Ice Fishing & Shishamo

March 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Last weekend I had the opportunity to go ice fishing on Kanayama Lake.

As you can see from the number of tents, ice fishing is a relatively popular past time in Hokkaido. We were fishing for shishamo, which are a type of Japanese smelt (edit: these are actually wakasagi, which are a type of fresh water smelt – shishamo are salt water smelt). The gentlemen I accompanied had a tent complete with tea kettle, heaters, copious amounts of beer, and six relatively narrow holes bored deep into the ice.

Several large water bottles and a bucket were used to hold the fish we caught.

Me, excited to pose with dinner.

Shishamo (and wakasagi) are generally prepared whole, deep fried or grilled and salted. They are especially popular in izakaya. At the end of the day I left with about 20 smelts, hungry for dinner. I decided to cook them the way my fishing companions had recommended. It’s very simple and doesn’t really require a recipe, but I’ll detail the method.

First, wash and dry the fish.

Next heat the oil in the vessel of your preference for deep frying. I ended up using olive oil because I was out of vegetable oil, but I wouldn’t recommend it (I got splattered a lot). Coat the fish in potato starch (I think you could substitute corn starch if necessary). Fry in the oil until crisp and golden. Let drain on paper towels and salt generously.

I think the trick here is to make sure the fish are as crisp as possible and amply salted. They should be eaten while still hot.

I was a little apprehensive about preparing these. I very rarely cook fish. My fisherman friends said that if a smelt is on the larger side, it should be cut up and the feces/innards removed. But size is relative and the smaller ones also have feces. So… I’m eating fish feces. What if I didn’t cook them enough? I don’t want to be eating fish feces at all but I won’t tolerate them under-cooked (what is the correct cooking time for fish feces anyway?).

Although I enjoyed the taste (the brains were a little bitter) and I’ve had these in izakaya before and never had an issue, I think the process of catching and cooking the fish ended up being a little problematic for me. But I had been told I had to eat them all, because I killed them, and I was feeling a little guilty, so I did.

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