Eat This Crispy Whole Fried Fish All By Yourself

Pescado frito was Karla T. Vasquez’s favorite dish growing up in El Salvador. Now it can be yours.

Having a whole fish all to yourself is a concept of triumph. Why settle for one fillet when you can enjoy both juicy fillets, crispy skin, and the prize of it all, the crunchy, salty fish tail? Growing up in my super-Salvadoran home in Los Angeles, pescado frito was a meal enjoyed by every member of the family. But this meal required good behavior. Before the frying commenced, my mother would issue a stern reminder to us kids: "Van a tener cuidado con las espinas, sino no voy a cocinarlas otra vez." Be careful with the bones, or I will not cook this again. This was a grown-up dish after all; if you were going to enjoy the pleasures of a full fried fish all to yourself, you'd have to be responsible. We sincerely pledged with our whole, hungry hearts to be careful.

She'd season the fish with mustard and spices, let it marinate for a moment, and as soon as the first fish hit the hot oil, that sound was everyone's cue to wrap up whatever we were doing. The fish needed to be eaten right out of the fryer; letting it cool would be disrespectful to the cook. On the table there would be fresh salad, rice, and pureed red silk beans, and a bowl of lime wedges. Everyone claimed at least two to three lime wedges and set them right by our plates, ready to be squeezed over the hot, fried fish.

Salvadoran Style Pescado Frito (Fried Fish)
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

Most of our family meals were filled with conversation, but when it came to this dish, I chose silence. Talking while eating the fish might make you choke on a bone, and I didn't want to ruin the mood and be the reason mom denied us future fried fish meals. (Besides, if the mood was right, I could trade my fish eyes for someone's fish tail.) Inspired by my mom's cooking , this recipe celebrates the popular style of enjoying fish in El Salvador. Many families use mojarra, a fish found in agua dulce (fresh water), but trout makes a great substitute. Salsa inglesa, or Worcestershire sauce, is a frequent find in Salvadoran condiment drawers, and teams up with the mustard to create a punchy, umami-packed crust.

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