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Smelt Nanban

(recipe, Matthew Amster-Burton)


This recipe — adapted from Shizuo Tsuji’s Japanese Cooking — came to Japan via Spain and Portugal, where it's called escabeche. "Nanban" translates, amusingly enough, as "southern barbarian style." Fresh red bell pepper is also excellent in this recipe, in addition to or instead of the red chile.


    1. ½ cup rice vinegar
    2. ⅔ cup dashi (see Note)
    3. 2 Tbsp. mirin
    4. 1½ Tbsp. soy sauce
    5. 2 small dried red chiles
    1. ½ cup peanut oil
    2. 10 scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
    3. 1 lb. smelt or other small fish, cleaned if necessary (smelt are generally sold already cleaned)
    4. Salt
    5. Flour


    1. Place all the marinade ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, and set aside. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the scallions and cook until browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the scallions to the marinade.
    2. Season the smelt with salt and dredge in flour on both sides, shaking off excess flour. Heat the remaining peanut oil in the skillet and cook the fish until crisp, about 4 minutes per side. Reheat the marinade and pour over the fish. Serve immediately, or refrigerate up to 2 days and serve chilled.


    Dashi is a basic Japanese soup stock made from dried kombu seaweed and flakes of dried bonito fish. You can buy it ready-made at Asian markets or make it yourself by soaking kombu and bonito in water. Read more about cooking small fish in Matthew Amster-Burton's "Small fry."