In the Rue Montorgeuil, in Paris, is a fishmonger who’s got my number. Not literally! (Not yet, anyway.) He knows I can’t resist nice seafood – and, more than that, he knows I eat everything. Yesterday, as I was walking past, he beckoned me over. It was a hot day and most of the seafood was covered or in boxes. He lifted the lid of a Styrofoam box like he was unveiling a great secret. Inside were beautiful little bright silvery fish, 10 euros a kilo! In French, éperlan. In English, SMELT! As usual, I couldn’t resist. I double fried these to make them extra crispy and served them with aioli (garlic mayonnaise). Even my dad, who’s got an aversion to anything that can look at him while he’s eating it, loved these.
¼ kilo fresh smelt
1/3 cup flour
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-2 cups olive oil (for frying)
Coarse salt, such as fleur de sel or Maldon
½ lemon, cut into wedges
Wash and dry the smelt as best you can with paper towels. Combine the flour, parsley, salt, and pepper. Toss the smelt with the flour mixture in a bowl to coat, and then shake gently in a colander to remove excess flour.
Pour olive oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan to about one inch deep and heat to about 180 degrees Celsius (about 350 degrees Fahrenheit), or until oil fizzes when fish is placed in pan. Fry fish in batches in a single layer until pale beige, about three minutes, and drain on a plate lined paper towels. When ready to serve, refry for another two to three minutes, until golden, transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain, then to a bowl. Sprinkle with coarse salt and serve immediately, accompanied with lemon wedges and, if you wish, aioli.
Serves 4 as a starter, or 2 as a main dish summer lunch.