Thai-Style Rockfish with Spicy Tamarind Sauce

Tory Miller

L’Etoile and Deja Food Group, Madison, WI

What do you get when you serve crispy rockfish with tamarind, fresh herbs, garlic, and lime? A lip-smackingly delicious dish that’s sustainable, too.


Crispy Rockfish:

  • 1 cup cornstarch, divided (plus ½ cup for dredging)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup cold vodka
  • 6 cups peanut oil
  • 16 ounces wild-caught Alaskan dusky rockfish, cut into 2-ounce pieces

Spicy Tamarind Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 5 shallots, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 Thai chiles, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons minced cilantro stems
  • 1 cup tamarind water (or substitute 1 teaspoon tamarind paste mixed with 1 cup water)
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup palm sugar, grated on a box grater (or substitute brown sugar)
  • 1/4 cup lime juice

To serve:

  • 2 to 3 heirloom tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1 tablespoon torn mint
  • 1 tablespoon torn Thai basil
  • Prepared sticky or white rice


Make the batter: in a bowl, mix together ½ cup cornstarch and the rest of the dry ingredients. Add the vodka and ½ cup cold water and stir to combine. The consistency of the batter should be like paint. If it’s too thin, adjust with more cornstarch, and if it’s too thick, adjust with more water. 
Make the tamarind sauce: heat a nonstick pan or wok over medium-high heat and add the coconut oil. Add the shallots and garlic; sauté until translucent. Add the chiles and cook for 1 minute, then add the cilantro stems and cook for another minute. Add the tamarind water, fish sauce, and sugar; simmer until the sugar has melted, about 1 minute. Add the lime juice and remove the pan from the heat.
In a large Dutch oven, heat the peanut oil to 350°F. The oil should be at least 4 inches deep. Fill a shallow bowl with the remaining ½ cup cornstarch. Dredge the prepped rockfish in the cornstarch, dip it into the batter, and immediately drop it into the hot fryer. Fry until fish is a light golden color, about 5 minutes. The fish does not need to be deep golden-brown. 
To plate, place the cut heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers onto your serving tray or plate. Place the fried fish on top and drizzle the sauce over the dish. Finish with the chopped herbs and serve with sticky or white rice on the side.


4 servings