Servings: about 20 poppers
• 1 pound of boneless and skinless white-fleshed fish fillets
• 2 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
• Half a large shallot, coarsely chopped
• Freshly cracked pepper, to taste
• ½ teaspoon of kosher salt
• ½ teaspoon of sugar
• 1½ tablespoons of fish sauce
• 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, plus extra
• 2 heaping teaspoons of freshly chopped dill
• 10 medium to large jalapeños
• Oil for shallow frying
• Mae Ploy sweet chili sauce, for dipping
Special equipment: meat grinder and food processor
1. Partially thaw or partially freeze fish, and cut into 1-inch cubes. With the fine die plate attached on your grinder, grind the fish with garlic and shallot twice.
Then in a food processor, blend the ground fish mixture with cracked pepper, salt, sugar, fish sauce and cornstarch until you get a smooth, fine paste. Don’t be afraid to let the food processor run for a few minutes. (The texture should be close to that of thick toothpaste – not the most appetizing analogy, but there you have it.)
Transfer fish paste to a bowl and fold in the chopped dill. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours. Paste must be cold when you cook it.
2. To prepare the jalapeños, cut them in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and ribs and lightly coat the insides with cornstarch; this step helps the fish mixture stick to the jalapeño. Then, with a spoon, fill the jalapeño halves with the cold fish paste. Keep or remove seeds and ribs in jalapeños to suit your taste.
3. Coat the bottom of a nonstick skillet with oil and heat over medium. When the oil is hot, lay the poppers into the oil fish side down. Cook until golden brown, and when the fish easily releases from the pan – do not mess with them too much while they are cooking – flip to brown the jalapeño side. Take off heat when fish paste has cooked through; internal temperature should read at least 145 degrees.
If you’re not a fan of peppers or don’t like spicy food in general, you can form the fish paste into patties – with slightly greased hands to prevent sticking – and shallow fry in oil without the jalapeño.
4. Serve fish poppers with sweet chili sauce on the side for dipping. ■