Friday, 11 May 2012

Cheap 'n' Greek 'n' frugal: Marida (Μαρίδα)

Prices are in euro (valid in Hania). All ingredients are Greek or locally sourced; those marked with * are considered frugal here because they are cheap and/or people have their own supplies.

Little fish, lightly fried and eaten whole, are a popular taverna favorite in Greece, and they are available fresh at the fishmonger's very cheaply. They need no cleaning, just a rinse, patted dry, a quick toss in some flour, and into the frying pan they go. On Monday, the day after the elections, I was in Hania doing some banking chores, and I couldn't resist picking up a kilo of marida (smelt or picarel, Spicara smaris), which I found for €3 a kilo. Continuing along the road to get to my car, I found the same fish selling for €2 euro a kilo. That's really cheap.

Little fish have been eaten in this way since ancient times in Greek coastal areas. A fish species of the Mediterranean, they're considered poor man's food because they aren't the tastiest fish around. As a Cretan, I find it difficult to call myself poor when I can eat so cheaply and healthily; I can even share my food with others. Marida today was cheap enough to feed the cat with.

You need:
a kilo of marida (€2-3 - best to look out for it after midday when the price falls)
half a cup of flour*
sea salt*
olive oil for frying*
a shallow wide pan
high heat

At a men's kafeneio (you sometimes see women there too these days), you will see little plates like this one, of assorted mezedakia, little appetisers. The drink to pair with them is raki/tsikoudia, the local Cretan firewater (or ouzo if you aren't from Crete). The banana peppers are from last year's summer harvest, preserved in home-made wine vinegar and a tiny amount of salt.

Rinse the marida. Although it doesn't really need cleaning, I usually squeeze each individual fish gently to make the tiny intestines come out (you feel as though you are eating something clean in this way). If you do this, rinse the fish again, and let it all dry, draining it well. Heat a thick film of olive oil in the pan until it reaches very high heat. Quickly flour (and shake) the fish and toss them in the frying pan (watch out for spluttering). Do not cook more than a layer of fish at a time. Let it cook till the fish is done to your preference (we like ours crispy). Turn the fish once with a pancake turner (I find this more sturdy). When cooked, take it out of the pan, and place it on a sheet of paper to absorb the excess oil (I don't do this myself, to be honest). Sprinkle lightly with sea salt.

Little fish of this sort make a good tsipouromeze - an appetiser for drinking with ouzo or tsikoudia (raki), the local Cretan firewater. A small meze pate of this kind is also part of the romance of Greece - Greek imagery at its most authentic. Such an image is not a figment of one's imagination - it is as real as my neighbour's grapevine, the summer garden he has just planted and the snow-topped mountain view we share. 

In the summer, this kind of plate is more than enough for a lunch meal; in cooler weather, I would serve it with a fasolada.

Total cost of the meal for four people: about €3, together with the appetisers; about 75 cents per serving.

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