Whenever I am home in Penang, I make it an effort that I learn our family recipes from my aunt, who is in her late 70’s. Since my late mother passed away some 3 years ago, she is now the only person who knows the recipes of all our much-treasured family dishes—everyday home-cooked recipes, Nyonya food, and kuih (sweet cakes).
This mouthwatering and super delicious Acar Hu, or Nyonya Pickled Fish, is a much celebrated Nyonya recipe. Everyone in my family loves this concoction of deep-fried fish pickled with a turmeric-vinegar base, spiced with garlic, ginger, and chilies…
In my family, we would use a type of fish called “chee ya hu” (silver mullet). However, you can make Acar Fish with fish fillet such as red snapper as silver mullet is not widely available. When my friend Patty Unterman of San Francisco Examiner came to visit Penang, my brother and I introduced her to Penang’s Nyonya food. At the first bite, Patty asked me for the Acar Fish recipe. I am so glad that both my brother CK and I had the opportunity to make this dish together, following my aunt’s instructions as she sat in the kitchen narrating the step-by-step to us. Acar fish is extremely tasty and tantalizing, with the perfect balance of flavors. To learn more about Nyonya food, check out my site.
1 medium-sized turmeric, peeled and sliced into thin pieces
600g silver mullet or bone-in Red Snapper fish fillet (cut into 1-inch thick fillet)
1 (big) knob ginger, peeled and cut into matchstick strips
2 (small) garlic bulb, peeled and sliced into thin pieces
3 fresh red chilies, sliced into pieces diagonally
10-12 bird’s eye chilies
2 cups oil
2 cups water
1 cup Chinese rice vinegar or to taste
2 tablespoons salt or to taste
1 cup sugar or to taste
1 heaping tablespoon toasted white sesame
Dry the turmeric, ginger, and garlic under the sun for a few hours. Marinate the fish with some salt before deep-frying to golden crispy texture. Transfer the fish into a deep pot, follow by the ginger, garlic, and chilies.
Heat up a wok and stir-fry the turmeric until the oil becomes yellow. Discard the turmeric using a colander. Add water and vinegar to the wok and bring it to boil. Season with sugar and salt per the recipe or to taste. Transfer the marinade into the pot and make sure that the fish and ingredients are submerged by the marinade. Sprinkle the sesame on top and cover the pot with its cover and let the fish pickle overnight. The fish is best served the next day.
Stated above is the traditional method of making Nyonya acar fish. You can leave the ginger, garlic, and turmeric to air dry for a few hours, or you can even use the oven to quickly “dry” them. The key is to lose the moisture content in the ingredients.
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