The first time I traveled to Ghana (1971) I lived in Nungua, where I taught school . It was there that I learned to love Ga kenkey (aka dokono), shito, and fried fish (kenam or kyenam). Though kenam and its accompaniments are easy to obtain in Ghana, I have to make all three of those myself in central Pennsylvania where I live. That classic meal was one of the first birthday dinners my nephews requested when they came to live with us in 2002.
Unless you're used to cleaning your own fish, this task may seem a little daunting at first, but if I can do it, anyone can. That's the only "hard" part.
Recipe #89: Ghana Fried Fish Version I (salted)
The Ga people living along the coast traditionally just rubbed salt over the fish before shallow fat frying it, and that's the first way I'll present. Most any fish will work: in Ghana we made it with red snapper, but I chose the least expensive and smallest fresh fish I could find at my local grocery today, which were croakers and porgies. Vendors in Ghana often use smallish fish.
- If the fish are not descaled, you must do that. Most likely they've already been cleaned. You'll need to shorten the tail, and remove all of the fins (and I remove the gills and gill coverings). This requires care and a sharp knife (those fins can be like needles). For larger fish, you can cut them in two or 3 pieces. Yes, include the head.
- After cleaning them and removing all the fins,gills, etc., rinse the fish with a cup or two of water in which you've squeezed a half or a whole lemon. Cut a slit or 2 in the each side of a whole fish. (I suppose that in North America we could use filleted whole fish, but that seems kind of wrong, somehow). And it also would prevent Ghanaians from having access to any bones. You'll need a whole fish or two per person if they're small, or several pieces if they're larger.
- Let the fish drain in a colander for a few minutes while you heat up oil about 1/2 inch of oil in a large heavy pan (I use my largest cast iron frying pan, heated to medium high on my electric stove).
- Blot the fish dry if necessary with a little paper towel, then carefully put them in the hot oil to avoid splattering.
- Cook about 5 minutes on one side, then carefully turn the fish over and cook the other side about 5 minutes as well.
Vendors in Ghana often cook the fish longer, until it is very hard, because it will keep from spoiling longer, but the fish can also be cooked so that the inside is still soft, or medium hard if you prefer. As I said before, this is wonderful with any kenkey (Ga or Fanti), and fresh pepper sauces or shito, or even just some sliced onion and tomato.
Kenam, Version II (seasoned and stuffed)
This is probably a more common way to make kenam nowadays. Follow the same procedure for cleaning and preparing the fish. However, leave the fish whole and do not cut it into pieces, but do make a slit or two diagonally on each side:
- Make a seasoning paste by grinding about a tablespoon of peeled shallots (or red onion, if available, or else yellow onion and
- about an inch piece of fresh peeled ginger (enough to get almost 1 teaspoon ground) and
- a teaspoon of ground red chili pepper
Sprinkle a little salt over both sides of each fish. Stuff the slits with the spice mixture and close the slits up. Shallow fry the fish as for version I above (about 5 minutes on each side, more if desired). You'll see my pan was a little too small and I had to force the fish to fit. Drain the fish on paper or paper towels before serving.