Oven-Roasted Smelts with Cornichon Mayonnaise

Mid- to late winter is the time for smelts. Fishermen set up smelt shacks on frozen lakes and streams and dangle their lines through holes in the ice. These small fish--served bones, head and all--have a wonderfully delicate, clean flavor that is often compared to violets or even cucumbers.

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  • Servings: 4 first-course servings

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  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 6 sour cornichons, diced, plus 2 tablespoons of the brine from the jar
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped celery
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped Granny Smith apple
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped shallot
  • 4 ounces sourdough bread, crust removed, bread torn into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped rosemary
  • 1 1/4 pounds medium smelts, gutted

How to make this recipe

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°. In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise with the diced cornichons, lemon juice and cayenne. Season with salt and black pepper and stir until blended, then refrigerate.

  2. In a medium skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil. Add the celery, apple and shallot and cook over moderate heat until softened. Add the bread and cook, stirring until golden, 5 minutes. Stir in the chives and rosemary; season with salt and black pepper. Remove the croutons from the heat.

  3. Brush a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Arrange the smelts in the dish in a single layer and season lightly with salt and black pepper. Top with the crouton mixture and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Roast the smelts for 12 minutes or until the fish are firm and the croutons are crisp. Transfer the smelts to a platter, drizzle the brine over them and serve with the cornichon mayonnaise.

Suggested Pairing

Like Malbec, Sémillon was once used primarily as a blending grape in France, but today has a following of its own in Australia for its zingy, lemony freshness. For these delicate little roasted fish, pour a fragrant or herbal variety.

Contributed By Published November 2005

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