This Dish at DC’s Tiger Fork Will Change Your Mind About Whole Fried Fish

The dish of the month: Crispy whole dorade with Chengdu sauce. The reason: It tastes as majestic as it looks.
This Dish at DC’s Tiger Fork Will Change Your Mind About Whole Fried Fish
Photograph by Scott Suchman.

The best thing on the menu at Tiger Fork (922 N St., NW), the Hong Kong–inspired restaurant in Shaw, was born of an accident. Chef Irvin Van Oordt was tinkering with a short-rib dish, but it just wasn’t turning out. The sauce, though—a mix of broad-bean paste, soy, lots of garlic, and shaoxing wine conjuring the flavors of China’s Chengdu region—was a keeper. It just happened to pair beautifully with another plate he had in mind, a fried whole fish served in a dramatic curl.

• Van Oordt starts with a whole dorade—a richly flavored, white-fleshed fish—that’s farm-raised in Turkey. He filets the fish, slices it into nugget-size pieces, then marinates it in mushroom soy, which adds “super-umami, deep, intense, no-MSG-needed flavor,” he says. “It’s like crack.” The dorade gets dredged in cornstarch and rice flour, a mix that results in an extra-crispy exterior, then is double-fried.

• He throws the head-on skeleton into the deep-fryer, too: “Customers are paying for the nose-to-tail aspect.” Plus, the cheeks taste as luscious as pork belly.

• A hot wok gets a splash of charcoal oil (“Our signature thing,” says Van Oordt), which the kitchen makes by infusing rice-bran oil with hot embers of coal. In go Chinese eggplant, Chinese celery, then the Chengdu sauce and the fish. The toss gives it an extra hit of smokiness.

• The fish is reassembled in its skeleton, set on the plate, and spooned with the vegetables. The reason for the swooping presentation is as practical as it is aesthetic: Picking at a flat fish with chopsticks can be messy. Still, people keep showing the social-media-averse Van Oordt their phones, saying, “Look at your fish—it’s on Instagram.”

This article appears in the June 2017 issue of Washingtonian.

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Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.