Freshly plucked from the sea, cornalitos—tiny fish found along the coasts of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil—make for a special wintertime treat. Although commercial fishing boats harvest cornalitos from March through September, the height of the season comes in the coldest months of June and July, when large schools come close to shore. Using various types of fishing nets, including a special net called a mediomundo, fishermen scoop up scores of cornalitos [video].
Although tourists eat fried cornalitos by the plateful in summer, at that point the fish have already been frozen for many months. They're still tasty, but nothing beats the flavor of cornalitos straight from the ocean and onto your plate (with a brief stop-over in a pot of boiling oil).
[Read more about cornalitos.]
While down at the port on Sunday with Daniel's grandmother Velia, several fisherman were selling their fresh catch, buckets full of silvery bodies with beady black eyes awaiting their fate. We bought two kilos of fresh silversides at $15 pesos per kilo to satisfy Velia's craving for cornalitos fritos.
When Daniel's grandfather Diego retired from farming, he took up fishing as a hobby. He used to bring home all manner of sea creatures for Velia to clean and filet (Diego enjoyed fishing, but he wanted no parts of the dirty work!). Velia became very adept at preparing fish, and their favorite way to eat them was fried.
Dusted in flour and fried until golden brown, cornalitos make for a crunchy, flavorful snack. This basic recipe may be modified to suit your taste; feel free to add herbs and seasonings to the flour such as black pepper, garlic powder or parsley.
[Note: The cornalito's English name is silverside; however, the much larger pejerrey, which is a relative of the cornalito and also common in these waters, takes the moniker "silverside" as well.]
Cornalitos Fritos | Deep-fried Silversides
1 kg [about 2 lbs.] cornalitos
250 g [1 heaping c.] coarse salt
150 g [1 c.] all-purpose flour
oil for frying
table salt [optional]
1 lemon, cut into wedges
Place the cornalitos in a colander and add the coarse salt. Using both hands, thoroughly mix the salt and the fish together for several minutes. Squeeze the cornalitos' bellies between your thumb and index finger to remove the intestines. It's not absolutely necessary to gut the fish, as they are small, but they may have a bitter taste otherwise. Rinse the cornalitos thoroughly with cold water until the water runs clear. Drain them well and blot with paper towels to dry.
Place a handful of the cornalitos in a plastic bag and add some of the flour. Close the bag tightly and shake vigorously to coat the cornalitos. Repeat process for subsequent batches.
Heat oil in a deep pot. Do not fill the pot more than half full with oil. Fry the cornalitos in batches in the hot oil, until crispy and golden brown. Drain on paper towels to remove excess oil.
Sprinkle the cornalitos with table salt if desired (I find them to be salty enough for my taste without the additional salt). Serve immediately, accompanied by lemon wedges.
Cornalitos taste great with french fries and a cold beer. Pinch the heads off before popping them in your mouth, or eat them whole if you're brave.
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