Smelt. Fried, they are a great accompaniment to a pint of beer. Grilled and served with a bowl of white rice, they complete a Japanese breakfast. They also win the Cheap Bastards' Choice Award, since they average $3.50/lb.
The "Wakasagi" variety of smelt were introduced from Japan to the San Francisco delta in 1959 as a forage fish. This was back when they thought that the "wakasagi" smelt and native "California-delta" smelt were the same species. Oops, they were wrong. And now the wakasagi (aka Hypomesus nipponensis) are more successful in the delta waters than their OG cousins. Asian invasion.
In the past, I've prepared wakasagi in a number of ways including grilling and pan-frying them. I decided I wanted to jazz them up a little and made my own interpretation of wakasagi nanban. Nanban is a method of preparation which involves frying and using a sweet and sour sauce for marination.
My concept for the dish is "special, yet comforting." Although I can eat bones in small fish, it is a luxury when I don't have to deal with them. I like to eat with confidence, which means not worrying about getting a tiny bone stuck in my throat. So for this dish, I decided to fillet them. The comfort was provided by the nanban sauce--a familiar taste in Japanese cooking using sugar, vinegar and a hint of red pepper.
Most of the recipes I introduce on Japanify are really easy. But I am not going to lie to you about this one. The steps are numerous and I ended up with a lot of dishes to wash.
Wakasagi Smelt in Nanban Sauce
6-8 Wakasagi smelt, filleted
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 green onion stalk chopped fine
1/2 cup potato starch
1 1/2 tbsp grated ginger
2-3 tbsp soy sauce
1-2 cooking oil
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp rice vinegar
1 dried red pepper, chopped fine
3 tbsp sesame oil
1. Combine the ingredients for the marinade.
2. Combine the ingredients for the nanban sauce.
3. Fillet the fish. Place in marinade for at least 10 minutes.
4. Fry the garlic with some oil.
5. Combine starch and pepper into a medium-sized bowl. Coat the fish with the starch.
6. Coat a pan with oil. Once the oil is hot, place the fish skin side down onto the pan. Fry each side for 1-2 minutes.
7. Plate the fish. Garnish with green onions and fried garlic.
9. Spoon the nanban sauce over the fish.
The concept of "special, yet comforting" was carried out successfully. It was kind of luxurious not having to deal with any tiny bones and the sauce was pleasantly familiar. One of my recent obsessions is to lightly pan-fry fish and then draping it with sauce. Doing this creates a wonderful contrast between crispy and saturated.
This is a great dish to make in bulk because the materials are inexpensive and the fruits of your labor will be appreciated by many.