Yesterday I face two cooking fears: small fish and frying. I was at the Union Square Farmer's market with a paleo friend yesterday. At the Blue Moon fishery booth I was about to get some sort of inoffensive seafood, maybe scallops. But then I saw my friend order something that was an unappetizing pinkish grey. It was monkfish liver. Not to be outdone in the adventurous eating department, I looked for something slightly more appetizing. My eyes alighted on a barrel of small iridescent blue fish with pearly eggs spilling out of their guts.
"What are those?" I asked. The fisherman answered "sparing." I had no idea what that was, but I ordered half a pound. It was a mere $2, but instantly I felt regret. What would I do with those? I'd never even heard of sparing.
Apparently they are smelt. Which I'd heard of, but never tasted. When I visited Madrid last year I had many fresh delicious sardines and anchovies, which I found much tastier than the canned varieties, but since then I haven't eaten many tiny fish.
I didn't eat fish until I was 18 or so and didn't cook it until I was 19. My family always ate fish, but I thought it was absolutely disgusting and only fit for cats. I forced myself to eat fish when I went paleo because of the convincing literature on the health benefits. I definitely didn't like it and pretty much did my best to drown it in heavily-spiced sauces. Since then I've tried different types of fish slowly and always with trepidation. I've fallen in love with shellfish, but my relationship with oily fish is a little less stable. I usually try fish for the first time at restaurants, because at least they sort of know what they are doing...right?
Either way, I was stuck with these smelt and wasn't about to waste them. According to my Google searches...eating the whole thing was recommended. Pretty scary...the thought of eyeballs and brains and ugh.
Per some tips on paleohacks, I washed and dried the smelt, then dipped then in egg, and then in a mixture of coconut flour, almond meal, and my favorite spices. I'm pretty cautious about frying, but a good method I've found is just to use lots of heat, but protect yourself with a lid from the popping oil. I fried the fish in a couple of tablespoons of ghee until they were crispy. Then I seasoned then with a dash of salt and a pinch of lime.
And I ate them. I'd never eaten a whole entire fish before, but these were delicious. I totally forgot about eyeballs and other nasty bits. They were crispy and mild. I dipped some in my delicious homemade mayo and they were perfect. It's great to add another healthy, cheap, and fairly easy food to my recipe box!