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Smelt Marinated in Plum Vinaigrette (Wakasagi Nanban-zuke)

March 2, 2012

Smelt Marinated in Plum Vinaigrette (Wakasagi Nanban-zuke)

Nanban-zuke is a term that describes food that has been fried and marinated. You might think it strange to soak fried food in vinegar, but the effect is really wonderful. Smelt is often used for this cooking technique because it has a strong fish flavor that is matches well with the tart vinaigrette. The fried coating adds extra richness and flavor, and once it is soaked in the vinaigrette, it takes on a sort of soft and puffy texture, which isn’t offensive in any way. This dish is often made spicy, and you can do that too, but instead I added pickled plum (umeboshi), which if you can find it, is a great addition. This dish tastes best if it has a chance to sit overnight in the fridge, but it will keep well for 3 days.

Smelt Marinated in Plum Vinaigrette (Wakasagi Nanban-zuke)

Serve 4 -6 as a side dish

8 ounces smelt, gutted with heads and tails removed (each smelt about 2-3 inches long)

1/8 teaspoon salt

For the Vinaigrette

1/2 cup rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 pickled plum (umeboshi), pitted and crushed

1/3 cup carrots, sliced in long julienne strips

1/3 cup daikon, sliced in long julienne strips

For frying

1 tablespoon potato starch or all-purpose flour

¼ cup oil

1. Sprinkle salt over the fish, making sure it is well coated. Set aside for 10 minutes. Rinse with water and dry off with paper towels just prior to cooking. Salting and rinsing the fish reduces the fishy odors during cooking.

2. Heat the vinegar, sugar, salt, and pickled plum in a small saucepan on low heat. Simmer for 5 minutes. Heating the vinegar reduces the piquancy. Turn off the heat.

3. Heat half the oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat. You will have to fry the smelt in several batches, so use the rest of the oil as needed for subsequent batches. Place the smelt in the pan, being careful not to crowd them. Fry for a minute or two, or until the bottoms are just turning color or crisp to your liking. Turn them over and fry on the other side for one more minute, or until crisp.  Drain on paper towels. Fry the rest of the smelt in the same way.

4. The fish should be mixed with the vinaigrette when it is still warm, to soak up more flavors. Put half of the vegetables, in a non-metal pan. Place the warm smelt on top. Put the rest of the vegetables over the top of the smelt. Pour the vinaigrette over the top of everything and mix gently.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight. In many cases, the entire smelt may be eaten, bones and all, right away. The longer the smelt marinates, the more flavor it will absorb and the softer it will get.  To serve, place the smelt over a bed of the marinated carrots and daikon. Pour a little of the vinaigrette over the top.

The smelt after it has been fried. You could eat is just like this, but we're going to soak it in vinaigrette.

To get started, let’s make the vinaigrette:

Heat up rice vinegar and add sugar and salt.

Add umeboshi, or pickled plum to the vinaigrette. Simmer for a few minutes.

Cut the carrots and daikon into thin strips like this.

Salt the fish, then rinse with water. This reduces cooking odors. Dry off fish with paper towels.

I used potato starch, but you can also use corn starch or regular flour.

Fry the smelt in hot oil. My 8-inch pan was too small for this many fish. It's best not to crowd them while they are cooking.

Turn them over when they are crisp and just turning color.

Pour the vinaigrette over the top of the vegetables and fish.

Mix gently to coat everything in the vinaigrette. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but overnight is best.

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From → Fish, Recipes

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