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Did you know: If you want to take your fish balls out to the movies, you DON’T HAVE TO PAY to get them in! What a deal!

Say someone challenged you to come up with a dish involving your choice of seafood, lime and coconut. You’d probably come up with something a lot like this, I’m sure: coconut rice and yellowtail suckers with a trio of spicy lime dipping sauces. Because when people think “fish,” they think “lollipop,” right?

Okay, I know, it sounds freaky and maybe a little bit gross. It’s just that the ingredients for this month’s Foodie Joust over at the Leftover Queens’s lent themselves so well to a variety of Thai-inspired fish dishes and curries. And they’re all looking really good, and I don’t think I could top ’em. So I figured, if I can’t beat you in flavor inventiveness, I can… also not beat you in shape and form. But at least in the meantime, I get to eat a fried thing on a stick. Also I get to say “fish balls” a lot.

Fish balls. Fish balls. Fish balls.

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Sushi chefs across the globe felt a sharp pang at the exact moment that I massacred diced this yellowtail with my really-needs-sharpening knife.

How did I come up with the fish lollipop idea? Thanks for asking! It went something like this:

  • My sister-in-law emailed me asking for my lemon curd recipe. She jokingly asked if lemon curd can be deep fried. She is sometimes not as facile in the kitchen as she would like to be, but she can fry the holy hell out of anything. It’s a gift, and I’m glad to be related to her.
  • I start thinking about how to deep-fry curd. What if you froze it, scooped out spoonfuls and battered them with a nice heavy coat of something? Hmm.
  • I start wondering whether I should make a dish with deep-fried lime curd.
  • I give up on that, and start wondering whether I should make a dish with a savory coconut panna cotta.
  • Maybe I could fry that?
  • No.
  • Thinking of fried things reminds me of arancini, Italian rice balls traditionally stuffed with meat sauce or cheese, then breaded and pan-fried.
  • My stomach rumbles and I wish I had an arancino.
  • I think of the fried chorizo and manchego lollipops (a stuffed wonton skin, twisted onto a lollipop stick, and fried) my friend Greg brought into work one day. They were really good.
  • I wonder what Greg is up to.
  • I hit on the idea of rice balls stuffed with fish, stuck on a lollipop stick and deep-fried.

See? You totally would have come up with the same thing, I told you.

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Delicious, delicious death in a bottle. Look for the rooster! Remember, rooster = death.

I decided to use the seafood and coconut in the lollipop, and the lime as the base for a trio of dipping sauces with three different spicy agents: a cilantro and jalapeno salsa; a mango and srihacha (chili-garlic paste) sauce; and an avocado crema with wasabi. The lollipops would be globes of sticky coconut rice filled with diced yellowtail, coated in dried coconut and fried.

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If you’re a Chinese woman, you better not try to take your fish ball to an Italian restaurant – it will NOT GO.

While some sushi rice cooked up, I put the sauces together. All three ended up being quick, flavorful, and useful beyond this particular dish. The cilantro salsa required little more than dicing. For the mango, I ran some mango puree through a strainer, whisked in some lime, srihacha and honey and reduced the mixture by half on the stove. Avocado, creme fraiche, lime and a pinch of wasabi powder went into a blender with a little water to thin out the texture.

About that sauce in the rooster jar: be warned. If you’ve never worked with it before, it will FUCK YOUR SHIT UP. It is seriously spicy, and you only need the tiniest smidge to add heat to an entire dish. If you’re the kind of person who pours Tabasco on everything and has no problem with spicy dishes, I look forward to the time you dump a whole spoonful of this onto something you’re eating and the subsequent comeuppance you will then receive. Hopefully, you won’t be hospitalized very long. I’ll send a card.

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Fish balls!

I covered every surface in the house with dried coconut as I assembled the fish balls, including surfaces in rooms not remotely connected to the kitchen. In fact, I’m still finding little piles of coconut 48 hours later, and I think I saw some on the subway today. Other than that, putting the lollipops together required little more than a thousand dirty dishes, sticky coconut hands, and a willingness to deal with endless tedium.

Actually, it was really fun; molding the rice around the fish is a lot like making an edible art project.

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Fish balls! Fiiiiish ballllls!

After rolling the balls in dried coconut, they looked remarkably like pre-packaged snack cakes that had been impaled by overzealous but confused vampire hunters.

They were also a bit delicate – although the balls themselves held together nicely, the sticks weren’t staying in. I lowered them carefully into some hot fat, hoping that the frying process would help the sticks adhere (it did). The coconut began to brown and crisp instantly, creating a lovely golden brown crust. Frying them quickly kept the yellowtail medium rare to rare

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FISH BALL!

I will admit right up front, I had no idea whether this dish would be any good and I was quite pleasantly surprised. The lollipops were fun and had some lovely textural contrasts between the crispy coating, sticky rice and moist, fresh fish inside. The coconut flavor was subtle but present, and added a nice note to the ‘pop without overpowering the fish.

Although I dug the lollipop, the sauces were the real standout. Each was fantastic with the ‘pops, and each gave the ‘pops a totally different spin. The cilantro salsa was bright, fresh, acidic, and just a bit spicy, and produced a very Mexican lollipop. The avocado crema was luscious and creamy with just enough wasabi to cut through and keep it from going overboard, and added a real touch of luxury. And the mango (the unanimous favorite) was a perfect mix of sweet, spicy and tart; like an Indian-Thai hybrid.

Plus, fried food on a stick – totally fun! Served in a plastic basket with a beer, it was a fun appy. Served in some fancy-pants way, it could be a whimsical amuse bouche. It would also make a great passed canape at a cocktail party.

Fish lollipops – don’t knock ’em till you try ’em!

Coconut-Yellowtail Lollipops with Spicy Lime Dipping Trio

For the lollipops:
1 cup sushi rice
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup water
1 tsp. salt
1 pound sushi-grade yellowtail (shrimp would also be great in this)
3 tbsp. lime juice
1 c. dried coconut
3 c. canola oil
skewers or lollipop sticks

Put the rice, coconut milk, water and salt in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until done, about 20-25 minutes. When the rice is done, spread it out on a plate to help it cool enough so you can work with it.

Meanwhile, evenly dice the yellowtail and toss it with the lime juice. Set it aside until you’re ready to form the lollipops.

Heat the oil in a heavy saucepot to 375 degrees; make sure you’ve got enough oil in the pot to come 2 or 3 inches up the side of the pan. For each lollipop, take 2 tablespoons of the rice in your hands and shape it into a ball. Poke a hole in the middle and fill with the diced fish; make the walls of the rice ball as thin as you can so you can get more fish in and the yellowtail can really shine. Seal up the ball, using a little more rice if necessary, and roll it in the dried coconut. Insert a skewer/stick.

Lower the lollipops gently into the hot oil and fry just until the dried coconut is golden. Remove to paper towels and drain. Serve with the trio of dipping sauces and a cold beer.

For the cilantro salsa:
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 tbsp. lime juice
1 jalapeño, seeded and finely diced
1/2 tsp. salt.

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Check for seasoning. Let sit for a few minutes so the flavors come together a bit.

For the mango sauce:
6 oz.. mango puree, strained
3 tbsp. lime juice
2 tbsp. honey
1/2 tsp. srihacha (or more/less to taste)
pinch of salt

Whisk all the ingredients together in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a vigorous simmer, and allow to reduce by one-half. Serve hot or at room temperature.

For the avocado crema:
1 avocado, flesh removed
3 tbsp. creme fraiche
3 tbsp. lime juice
1/4 tsp. wasabi powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2-6 tbsp. water, as necessary

Put all the ingredients except the water in a blender. Blend to a smooth cream, using the water as necessary to thin the crema and help it move.