“The Andalusians are the best fry fish in the world.” She says so even the writer and anthropologist Claudia Roden, who knows a while about eating. So it doesn’t matter if you’ve had a few fish and chips in the British Portsmouth, some squid rings in Santander —or in Bilbao— or even a tempura in Tokyo: you won’t know what a good fry is until you plant yourself, hair in the wind, on the Andalusian coast —come on, also in Seville— and burn your fingertips by attacking that ration of little fish that have just been baptized in the fryer.
Heaven here is a plate of small pieces of light, golden fish whose surface is crunched between the teeth to yield a warm and juicy interior. Crunch! And those anchovy tenderloins release their sparkle of iodine and salt. Crunch! And the provocative tentacles of the baby squid stretch and lift your spirits. Crunch! And the world seems a little better, although beyond the edge of the table everything is abyss. when talking about little fish, the diminutive gives clues. Thus, these are small fish with which the Mediterranean and part of the Atlantic supply the nets and then the frying pan. This category includes anchovies, pijotas, squid, manolitas —as smaller sardines are called in Malaga—, prawns, mullet, roe and pieces of larger pieces such as squid, dogfish, Cádiz moray eel or a pink one with a passport.
They can share a tray and become a Malaga fry or go out for independent portions capable of subjugating the gourmet more stretched When the food critic of The New York Times, Pete Welles, tried Dani García’s, at Casa Dani, (New York), was overjoyed that the man from Marbella had left the nitro tomato to cling to his culinary roots: some fried whitebait with eggs did the magic.
They move with the tides
In these comings and goings of ingredients and recipes, of techniques and preparations, discovering who first made what, where and when is like untangling a ball of yarn that a cat has played with. The influence of the sea is overwhelming in the Spanish recipe book, and not only because it is populated with fish, crustaceans and shellfish, but because through the waters and tides the influence of nomadic peoples, conquerors, merchants and more aristocracies has also arrived. or less refined that they already ate before reaching the Spanish coasts.
The truth is that there were chip shops in the souks of Al-Andalus in the 12th century. This is what the popularizer Moncho Núñez Centella affirms in the book A scientist in the kitchen: the Phoenicians had already passed through the region with their domesticated olive trees —goodbye, animal fat— and their salt flats. It is known that in the Iberian Peninsula, during the 15th century, the Sephardim roasted, cooked, blanched, marinated and also fried fish in olive oil, which, according to Claudia Roden explains in her book The Book of Jewish Foodthey learned on their way through Andalusia.
By the 18th century, Cádiz was already full of frying shops. can still be seen on the little cup shop windows that shine brighter than a jewelry store. The different types of fish are assembled in a pre-cooked chaos that is later served in paper wrappers or cartridges as if they were an ice cream cone that is going to wander around that “reasonable city”, as the writer and chronicler Rafael Chirbes would describe it.
Fine, but where?
It doesn’t matter that they dropped it reluctantly on a white plastic square, that they threw it at you without looking in a crowded bar, or that they delicately served it between linen tablecloths. A ration of little fish Fried it’s like something from summer sneaking into your room in the middle of exam season.
Whether in a beach bar by the sea -in Malaga they were always picnic areas and this can still be read on many of their signs- or in some of the restaurants in the city’s junction of streets, the ritual of little fish hooks up. The kitchens of Los Espigones, in the Malaga neighborhood of Pedregalejo, are in charge of this; those of El Hierno, in that position that resists in the Central Market of Atarazanas; those of El Refectorium de la Malagueta, or that of Álvaro Olea in Casa de Botes (CB23, now in Soho). At La Cosmo, Dani Carnero fry some whiting to bite the tail.
Beyond the city of La Manquita, Lourdes Villalobos and Belén Abad fry like goddesses in Chinchín Puerto, in Caleta de Vélez; Pablo Sánchez does fancy things in that temple of product that is Los Marinos José (Fuengirola), and those of Dani García revive thorns in Lobito de Mar, in Marbella. Also there, Bar Francisco, known as “El Paquito” or “El Limpio”, has that magic of a village bar that also soaks up each serving of fried food they serve.
The spit, a ‘competitor’
It happens that in Malaga, in addition, the little fish Fried competes in popularity with the spit, usually made of sardines —be careful, only in season, we already know that about the months without r—, although larger fish such as sea bass or squid are also skewered on these rods. The portions move between 5 and 7 euros, although the prices meander like the neighborhoods. Those of Narval, in the neighborhood of El Palo, or El Caleño, in Pedregalejo, do not fail. The last skewer contest was won by the Marina Playa beach bar in Rincón de la Victoria and now in Marbella, those from La Milla also manage those fires anchored to the sand that raise scales into the air.
On the Cadiz coast, the ritual is also engaging. Anyone who has set foot in Cádiz will mention, as Álvaro Muñoz (member of the Andalusian Academy of Gastronomy and organizer of the Málaga Gastronomy Fest and Cinema Cocina, among other appetizing events) does, the Barra de El Faro or the Gonzalo bar in El Puerto de Santa Maria; Antonio, Casa Juanito and Venta Melchor, in El Colorado; Puerta de la Victoria, El Dique or La Gitana, in Sanlúcar de Barrameda; Francisco Fontanilla, in Conil, or Las Rejas de Bolonia, where they also fry huge, whole and delicious pieces.
Seville was not going to be less, and the collaborator of The Foodie Carlos Doncel puts us on the trail of Blanco Cerrillo, in the vicinity of which “you can see how hundreds of people raise their noses, like yorkshires, to taste the aroma that your kitchen gives off”. Add the Reina Victoria de Triana fry shop, “a safe bet when there is a craving for that greasy delight that is little fish fried”.
The surprise effect
Those who master the art of frying will tell you, playing down the importance, that it is fried “just like that”, but “just like that” monstrosities with a finger of languid batter are also fried. “Fish, like eggs, should be cooked little, quickly, and served immediately with its own fragrant flavor,” MFK Fisher wrote in how to cook a wolf, and for Brillat-Savarin, the key to a good frying was in that fright that frightens even the hiccups: “All the merit of a good frying lies in the surprise; this is the name given to the invasion of boiling liquid that carbonizes or gilds the outer surface of the submerged body at the very moment of immersion. By virtue of the surprise, a kind of vault is formed that contains the object, prevents the fat from penetrating it, and concentrates the juices.
The flour? Just a cloud. It can be for frying or even fine pastry, as they do in Los Espigones in Malaga. In Cádiz, many use the Vaporcito, made from durum wheat. Others mix wheat flour with chickpea flour. In each house they have their rules, such as whether or not to dry the fish after washing it. Most opt for it to be wet so that the flour adheres to the millimeter. Oil? Another dilemma. In the land of olive trees, the olive juice drags, although in many fry shops it is the sunflower, softer, the chosen one.
How to prepare fried ‘pescaíto’ at home
- Anchovies, red mullets, baby squid, pijotas, dogfish or any other seasonal fish that is likely to be accompanied with a summer tinto.
- Special flour for frying or pastry.
- Sunflower or mild olive oil.
- Lemon to serve (optional).
- Wash the fish. Depending on the type it is, remove the guts —it is not necessary in very small pieces— and chop it up.
- Salt and flour the pieces lightly.
- Put oil (clean, clear) in the pan or in the fryer, enough to cover the portion of fish. It is preferable to fry in small batches so that the temperature of the oil does not drop suddenly and, instead of get scaredthe fish is cooked.
- Fry until golden at a temperature of about 180ºC. It is usually for less than a minute in the case of small pieces, and two or three in the case of larger pieces. For larger pieces it is better to lower the temperature so that it does not get too toasted on the outside and remains raw on the inside.
- Drain on blotting paper for a few seconds to absorb excess oil.
- Serve immediately so that it is crunchy. Lemon or not, it’s a matter of taste (some people will cut your hand).