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Heads up for anchovies

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pull off the fish's tiny head, split its tiny body, dislodge the tiny entrails...
What's wrong with this picture?

Well, nothing really. The problem is with the person whose hands are in the picture.

WHAT WAS I THINKING? Why am I cleaning out the gunk from these ikan bilis (anchovies) when I could have got the ones already picked through by someone else?

Well, it doesn't really take a lot of effort. So, maybe the smell lingers for a while on the fingers, but it's no big deal. In fact, this is what little children were called on to do many years ago when they were not too pampered by their parents to be given household chores and didn't have PlayStations as toys.

These dried salted fish make one of the simplest snacks. After they're cleaned, toss them in a little rice flour (or not) and fry in hot oil till crisp ­­– a minute is all it takes. My mother used to sprinkle sugar on them when my siblings and I were little, and that kept us happy for a while. A good reward for having to clean the darn things.

When I was in school, I had a teacher, an American man who was with the Peace Corps. The Girl Scouts had a cookout one day, and one of the things we were going to fry up was ikan bilis to put into a sambal and eat with nasi lemak. (Well, my troop mates were, anyway. I couldn't and didn't like to cook then.)

So the teacher ­­– I forget his name now ­­– got a little campfire going for us and we set about heating up some oil and frying the ikan bilis, which he had never eaten before.

When it was done, he tried one, and then another, and then some more, and by the time, we had got the sambal ready, he had polished off half the fried ikan bilis!

I got these anchovies for a snack recipe to feature in the next post on Monday as an extension of the review of Malaysian Cooking by Carol Selva Rajah which I am doing for The Star that will come out on the same day (a link to the pdf page will also be given in the post; the published recipes are for a chicken and a vegetable dish). The snack is really good and just like my teacher from all those years ago, I finished off half of it before I even took a picture and had to make another batch! Do come back if you'd like this and other recipes.

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