Many small fish varieties can be easily cleaned and preserved to make terrific homemade tapas. Visit your local fish monger to source yoursrelf a clear-eyed specimen. Anchovies, sprats, sardines, or any number of small, non-carnivorous species will be both a healthy and sustainable Seafood Choice.
Unlike larger carnivorous fish such as Salmon or Tuna, these smaller species haven’t accumulated the same levels of heavy metals and other pollutants in their bodies that are found in fish that diet on smaller prey. By eating fish that are lower on the food chain you also deplete less of the ocean’s total biomass with each bite.
In Spain, the most common fish used for tapas are called Boquerones, or “white anchovies”. Boquerones can be purchased pre-cleaned and neatly packaged at specialty shops like The Spanish Table in San Francisco. Still, despite the slight mess, making tapas from fish you have caught or purchased fresh will always result in a far more delectable experience.
So, with a few anchovies, sprats, sardines, herrings, or other small-fish in hand, start by rinsing them carefully at your sink. Next, make a small slit along the underside of the belly to remove, and discard the innards.
With the innards removed, rinse the fish again and then lay them out on a clean chopping board.The entirety of the backbone can be removed in one fell swoop by laying out the fish on the chopping board, holding the fish up slightly by the tail, carefully placing the knife under the spine at the tail end, and then slowly sliding the knife away from you and upwards towards the head.
With the spine and head at once removed, you ca explore the flesh of the filet with your fingers to find and and discard any small bones that remain embedded in the flesh. This, as isoften the case with the most basic kitchen tasks can be a surprisingly meditative and rewarding experience once you fully commit yourself to its attentive execution.
Once fully deboned, rinse the flesh once more, and then submerge the fish in white wine vinegar in a shallow glass, ceramic, or pyrex bowl. Leave the bowl overnight in your refrigerator. The vinegar will “cook” the fish in acidity and also soften any tiny bones you may have missed when cleaning. Changing the vinegar once during the night is a nice touch, but is not absolutely necessary.
The following morning simply pour off the vinegar and place the fish in a mason jar with sliced garlic, onions, chopped herbs of your choice, salt, white pepper, and lemon juice. Mix these ingredients together first in the jar and then immerse everything in good olive oil and return the jar to the refrigerator for a few more hours. Refrigerated, the pickled, seasoned, and oil-submerged fish will keep for several days only getting more flavorful each day.
When you are ready tio plate the tapas, add another squeeze of lemon juice, a pinch of (smoked) salt, and a final drizzle of fresh olive oil. Serve the fish Tapas with fresh chewy crusty bread smeared with cultured butter alongside fresh radishes, cherry tomatoes, cold pan-roasted small potatoes, whole baked garlic cloves seasoned with rosemary, sheep’s milk cheese, various olives, and pickled onions.