Jun 5, 2019

The Hawaiian Unicornfish Known As Kala

Most people know that a unicorn is a mythical, usually white animal generally depicted with the body and head of a horse with long flowing mane and tail and a single often spiraled horn in the middle of the forehead. However there is a distinctive Hawaiian reef fish that has a horn on its forehead that inspired its common name, the Unicornfish. Known as Kala in Hawaiian.

Kala travel in small schools and are seen in channels and seaward reefs with strong surges. They feed on coarse leafy brown algae. Unicornfish are herbivores that live in tropical waters around coral reefs and are part of the surgeonfish family, Acanthuridae. They range from the Indian to Pacific Ocean. Kala is grey to bluish green. They are characterized by their horn projecting from between the eyes. 
Unicornfish can live for more than fifty years.

When cleaning this fish, the first thing you will notice is that it has no scales. Instead it has an extremely tough skin. The 18 inch fish shown above only had 1/2 pound of firm, moist pink flesh. Kala is most commonly served raw as sushi, grilled, baked, steamed or pan fried.

Pan Fried Kala with Garlic, Ginger, Scallions, and Soy Sauce
I think pan frying Kala makes a better presentation and tastes great. The fish is topped with a hot soy sauce, scallion, garlic, ginger, and oil sauce, which releases the flavor of the aromatics into its flesh.

8 ounces of firm white Kala cut into 2 fillet servings
pinch of salt
pinch of ground pepper
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
corn starch, to dust the fish
3 tablespoons cooking oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
2 scallions, thinly sliced diagonally

1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoon sugar

Pat dry the fish, scatter a pinch of salt and ground pepper on the fish, then sprinkle with Old Bay seasoning. Dust with corn starch to coat the fish so it won't stick when fried in the pan, set aside.

Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat oil in a frying pan on high heat and stir fry garlic, ginger, and scallion until fragrant, about 1 or 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

In the same pan, fry the fish for 5 minutes each side on medium high heat. Only flip the fish once at the end of 5 minutes, otherwise, the fish will stick to the pan. Set the fish on a serving plate.

Turn the heat to medium and pour the sauce into the pan. Wait until it bubbles a bit, then return the garlic, ginger, and scallions into the sauce. Cook for a minutes. Pour the sauce onto the fish. Serve immediately with steamed white rice and snow peas.

Makes 2 servings.

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