Tiny fried fish that you can eat from head to tail
Summers in Greece mean hours spent in outdoor tavernas, with a clear view of the ocean and the warm sun embracing you. The heat, the pace of vacation life, the hours before or right after the afternoon siesta all contribute to a feeling that time is endless, and life is best lived unhurried. But all that relaxation sure works up an appetite, so that taverna table is usually most often filled with mezes and frosty glasses of ouzo or frappé. Given the scene, some of the best mezes are those that came from the sea you are looking onto. Octopus, shrimp, calamari are always welcome, as are these tiny fried fish.
In Greece, the fish used to make this meze are called marithia (μαριδούλα / μαρίδια). They are absolutely delightful; delicate in flavour and quick to prepare. In Canada however, we don’t have easy access to these fish, but what we do have are capelin, and they do just fine.
Capelin are small salt water fish that roll into the shores of the St. Lawrence river in the spring. In the provinces of Quebec, particularly in the Gaspé peninsula, as well as in Newfoundland and Labrador it is a regular summertime practice for locals to go to the beach and scoop the capelin up in nets as the capelin “roll in” by the millions each year at the end of May or in early June.
Our parents have dear friends, Christo and Panayiota who are not local to the Gaspé peninsula but who love to drive to Ste-Irénée every year to fish for capelin. They make the 4 to 5 hour drive each way during the day and stay up all night fishing; this is when the capelin roll in with the tide. Wearing long rubber boots that come up mid-thigh, and using fishing nets, they take their chances. On the day a few weeks ago when we went to our parents’ house to make this recipe using their last batch of frozen fish from the year before, the phone rang. It was Panayiota, who said she needed to stop by for a minute. And then, within half an hour, she arrived, exhausted but fulfilled after a recent trip to Ste-Irénée where the fishing was successful. She brought our parents 4 bags of fish that were freshly caught. What a gift! And what a coincidence!
Capelin is a fish whose delicate flesh resembles herring. Although our parents clean the insides of the fish out, the capelin roe (called masago) is considered to be a delicacy by some. It is often mixed with wasabi and sold as “wasabi caviar”. Our parents just toss it.
Because the fish are so small, you can eat them entirely, bones and everything. Seriously! It’s totally fine, and totally delicious!
These little fried fish are best served right after you cook them. They retain a nice crispy texture on the outside and are delicate on the inside.
We usually have these little fried fish served with lots of lemon, and a side of horta.
Looking for other delicious fried foods that you can serve as meze? Check these out:
Fried fish (Ψαράκια τηγανητά)
- 550 grams capelin (1 1/4 pounds)
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) red wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 1/2 cups (225 grams) all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) vegetable oil for frying
- 1 lemon
- Begin by preparing your fish. Using a sharp knife, cut a slit into the underbelly of the fish and remove the innards by scooping them out with your finger or a small spoon. Repeat with all of the fish.
- Rinse your fish very well and then place in a medium sized bowl. Cover with 2 inches of water. Add the vinegar and mix well. Allow to sit for approximately 30 minutes.
- Drain the fish and sprinkle with the salt, tossing your fish to get the salt everywhere. Allow to sit for approximately 10 minutes.
- Coat the fish in some flour, being sure to shake off the excess. See video here.
- Fry over medium heat for 3 – 5 minutes and then using a spatula and a fork, turn the fish over and fry for an additional 3 – 5 minutes.
- Repeat with the remaining fish until they are all cooked.
- Serve the fried fish with some lemon on the side.