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.
Fast Hors d'Oeuvres
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 It
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.
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.
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.
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.
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