Deep Fried Fish Bones Recipe

Fried fish bones are a common Japanese snack or bar food.

A pile of deep fried fish bones, sprinkled with salt.

Serious Eats / Chichi Wang

Why It Works

  • 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 fish on the bones when you fillet the whole fish, so that the meat clinging to the bone becomes crispy and brown.

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 with drizzle of 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 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 goods—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.

Raw fish bones.

Serious Eats / Chichi Wang

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.

March 2011

Recipe Facts

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 15 mins
Total: 25 mins
Serves: 4 servings

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Ingredients

  • 8 small whiting fish or smelt

  • 4 cups vegetable oil

  • Salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Separate the flesh from the head by cutting behind the gill flap of each fish. Keeping your knife against the bones, cut along the length of the fish to remove the fillet, peeling the flesh away as you go. Turn the fish over and repeat. Keep the tails on. Store the fillets for another use.

  2. Heat 4 cups of vegetable oil in a wok or deep saucepan until it reaches 375°F (190°C). Add a few bones at a time and fry until crispy and lightly golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

Special Equipment

Wok

Notes

To learn how to fillet whole fish, check out our article here.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
356 Calories
21g Fat
0g Carbs
40g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 356
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 21g 27%
Saturated Fat 2g 10%
Cholesterol 143mg 48%
Sodium 259mg 11%
Total Carbohydrate 0g 0%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 40g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 105mg 8%
Iron 1mg 4%
Potassium 738mg 16%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)