This Nyonya Acar Fish (Acar Hu) is a dish of fried smelt drenched in a fresh turmeric vinaigrette. Also very tasty using mullet or mackerel.
When I think of Acar (pickled vegetables), I think of Mom because one of her signature dishes is Acar Awak (Spicy Pickled Vegetables). She makes a huge pot of this delectable spicy pickled vegetables every year on the eve of Chinese New Year Eve and distribute it to family and friends. I may have tried making it only once when we were still in Malaysia because who needs to make it when Mom makes it, right? Anyway, I will be sharing her Acar Awak and Gulai Tumis (Tamarind Fish Curry) recipes in my upcoming eCookbook. For today, I am going to share her Nyonya Acar Fish (Acar Hu) which she makes in a different way than most others out there. Mom’s Acar Hu is colorful, fragrant, and absolutely delicious. I hope I am doing her recipe justice.
Suitable Fish for Nyonya Acar Fish
Mom’s original recipe calls for small mullet (cha yee chai/chee ya hu) but you can use bigger fish like mackerel (ikan tenggiri), ma yau yue (threadfin) or senangin/ikan kurau (in Malay) steaks. Big fish steaks will definitely be easier to fry and fewer to deal with. I used smelt which are thankfully, all nicely dressed or I wouldn’t buy it. In Malaysia, I believe they will clean the mullet for you. By the way, the roe of the mullet is quite a delicacy. 😋
While fried fish is delicious, frying fish is one of my least favorite things to do in the kitchen. This is the reason why many homes in Malaysia have “wet” kitchens in the backyard to do all the frying. If it wasn’t so cold right now, I would fry the smelt outside using my gas grill which has a stove beside the grill. Thankfully, I have a grease splatter screen which helped tremendously. There was still some splatter but it was manageable.
A Salad or A Pickle?
Most people consider this Acar Hu as a pickle and it can be if you place the fish, fried aromatics, and vinegar in a jar but Mom’s recipe calls for fresh aromatics for a “brighter” taste. She said that the dish looks and tastes better with fresh ginger, garlic, and chilies, both red and green. I can’t agree more as it looks so colorful and appetizing.
Besides, Mom’s Nyonya Acar Fish never lasted beyond dinner time. Therefore, it is more like a fish salad with a vinaigrette dressing. In fact, I do like it with the fish still a little crispy at the edges. However, if you choose to keep it in a jar, you can certainly do that. Some people leave it out at room temperature but I would put it in the refrigerator and warm it up when ready to eat.
Blending the fresh turmeric can be a pain if you have a large blender. If that is the case, you can also pound it in a mortar. Most recipes call for julienned turmeric and some ground turmeric for color. Mom’s method of blending the fresh turmeric is brilliant. The vinaigrette is infused with turmeric flavor as well as color.
Similar Tools Used in Making This Yam Ring with Nyonya Acar Fish (Acar Hu)
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Carbon Steel Pow Wok (14 Inch, Round Bottom)
Grease Splatter Screen for Frying Pan 13″
13″, 11.5″, 9.5″ Stainless Steel Fine Mesh Splatter Screen
Cast Aluminum Speckle Coated Saucepan, 1.6 Quart, Black
Forged Aluminum Saucepan, 1.5 Quart, Champagne
Nyonya Acar Fish (Acar Hu)
- 1 lb smelt (dressed) (450g)
- ½ tsp salt (divided)
- ¼ tsp ground pepper
- 1½ inch ginger (peeled and julienned)
- 3 cloves garlic (peeled and cut into thin slices)
- 1 red chili (seeded and cut into thin strips)
- 1 jalapeno pepper / green chili, seeded and cut into thin strips
- 1½ oz fresh turmeric (peeled) (42g)
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil and some for frying fish
- ½ cup white vinegar (120ml)
- 4 tsp sugar
- Sprinkle ¼ teaspoon salt and ground pepper over the fish. Mix to coat fish evenly.
- Heat some vegetable oil in a wok or large fry pan. Gently lower half the smelt into the hot oil. Fry for 6 to 7 minutes until golden brown. Transfer onto a plate. Do the same with remaining half of fish.
- Arrange julienned ginger, garlic slices, red chili strips, and jalapeno (green chili) strips over the top of the fried fish.
- Blend turmeric until fine. Add 2 tablespoons water if necessary to get the blender going.
- Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a small saucepan. Add blended turmeric and stir fry for 2 to 3 minutes until fragrant.
- Add vinegar, sugar, and salt. Stir to dissolve sugar and salt. Bring to a boil. Turn off stove.
- Pour vinaigrette over the fried fish, ginger, garlic, red chili, and jalapeno pepper. Allow vinaigrette to soak into the fish for at least 30 minutes before serving.