Boquerones en Vinagre

I was in the market the other weekend and spotted the loveliest looking little fish.  Their smooth bodies, no bigger than my finger, were translucent white with a shiny silver stripe down its length.  They were plump and clear-eyed and fresh and absolutely tempting. 

These little fish are called dilis in our local vernacular and, to the best of my knowledge, are some sort of anchovy.  Dilis are relatively inexpensive and, really, quite an ordinary-joe type fish in these parts.   They are delicious though.  Usually served deep-fried or in a kilawin (what is essentially our local ceviche of sorts – fish ‘cooked’ in an acid, usually vinegar or citrus juice).

What I’ve done here is try to replicate a Spanish version of our beloved kilawin called boquerones en vinagreBoquerones are sometimes referred to as white anchovies, and, although I haven’t a clue what the exact relation is to our dilis, they seem to be in the same family.  So, that, along with some advice from friends and family, was enough to make me attempt one of my most favorite Spanish tapas of all time.

I have no set recipe as of yet, since this was my first go at it, but I will share my method and findings since many many have been asking after this photo on Instagram. (you can follow me on Instagram at @chichajo if you are so inclined)

But first some links I've been liking!

**  10 simple things to make you happier at home…some great reminders here! 

**  Adorable…and since I’ve just acquired my great-grandmother’s bar (so thrilled about that!  Cocktail party soon!) this will certainly come in handy. 

**  Just reading this list makes me excited!  Go away's time to read books again!

**  We’ve finally built more cabinet space.  Let’s celebrate with new plates, shall we? 

**  I love making my own spice mixes...this one sounds awesome. 

**  After this, comes this.  

**  Print these now and give to friends and interesting strangers!

Ok, and now, dilis/boquerones en vinagre.

Clean your fish – Remove the head, the guts, and the bones (leave the tail on or off, up to you), and butterfly the fish.  Or, like me, you can have your fish monger do it.  Over here they will do it with a smile – fish markets, it’s more fun in the Philippines!

Lay the filleted fish flat on a ceramic or glass dish – I used a Pyrex baking dish which worked perfectly.  They didn't all fit in one layer but I think that is fine.

Now, pour in your vinegar – Sherry or white wine vinegar is what’s prescribed mostly and I would stick to that, but I am sure you can use others in a pinch.  I also add some lemon juice.  Make sure the vinegar gets all over and in between the layers of fish.  Let this marinate until the fish is “cooked through”.  You know this has happened when the fillets turn white.  I looked all over the internet, and picked the brains of some boquerones-making relatives, and the marinating times vary from as little as 30-40 minutes to overnight.  At 30-40 minutes my dilis where nowhere near cooked through so I just let them sit longer.

Next – This juncture, before adding the oil, is where most recipes diverge.  Some instruct you to remove all the vinegar and rinse the fish, and then pat dry.  Some just remove the vinegar.  And some leave the vinegar and just add oil.  Some recipes actually add the vinegar and the oil at the same time.  I decided to marinate, then remove most of the vinegar, skip the washing (because I was lazy, it can’t be denied), and then pour in the oil.

Adding oil and aromatics – After I removed most of the vinegar, I transferred all but the first layer of fish to a plate.  Then I drizzled a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil over the first layer of fish, sprinkled a bit of salt (just a bit), some chopped garlic and parsley, a fresh squeeze of lemon, then covered with another layer of fish.  Repeat until you have used up all the fish and make sure your last drizzling of oil covers all the fish.  Cover the dish and keep in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.  I would suggest letting it rest a bit like this before serving.  Some do without the garlic and parsley but I love it this way and wholeheartedly recommend adding them in.

Serving – I just served this as is, but my much-more-experienced-in-boquerones-making cousin takes the fillets out and adds a fresh splash of olive oil and some drops of balsamic reduction.  So, the choice is yours.  Either way, this is good stuff!

Storing – Again, I searched online for guidelines on storing and the results varied from a couple of days to months!  I kept mine in a clean jar in the fridge, the fish completely covered with a layer of oil, and it just kept getting better day after day.  They lasted six days like this simply because I polished it off by then.

Overall, this was wickedly simple to make and absolutely delicious to eat.  Aside from serving this as tapas for your next cocktail party, it also makes a lovely quick lunch laid onto some thick slices of good bread with a salad on the side.  If anyone has tips, suggestions, or sage advice regarding boquerones making please drop me a note in the comments…we are looking forward to spotting the next dilis catch in the market!

Have a fantastic weekend!!