Yep, we are back from LA. A great time was had by all, especially Drake at Disneyland. Holy cow that kid wore us out. I had my reservations about whether Disneyland was going to be good for a 21month old lad.. I was wrong, it was just perfect. If he breaks down and starts screaming – so what? There was 3 other kids in earshot all the time doing just the same.
I tell ya though, going from 85degree Californian sun, back to 50 degree Seattle drizzle was a shock. In fact, I think the first sentence that past my lips when we stepped out of the airport was “fuck me, it’s fall”.. and I wasn’t far wrong (since today is the first day of fall!).
This silver smelt dish was something I actually put together before going to LA. I knew for a while we were going to be away for a bit (and leave tomorrow on another trip!!), so I wanted to put together a few dishes to tide the blog over whilst we were gone for a total of two weeks.
So, what are silver smelt? Well, they are awesome little silver fish. I was lucky enough to find some of these local, super fresh fish at my weekly outing to Mutual Fish, in Seattle. These were right up front, as you walked through the door, and just knocked me over. They looked like they should still be flapping to be honest – they were that fresh. The fishmonger was all giddy about them, and almost insisted I try them. Heck, at only a few bucks a pound – what is there to loose?
Silver Smelt are small enough to eat pretty much whole. Once gutted and cooked, you can easily chew through the fish – bones and all – much like a good anchovy.
This was actually the first time I had done anything with smelt. Normally when I come across a fish I haven’t cooked before I will cook it a couple of different ways. The smelt were no exception. To start with I breaded the fish (with heads and tail removed), and shallow fried them to a crisp golden yellow. Second was a more delicate approach – drizzled in oil and salt, and lightly grilled till just cooked through. The hot fish were then laid on a bed for fresh savory, which just imparted the flesh with a gentle herby flavor.
Oh, out of interest, if you have never used fresh savory before – it is awesome. A light herb, with almost a citrus undertone, and as fresh and clean tasting as mint or basil. It goes great with seafood and beans, in my opinion. Turns out it is also a knockout with roasted beets – more on that a little further down…
So which were better? Well, it depends really what you like. The crunch of the fried smelt was really great – and for a small fish they were pretty hearty. The flavor of the fish seemed to get a wee bit lost however. These aren’t really strong flavored fish in themselves, and this fry-up almost seemed a little heavy handed for my tastes.
The grilled were great. I could have used a much hotter grill though. Being so small they cooked through really quickly, before the skin got nicely crisp. The subtle hint of savory was just great on them though. If I did these again, I would do more of the grilled fish over the fried. Just my personal taste – I enjoy light, delicate food.
This brings me all rather nicely on to the beets. I saw these puppies at a farmers market, at the same stall as the savory if my memory serves me. I haven’t roasted a beet in ages (mainly because it takes over an hour, and I am a busy bloke), and thought – sod it – its not like I have to be standing over the stove as they roast, and I can still do other things.
I still had some savory after I reserved some for the fish. I was going to use parsley, but heck.. why not try something new. Turns out savory and beets together is stellar – especially when it is all bound together was great sea salt and a fantastic olive oil. I forget the food writer that used to carry around a small vile of top-notch olive oil.. and if he didn’t like the food he was eating, he would just pour a little of his oil on – course, that isn’t the reason why I am using a good oil here. If you are going to have a dish of only a few ingredients, you had better make bloody sure that those ingredients are first rate.
OH – and we are off again for another trip. This time the lovely (hopefully!) little Washington Island of Vashon. About the complete opposite from LA – very rural, natural, lots of farms. Should be awesome. Photos when I return 😀
Silver Smelt Two Ways, Roasted Beet and savory salad
2lb of fresh whole silver smelt
1 cup of all purpose flour
1 egg – lightly whisked
a good handful or two of breadcrumbs – panko would work great here if you have it.
olive oil – some regular stuff for frying, and some really good stuff for the salad
1 bunch of fresh summer savory
4 medium beets
Preheat your oven to 375F.
Scrub the beets gently, removing any dirt. Put them in a small roasting dish, and add a little water to the pan. Cover this with foil, and bung in the oven. The cooking time depends really on the size of them. After 30 minutes remove the dish from the oven, and poke one of the beets with a knife. If it goes through easily, the beet is cooked. If they need longer, pop them back in the oven. Make sure all the water doesn’t evaporate away – add more as required.
When the beets are roasted, take a hot beet, and rub it all over with a towel. This is by far the easiest way to remove the tough outer skin. If you wait to do this until they are cold (or even cool enough to handle) then they will be much harder to peel. Cut the root end off the beet, and slice crossways into 1/4” slices.
As the beets are cooking we are going to clean, cut and trim the fish. Take one of the silver smelt, and a pair of kitchen scissors. Make a cut down the length of the belly – from just below the gills right down to the fishes but. Use your fingers to scoop out the fish guts. Clean the inside and outside of the fish – make sure you get all blood and guts out, and the inside looks clean. Use the kitchen scissors to cut off all fins. You want to cut off the head and tail of about half of the smelt.
We are going to fry about half of the smelt. Arrange three plates in a line. On the first plate put the flour. On the second, the beaten egg. On the third the pile of breadcrumbs. Dip a smelt first in the flour, on both sides, then in in the egg. Finally dunk the little devil in the breadcrumbs on both sides. Repeat for all the fish you want to fry.
For the ones you want to grill – toss them in a little olive oil and sea salt. Preheat your grill to high, and make sure the grill rack is really clean. Grill for just a couple of minutes both sides. I keep the head and tail on for grilled fish.
For the fish fry… Heat a large pan up over a high heat. Add enough olive oil to easily cover the bottom of the pan. When the oil is hot, add in a few of the fish, making sure not to crowd the pan. Give them a few minutes per side – just enough to brown them. Remove and let drain on a paper towel – keep warm as you fry the remaining fish.
To finish the beets – chop up a small amount of the savory. Stack up the beets on a plate, sprinkle with sea salt, and drissle over the really good olive oil. Finish with a sprinkling of the fresh savory.
To plate the grilled fish – lay down a bed of savory. Gently place the hot fish on top. Drissle with a little of the good olive oil, and serve immediately. Add more sea salt if you wish. Serve with lemon wedges.