Everything here should be pretty easy to find, with the possible exceptions of the lemongrass and the fish sauce. Both are readily available in larger supermarkets now, and any Asian market will have them. If you can't find it, use soy sauce.
2to 4 plate-sized bass-like fishsee above, scaled and gutted
1cuppeanut or other vegetable oil
3to 5 garlic cloves,smashed
Freshly ground black pepper
1or 2 lemons,cut into wedges
4green onions,sliced on the diagonal
Cilantro,torn into 1-inch pieces, for garnish
3to 5 small hot chilessuch as Thai, or 1 habanero
1tablespoonminced lemongrass,white part only
3tablespoonsminced green onion or chives
Juice of a lemon
Grated zest of a lemon
A pinch of salt
Take the fish out of the fridge and rinse it under cold water, checking for any remaining scales. Remove the gills if they are still there. You can snip off the fins with kitchen shears if you want. Use a sharp kitchen knife to slash the sides of the fish perpendicular to the backbone. Make the slices at an angle, from the tail end toward the head end. This opens up the fish to the hot oil and makes it cook faster. Salt the fish well and set aside.
Make the dipping sauce by combining all the ingredients in a bowl. Make sure everything is chopped fine. Set aside.
A wok is the best thing to use for cooking these fish, unless you have a deep fryer. I have both, and still prefer the wok. A large frying pan will work, too. Heat the oil until it is between 330°F and 350°F. Fry the crushed garlic cloves until they are a lovely brown and remove.
Gently put one or two fish into the hot oil. It's OK if the tails and heads are not submerged. It will sizzle violently, so watch yourself. Use a large spoon to baste the fish with the hot oil as it cooks. Fry like this a solid 6 to 10 minutes, depending on how thick the fish is. You want it very crispy and golden brown. Carefully flip the fish -- I use two spatulas to do this. Fry another 5 to 8 minutes. Repeat with any remaining fish. If you do have to do this in batches, let the cooked fish rest on a rack set over a baking sheet in a 200°F oven.
To serve, lay the fish down on plates and grind a healthy portion of black pepper over them. Black pepper is a signature flavor in this dish so be generous. Arrange the fried garlic and the remaining garnishes alongside. Serve with the dipping sauce and white rice.
Serve the fish with the garnishes around it, and the dipping sauce in the middle of the table. Forks or chopsticks are a must, as is a big bowl of steamed white rice. A really good bite is some fish on top of a little rice, with a bit of the dipping sauce spooned over it.