you can do what works best for you. The end result we want is catfish steaks that are cracker-like in texture, completely dried out, golden brown, and so crispy you can chew through the bones. Once you've achieved that, set the fish aside. [Remember that we're not only browning or crisping up the exteriors; we're also completely removing moisture from the fish. So, do not under-fry the fish steaks which is something Khun Sue repeated to me multiple times. When deep-fried at 300°-350°F, dehydrated catfish steaks could take as long as 20-30 minutes.]

Fry the basil leaves in the same oil in which you've just fried the fish (be very careful for this causes even more splattering than the catfish!); set aside.

In a blender or food processor, blend the next 10 ingredients together until the chilies turn into small bits; do not purée them until smooth.

Set a wok or a 2-quart saute pan, over medium-high heat. Add the curry mixture to the pan and bring to a gentle boil.

Once the mixture becomes thicker and a bit more syrupy, add the fried fish. Stir gently to get the fish pieces thoroughly coated with the sauce. The sauce will become even thicker at this point, so monitor the heat carefully. [This is not a quick stir-fry dish, but a 'dry curry' so there's no need to use high heat.] If you've over-reduced the liquid and found that there's not enough sauce to coat the fish, simply add more stock or water as necessary.

Once the sauce is thickened and the fish pieces are well coated, stir in the kaffir lime.

Plate the fish. Top it with fried basil leaves and garnish with red bell pepper slivers. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.