I was at my friendly neighborhood Filipino fish market recently and came across some very fresh-looking, bright-eyed, finger-length Smelt. After spotting these little fishies, a
lightbulb deep fryer appeared over my head and I immediately got a craving for Dilis: Filipino fried smelt, or fried anchovies.
So I had my fishmonger (you remember my fishmonger don’t you?) pack me a couple pounds of the silvery sea creatures and off I went.
For my version of Dilis, I wanted to keep things as simple as possible so as to not overpower the delicate flavors of the Smelt (they’re a little sweet and nutty, believe it or not). So I decided to not gut the Smelt. Seriously. These fish are so small that I didn’t see any need to eviscerate them. And besides, many of them were oozing with roe–the same tiny orange Smelt eggs that you may often see on sushi. So I didn’t want to waste the tasty roe by gutting the fish.
What’s that you say? You want to gut your fish? OK, OK. If you must gut your Smelt, here’s an easy way to do it:
Using a pair of kitchen shears, just snip through both sides of the belly from the tail to the collar.
Rinse the insides of the fish under gently running water and use your fingers to pull the guts out.
So whether you gut your Smelt or not (I prefer not to), dredge the whole fish in rice flour seasoned with black pepper. After dredging in the rice flour, I fried the fish in hot oil, then sprinkled some fine Ilocano sea salt and some roughly chopped parsley over the just-fried fish. The rice flour coating on the Smelt gives them a nice, light crispness–making them the best French fries you’ll ever eat, and a great pairing with a cold beer.
The finished fish are eaten Pippi Longstocking-style, they are devoured whole–heads, bones, tails and all (guts and roe if you’ve left them). Don’t worry, Smelt are so small that you won’t notice the bones, and the heads are actually sweet and mild like the rest of the fish.
Although the Dilis are tasty just like that, I also like to serve them with a Sawsawan (Filipino dipping sauce) of soy, vinegar, and sliced Thai bird chilies. And that’s it. Easy right?
And for those of you not into frying fish, I’ve got another Smelt recipe coming soon, so stay tuned…
In the meantime:
Filipino Fried Smelt with Spicy Soy-Vinegar Dipping Sauce
- 1 cup rice flour
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound fresh Smelt
- Canola oil, for frying
- Fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup Filipino cane, or coconut vinegar
- 1-2 Thai chilies, thinly sliced
- Combine the rice flour and black pepper in a shallow baking dish.
- Dredge the fish in the rice flour mixture, shaking off any excess flour from the fish. Place the coated fish on a cookie sheet and set aside.
- Pour about 1-inch of oil into a large skillet or frying pan over medium high heat. Heat the oil until hot and shimmering (about 375 degrees F).
- Working in batches, place the coated fish in the hot oil and fry, turning frequently, until golden brown, 3-4 minutes total.
- Transfer the fried fish to a paper towel-lined platter. Season to taste with sea salt, then garnish with parsley. Serve with dipping sauce.
- Combine the soy, vinegar and chilies in a small bowl. Serve with fried fish.