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Better than bait: Local porgies are easy to cook and thoroughly delicious. (Photo credit: Doug Young)

Ordering a whole fried fish with friends can be a memorable summer experience. The presentation alone is jaw-dropping: head and tail attached, placed in the center of the table, and served alongside savory accoutrements. True enough, eating it will be a bit intimidating for first-timers, but it just takes a little practice. It’s best to remove the crispy skin and then use a fork (or spoon) to gently separate the flesh from the bones, revealing the tender fish meat. 

Chef Jason Weiner is a proud pusher of local porgy. (Photo credit: Doug Young)

“It’s convivial,” says Jason Weiner, chef and co-founder of Almond Restaurant in Bridgehampton, of the dig-in experience, he calls “super-simple and shareable.” Choosing the right fish will help simplify the preparation for the home cook. After all, many of us don’t have professional-sized deep fryers in our humble kitchens.

Porgies are a great choice. The once frowned-upon scup, better known as striper bait, is seeing a resurgence on local restaurant menus. With its large flakes and sweet, subtle flavor, porgy is delicious as ceviche, filleted and broiled, or cooked whole as in this recipe. The small size of the line-caught fish is also an advantage, making it manageable to prepare in a Dutch oven.

And they’re plentiful, found in the Peconic, around Montauk, or the waters of Block Island during the spring run, a pivotal point to Weiner’s cooking ethos.

“At Almond, we are more concerned with utilizing the product that’s around,” he explains, “kind of classic peasant food, making it work within the euphoria of the local veggies and beautiful fish I get from my friends.”

Where a Mexican cuisine spin will accompany most restaurants’ whole fish offerings, Weiner opts for a Vietnamese take in this recipe, pairing the porgy alongside nước chấm, a tangy dip made with house-made fish sauce. “We make our fish sauce in the winter from pickled alewife (an anadromous species of herring) says Wiener of the year-aged process, “It’s a bit of a virtuous cycle.”

Luckily, the key ingredient to the dipping sauce is bottled and ready to use at Almond’s L&W Market next door, cutting down on the scent-challenged fermenting process. 

How does it taste paired with porgy? Expect a flavorful combination that is both colorfully exotic and unexpected. “There is a balance between the sweet, the salt, and the heat,” says Weiner, “and the fish sauce has an umami that kind of rounds everything out.”

A tip from chef: Thai basil is vital for the nước chấm. “It’s not as sweet as Genovese basil,” says Weiner, “more complex and spicier.”

After scraping off the top skin of the cooked fish, use spoons to remove the cooked meat. “People kind of get a little scared when eating a whole fish,” notes Weiner, “It takes a little practice; just don’t force anything. Be gentle.”

Are you looking to make a weekend out of the whole experience? Book a fishing charter to catch your porgies in season on the Viking Fivestar out of Montauk. Or grab an entire porgy cleaned and ready to prepare at Stuarts Seafood in Amagansett. Hard pass on this recipe? Almond will be offering whole fish plat du jour this summer, “usually on Wednesdays,” says Weiner, “that will be one of our moves.”

Whole fried porgy with nước chấm and steamed rice

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Serves 4 servings


For the rice

  • 2 cups basmati or jasmine rice
  • 1 cup water

For the fish

  • 4 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lb whole porgy, scaled and gutted
  • 2 cups corn starch or rice flour
  • salt to taste
  • 1 gallon canola oil (or any neutral, high-smoke-point cooking oil)

For the nước chấm

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/3 cup Vietnamese fish sauce
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 shallots, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup mix of Thai basil, cilantro and mint leaves, torn and tightly packed
  • 1 small bird's eye, Fresno or jalapeño chili, sliced thinly
  • 1 Roma tomato, diced small
  • 1 small piece peeled ginger, microplaned or sliced thinly


  • Make the rice according to the bag's directions.
  • In a medium sized bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the nuac cham. Set aside for at least half an hour, or store in the 'fridge for up to two days.
  • In deep heavy bottomed pot such as a Dutch oven, bring your oil to 350°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can test the oil by throwing in a drop of water. If it pops aggressively, you’re ready.
  • Dredge the fish in the corn starch on both sides and fry for about 5 minutes. Flip and cook for an additional 5 minutes on the other side. Place on a resting rack or a cookie sheet outfitted with paper towels. Season with salt. (It's best to do one fish at a time.)  
  • If all this frying sounds like headache, you can also roast in the oven or put on the grill. In which case, you’ll forgo the corn starch. If you are grilling just make sure your grill is hot and clean.  Spray your fish liberally with cooking spray on both sides.
  • Serve the fish, rice and sauce all separately. Let people create their own adventure. You can also serve some butter lettuce leaves alongside so folks can make lettuce wraps. Fun, right?