Growing up, my family would always go to Aguadulce, a town about 1.5 hours away from Panama City during the summer months. We would stop at “El Salao” to go to a little shack by the coast to have fried fish. El Salao is a little town where salt used to be produced. You could see the mounds of salt drying out in the sun. At that shack by the beach, they fry fish whole, and serve it with patacones and fried yucca.
My grandfather and aunt went away to Aguadulce for the day while I was visiting in Panama some weeks ago. I couldn’t go so they brought this back for me. I heated it up in the oven, and it was amazing. Fried fish from El Salao:
Sea bass is abundant in Panama. I think that sea bass, and red snapper are probably the most consumed fish. Most of the ceviche you find at restaurants is made with sea bass. You can find fresh sea bass at most grocery stores for $3 to $3.60 per pound. You can buy fish fillets, however you would typically select a fish that looks super fresh and have it cleaned by your fishmonger.
Imagine my shock when I first wanted to get some sea bass in DC. The price typically is $20-$25 a pound for sea bass from Chile. I could not believe my eyes. Needless to say, whenever I travel back to Panama, the first order of business is to get some super fresh sea bass to make at home.
Fried Sea Bass
• 1 ½ lbs sea bass fillets , skin removed, or other white fleshed, firm fish
• ¾ cup flour
• 1 large egg
• 1 cup bread crumbs
• Salt and pepper
• Oil for frying
• Lime or lemon wedges for serving
• Finely chopped parsley to garnish
1. Cut the sea bass into pieces, whatever size you like. Season with salt, pepper, and garlic. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
2. Place 3 shallow dishes on a counter. Place flour in one, egg in another, and bread crumbs in another. Season each with salt and pepper.
3. Coat each piece with flour, shaking off any excess, then lightly cover in egg letting any excess drip off, then coat evenly with breadcrumbs.
4. Heat oil in a shallow skillet, you should have about one inch to one and a half inches of oil. Fry fish until golden brown on both sides. Remove from the skillet, sprinkle with salt, and let drain on paper towels. Garnish with parsley and lime wedges.
Quick Pickled Onions
• 1 large onion, thinly sliced
• 1 cup white vinegar
• 1 teaspoon scotch bonnet hot sauce, or to taste ( I like to add 2 teaspoons)
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1. Combine all ingredients in a glass container. Let sit at room temperature for one to four hours. Refrigerate any leftovers, and use within one week. There are never any leftovers at our table.