Enhancing your Fried Crappies with Sesame and Soy

Let’s cook some fillets and add a couple of fish-enhancing tastes using sesame oil and soy sauce.

Historically, sesame plants were cultivated 5,000 years ago as a drought-tolerant crop and grew where others couldn’t. These plants grew wild in sub-Saharan Africa and were one of the first processed for oil and were used as one of the earliest condiments. Sesame was cultivated in the Bronze Age and mature period by the Indus Valley Civilization (north India) as their main oil crop. It was likely exported to Mesopotamia around 2,500 BC.

Sesame oil is composed of linoleic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid and other fatty acids in small amounts. Despite sesame oil’s high proportion of polyunsaturated (Omega-6) fatty acids, it is least prone, among cooking oils with high smoke points, to turn rancid when kept in the open. This is due to the natural antioxidants, such as sesamol, present in the oil.

One type of sesame oil is a pale yellow liquid with a pleasant grain-like odor and somewhat nutty taste that’s used as frying oil. Light sesame oil has a high smoke point and is suitable for deep-frying.

The second type of oil is amber-colored, aromatic, and made from pressed and toasted sesame seeds. Although popular in ethnic cooking, it is not suitable as cooking oil because it burns easily. Instead, amber sesame oil is normally added as a flavoring agent in the final stages of cooking.

Sesame-soy Crappies

4-6 crappie fillets

2 teaspoons canola oil

1-2 teaspoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 teaspoons sesame seeds (toasted)

2 scallions (green onions), sliced diagonally

Heat canola oil in skillet over medium-high heat at 350 degrees. Pat fillets dry and fry 2-3 minutes on one side, then turn over for another 2-3 minutes until done. Add soy sauce and sesame oil and gently turn to coat both sides. Place on serving platter. Pour remaining hot oil/soy from skillet over the fillets. Top off by sprinkling with sesame seeds and scallions.

Soy-marinated Crappies

1 1/2 pounds thick slab fillets, cut into 2-by-2- or 2-by-4-inch chunks

1/2 cup chopped green onions

3 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced

1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry

2 tablespoons canola oil, divided

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Rinse fish and pat dry. Mix green onions, ginger, rice wine, canola oil and soy sauce in glass baking dish (pref. 11 x 7 inches). Add fish and turn to coat. Let marinate 1 hour at room temperature.

Sesame Soy Sauce (with fish)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

1 whole star anise

1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil (extra, remaining, for the wok)

2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry (for remaining portion)

1/4 cup chopped green onions

Bring first six ingredients to boil in small, heavy saucepan. Stir to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until sauce is reduced to 1/3 cup, about 4 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and cool. Remove fish from the soy marinade and place on paper towels to drain. Reserve the marinade. Pat fish dry. Heat a 14-inch-diameter, flat-bottomed wok over high heat until drop of water evaporates on contact. Add other tablespoon of Asian sesame oil to wok. Add fish pieces, spreading oil over them evenly and lying pieces down separately. Cover and cook 30 seconds or less. Uncover and loosen fish pieces with a spatula. Reduce heat to medium and cook about 1 minute. Turn fish pieces over. Cook 1 more minute. Add remaining 2 tablespoons of rice wine and reserved marinade from fish. Cover and cook 1 minute. Remove wok from heat. Let fish stand covered until they are just opaque in center. Transfer fish and sauce from wok to plate. Drizzle with some of sesame soy sauce and top with onions. Serve at room temperature or refrigerate to serve cold later on.

Pepper Butter
Compound butter is easy to make and adds a fiery tang to fillets. You can prepare the condiment in the blender. This butter is excellent with crappie fillets or other fish and goes along splendidly with meat and poultry. Your fish must be hot so that it melts the butter. This butter preparation will last a few days in the refrigerator or several weeks in the freezer. It makes a tasty topping for vegetables as well.

1/2 red bell pepper, cored, stemmed and seeded

1 large clove garlic, chopped

1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

1/2 teaspoon table salt

8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature

Set bell pepper on a steamer rack over boiling water. Cover and simmer. Steam until tender, about 15 minutes. Remove bell pepper and cool to room temperature or in refrigerator. Put cooled pepper, garlic, vinegar, hot pepper sauce and salt in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Add stick of butter and blend until smooth and very loose. Spoon about 1 tablespoonful onto each piece of fish. To save, roll into a log on parchment paper and refrigerate or freeze. To serve, slice off a 1/4-inch-thick piece and place one on each fillet.