Crispy Bream with Pickled Red Onion and Sweet Chilli Dressing

This is a great dish for a small dinner party. Serve it with some simple greens and rice on the side and you'll have a wonderfully balanced meal.

Recipe kindly contributed by Jeremy Pang from his book Chinese Unchopped.

Crispy Bream with Pickled Red Onion and Sweet Chilli Dressing
PREP TIME 20 Minutes plus pickling COOK TIME 15 Minutes MAKES 4


  • 1 x 500g sea bream, scaled, gutted and de-gilled (ask the fish- monger to do this for you)
  • a thumb-size piece of ginger
  • 200g cornflour, seasoned with 1⁄4 teaspoon salt and 1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper
  • vegetable oil for frying

Red Onion Pickle

  • 1⁄2 small red onion, finely sliced
  • 4 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt


  • 3 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • a dash of dark soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons water

Preparation method

  1. To make the pickle, put all the pickle ingredients in a bowl and mix together well. Set aside for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Make 3 diagonal cuts with a sharp knife in either side of the fish through the skin. (These cuts should be deep enough to hit the bones and will open up the flesh slightly.) Place the fish in a large bowl.
  3. Cut the ginger into fine matchsticks and scatter them inside the fish cavity and all over the fish itself. Add the seasoned cornflour and rub it into all the cracks, over the head, inside the cavity and into the slashes that you have cut, until the whole fish is evenly covered.
  4. Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a separate bowl or ramekin.
  5. Half-fill a large pot, wok or deep-fryer with vegetable oil and heat to 180°C (350°F), or until the tip of a wooden chopstick or skewer starts to fizz after a second or so in the oil. Unless it is incredibly small, deep-frying a whole fish can only be done well in a good-sized wok.
  6. Carefully lay the seasoned fish into the hot oil, ensuring it is covered entirely, and deep-fry for 1–2 minutes. Reduce the heat slightly to around 160°C (325°F) and continue to deep-fry for a further 8–10 minutes, until the fish is cooked through and is golden brown all the way to its tail. Starting the deep-frying process at a higher heat and then reducing the temperature of the oil ensures that the fish will cook through without the risk of burning the outside.
  7. Remove the fish carefully with a pair of tongs and drain well on a plate covered with kitchen paper.
  8. Meanwhile, put the sauce in a separate saucepan or small wok and bring to a vigorous boil over a high heat. Once boiling, remove from the heat and pour over the cooked fish.
  9. Spoon over the pickled red onion slices and serve. If cooked well, the skin and even bones of the fins become so crispy that you should be able to just crunch through them with your teeth.