When I was growing up, we ate fish. Lots of it. It’s an essential part of the Mediterranean diet and as such, fish made a more frequent appearance on our dinner table than either beef or pork. The Irishman did not have the same experience in his youth so he did not share my over the top enthusiasm when I found these little guys at the organic market yesterday. In fact, he promptly fled the kitchen when I announced that it was time to fry them up.
They’re smelts! I haven’t seen these stateside in a local market in years. Better yet, they were only $5.99 a pound and I only needed about 1/2 of that amount. What luck! This was one of my favorite dishes as a kid. Since the fish are so small, you can just fry them whole and munch away. They’re crispy and flavorful without having that fishy taste common to silver fish. I know that it sounds somewhat bizarre to people who aren’t used to seeing fish served whole, but in Greece, this is the way to go.
First, salt your smelts and let them sit for 15 minutes. I have no idea why we do this, but my mother said to and that’s a good enough reason for me. Then, drop a handful of them in a ziploc bag containing about a 1/2 cup of flour. Shake it up well so that they’re coated nicely.
In a deep pan, heat about a 1/2 inch of vegetable oil. When the surface starts to ripple, it’s hot enough. Shake the excess flour off of the smelts and drop them in one at a time.
After about three minutes turn them over. Look at that lovely golden color.
Let them cook for an additional 3 minutes and then transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels so that the excess oil will drain.
Add in the next batch and continue the process until you’re all done. After they’ve drained for a couple of minutes, slide them to a plate and liberally squeeze lemon juice on top.
I usually serve them with an additional lemon wedge as a garnish in case someone wants another squeeze or two.
I just love these little guys. Of course, the Irishman won’t get within 5 feet of them because they look like fish. Not surprisingly, his mother has a similar aversion. She won’t eat shrimp if they still have the heads on them because then she knows exactly what she’s eating. With this “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” thought in mind, I let Parker help me out in the kitchen so that he’s not averse to anything. Similarly, I casually offer him everything that I eat because you never know what kids will like. The official Parker verdict of these delightful little smelts? “The fishes are delicious.” Mommy thinks so too Parker.