A Hamburger Today

The Nasty Bits: Fried Fish Bones

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[Photograph: Chichi Wang]

When I was a child, I got fish bones lodged in my throat once every few months from eating too quickly the whole flounders my mother steamed with ginger and green onion, and finished by drizzling with soy sauce and sesame oil.

The fish was so tender and naturally flavorful; invariably I would grow careless with the morsels I picked up with my chopsticks. Feeling too late the little pricks in my throat, I would put my chopsticks down and frown, and my mother would sigh and get up from her chair to retrieve a jar filled with grayish powder. She mixed the powder—a ground-up mystery blend of various Chinese herbs and dried good—with water to brew a foul liquid she claimed would "melt" the fish bones stuck inside my throat. I don't know if the herbal brew worked, only that the pain subsided after a few hours and that I demanded to be fed again.

If only the fish bones had been fried. Then I could have munched happily on them as a snack.

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Fried fish bones are a common Japanese snack or bar food. While they might never take the place of potato chips or pigs' tails in my ranking of best fried foods ever, fish bones might be one of the best fried snacks when you include in your judgment the fact that they are bones. When do you ever get to actually eat bones? You can eat marrow but not the bones of mammals. The equivalent of fish bones in the crustacean category may be deep-fried shrimp with their shells still intact. But even shrimp shells that have been deep-fried and edible are there because you want to eat the shrimp flesh. It is only with fish bones that you make the effort to remove and cook their skeletons. Doing so is simple: Drop in hot oil and deep-fry for two to three minutes, until the bones are light brown.

Fried fish bones taste like what you imagine of thin and delicate bones: crunchy at the thick parts and crispy at the thin parts, with a slightly fishy flavor. The trick is to leave some of the fish flesh on when you fillet the whole fish, so that the meat clinging to the bone becomes crispy and brown—sort of like the ends of prime rib that taste like caramelized beef jerky.

An exercise in economy, deep-frying fish bones leaves you with a lot of other parts to use up.The heads can be simmered in water with a few aromatics for a quick fish stock that you can use for a seafood soup (or freeze for later use). As for the fish fillets, once they've come off the bone, you're pretty much committed to having fish for a meal, but that's not a hard commitment to make. Do as the Japanese and have the deep-fried fish bones with beer for a satisfying, out-of-the-ordinary snack.

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