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Fish Friture

Serves: Serves 8

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Ingredients:

  • 1 pound small minnows, whitebait, smelt, small sunfish, or other tiny fish
  • About 6 cups corn oil, for deep-frying
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Salt


Procedures:

A friture is a dish of deep-fried tiny fish: whitebait or other fish found in rivers or ponds are coated with flour and fried until crisp, like French fries. Small freshwater minnows, roach, gudgeon, and even very small sunfish are delectable prepared this way. I drag a net in knee-deep water along my local beach in late summer and get more of these fish than I could ever use. If you try this, make sure you drag your net when the tide is coming in.

Friture is commonly served in small cafes along the little lakes and rivers in France, often with aperitifs before a meal. Although some cooks fry the fish without gutting them, they tend to taste bitter, and the final result is well worth the work required to clean them. These tiny fish are utterly delicious and completely free, an undiscovered resource.

Freshly caught fish will live for a while in a pail of water, but most of the time I gut them right at the beach so I don’t make a mess at home.

Prepare the fish: Using your thumb and index finger, press and push down on the belly of each one, starting at the head and pushing toward the tail so the guts come out. Wash the fish in cold water, changing the water several times. Drain on paper towels, then place in the milk to soak.

Heat the oil to about 400°F. Meanwhile, drain the fish and put it in a plastic bag with the flour and baking powder. Seal the bag and shake it, so the fish are well coated with the mixture. (Be sure to do this at the last moment; you cannot keep the fish floured too long, or the moisture in them will come out and make their outsides gummy.) Shake the fish in a colander to remove excess flour. Cook in batches, dropping the fish into the hot oil and cooking for about 5 minutes, until crisp and brown. Lift out of the oil and sprinkle with salt.

Arrange the fish on a platter and serve. Eat piping hot with your fingers.

Jacques Pepin

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