Sweet and Sour Spicy Fish with Deep Fried Basil {Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free}

Sweet and Sour Spicy Fish with Deep Fried Basil {Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free}

A Thai sweet and sour fish recipe that will have you begging for more. Sauce can be made ahead and served with anything else too! A perfect balance of spicy, sweet, sour and salty.

sweet and sour fish

Let’s start with the basil portion of the title. Did you know that even basil can be deep fried?

This thought never even crossed my mind, until my cooking class at Time for Lime on Koh Lanta, Thailand. It’s not so much deep fried as “flash” fried, dipped in hot oil for a few seconds and then drained.

As for the final result? Slightly crispy with that delicious basil-y taste, and a new nutty flavor. Dare I say it, possibly better fried than fresh. Don’t worry we simply use this as a garnish for the dish, not as a snack.

deep fried basil

While we travel we rarely eat fish, I’m always wary of how “fresh” it really is or how it’s being kept cold, but when it’s on the menu at a cooking school I always jump at the opportunity to prepare it.

I love taking cooking classes in general because after so many days of eating out I finally get a chance to cook and prepare my own meal, which is one of the things I miss most about being away from home.

At the cooking schools usually the menus are available ahead of time so you pick a day with a variety of dishes that suit you and then with a little bit of demonstration and instruction it’s your turn. I love this part. I love learning about food, preparing food, and eating food.

And I absolutely love walking around the different food markets in all the Asian cities. I’m fascinated by the colorful food on display, the endless array of options, and the masses of people buying from each and every stall.

A cooking class provides the perfect introduction into a country’s food culture and eating habits.

For example in Thailand the food is a balance between sweet, salty, spicy and sour. There are various ingredients used to create this balance, and when noodle dishes are served there is a tray brought out with sugar, red pepper flakes, rice vinegar, and fish sauce, to allow each person to adjust the flavors according to their preferences.

So in this dish, we’re focusing on a sweet, sour and spicy balance.

Some of the ingredients may be difficult to find – the coriander roots and pickled garlic specifically. Apparently the supermarkets cut off the coriander root off the fresh cilantro before stocking it so one option is to approach the store and ask for the roots (this might appear as strang I suppose) or ask your Asian supermarket if they sell it. As for the pickled garlic, that should be available at the Asian supermarket.

chili garlic and corinader roots

For the cooking class the fish fillet was lightly pan fried, but if you want to go all out get a whole fish and just deep fry it. Everything’s better deep fried right (though unfortunately bad for you)?

The sauce itself is incredibly easy to make and can be stored in the fridge for a few days.

So if you don’t want to make everything at once, prepare the sauce first, store it in the fridge, reheat it the day off, pan fry the fish, lightly deep fry the basil and voila, a beautiful dish is ready.

Finger-licking good.

sweet and sour fish w deep fried thai basil

Yields 4

Sweet and Sour Spicy Fish with Deep Fried Basil

A Thai sweet and sour fish recipe that will have you begging for more. Sauce can be made ahead and served with anything else too! A perfect balance of spicy, sweet, sour and salty.

25 minPrep Time

15 minCook Time

40 minTotal Time

Save Recipe


  • Sauce ingredients:
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
  • 6 cloves pickled garlic, chopped
  • 4 coriander roots, smashed and chopped
  • 4-6 Bird's eye chilies,
  • 2 tablespoons pickled garlic juice
  • 2 tablespoons tamarind sauce
  • 2-3 tablespoons palm sugar (or 2 tablespoons brown sugar)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce (substitute tamari for gluten free version)
  • 2 tablespoons Sriracha (or regular ketchup)
  • For the fish:
  • 20 leaves Thai sweet basil
  • 3 cups deep frying oil
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 7 ounce fish fillets (cod, pollock etc) or 1 whole 2-3 pound fish
  • salt and pepper


  1. In a mixing bowl combine the garlic juice, tamarind sauce, soy sauce, Sriracha, and sugar, Mix until smooth.
  2. , Heat oil over medium heat in a pan and add garlic, coriander roots and chilis. Cook until aromatic (about 1 minute).
  3. Add the liquid sauce from the bowl and cook until the sugar caramelizes and the sauce thickens.
  4. In a large pot or pan heat up the 3 cups oil for deep frying. To test the oil temperature insert a toothpick into the oil and when small bubbles form around it the oil is ready. Add the leaves, stir carefully and deep fry for 5 seconds. Remove with a strainer and drain off excess oil.
  5. Season fish fillets with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat and pan fry the fillets on each side until lightly browned and cooked through.
Cuisine: Thai | Recipe Type: Dinner

Recipe from Time for Lime 

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    • Vicky says

      When I made this recipe at the cooking class that is how much oil we used — though it was for a large portion and the oil was reused for frying other things (spring rolls, etc). If you are just cooking for 1 or 2 people and will not have a use for the oil after, then just use a small bit of oil, or skip the basil frying entirely. This recipe is delicious with or without the basil, but the deep fried basil does take on a really interesting nutty flavor that adds more depth to the dish.

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