French Fish Fries
Dear Chef Bourdain;
You describe friture as “ethereal” which was not my experience of them at all. Preparing them was disgusting, and when complete they were … well, sort of good but sort of fishy-in-the-bad-way. Curiously, my Asian guests were pretty crazy about them, especially when they stole some rice from some spam musubi that another friend brought to the party.
Ok, maybe I exaggerate a little. They were kind of hard to find, and despite your exhortation to get fresh and tiny smelts, I could only get previously-frozen smelts from the always wonderful Super King Market. When I brought them up to the checkout, the girls manning the register had a lot of questions, with that look in the eye that says, “You are a crazy white person.” (I get that look a lot.) Anyway, I brought them home and got to the gross part, squeezing their guts out.
I’ve cleaned my fair share of fish. But something about squeezing the guts right out their butts is extra gross. Actually, most of these smelts were bigger than the ones you recommended, and already had a little hole in the ventral side. So even the gentlest squeeze results in all the innards boiling out of that hole, rather than the “whazoo” as you recommend, Chef. It’s pretty laborious, too, there’s no fast way to do it. So after about 45 minutes or so, I had a bowl full.
That actually was the hardest part, to be honest. The rest was just getting my meez straight and then fryin’ ‘em up.
I minced some garlic and flat parsley, and then seasoned some flour with salt, pepper, and a bunch of other stuff. Your recipe says “to taste” so I just kept adding dashes of interesting things I found until it tasted nice and savory. After that, I heated the oil. I didn’t have a thermometer, so I got it shimmering but not smoking.
While they were frying, I threw together the garlic, parsley, and some olive oil. Once they were sort of golden brown and floating, I pulled them out with a slotted spoon, and tossed them in the garlic mix.
And that’s all there is to it, really. You’re right, once you know the method, you don’t really need a recipe. You just season some flour, and fry some de-gutted tiny fish. Then roll ‘em in something for flavor. I mean, other than fish flavor.
Some people liked ‘em and some people wouldn’t touch them. I gave a few of them a try, but they weren’t quite perfectly crisp – they were a little chewy. And the chewiness sort of enhanced the fishy flavor, which wasn’t really the way to go. I’m not sure I’d make these again, Chef. Mostly because squeezing the guts out of the fishies was not only kinda gross, but really tedious. Maybe I needed hotter oil, maybe I needed to cook them a little longer, but these weren’t really like ethereal french fries.
Sorry Chef, I have to call this one a miss. But maybe I just did it wrong – so I don’t have a firm feeling about that.