Fried fish is popular all over the Mediterranean. Andalusia, where a large Jewish community once resided, was known both then and now as the “zone of frying, ” as there always have been innumerable freidurías, or fish-frying shops, in the region. Although many people equate fried fish with greasy fish-and-chip emporia, frying, if properly done, can be a wonderful way to capture the sweetness of fish. In Spain, olive oil was the traditional frying medium, but in Turkey its high cost saw it eventually replaced with sunflower oil. The fish may be dipped in lightly seasoned flour and fried, or it may be dipped in lightly beaten eggs and then in flour and fried. A squeeze of lemon at the table is all it needs, or perhaps a dollop of ajada, the Sephardic garlic mayonnaise known as alioli in Spain and agliata in Italy. The fish also can be served with agristada, an egg-and-lemon sauce that is called avgolemono in Greece and terbiyeli in Turkey.
You can make either the garlic mayonnaise or the egg-and-lemon sauce for serving with the fish. to make the garlic mayonnaise (ajada), combine the garlic and salt on a cutting board and mash with the side of a knife to a fine purée. Transfer to a blender or food processor, add the egg yolk, and pulse to combine. With the motor running, slowly add the oil, drop by drop, until a thick emulsion forms. Then add the remaining oil in a very slow, steady stream and process until the mixture is the consistency of mayonnaise. Add lemon juice to taste, and thin with a little cold water if the mixture is too thick. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until serving.
To make the egg-and-lemon sauce (agristada), in a small saucepan, combine the cornstarch with a few tablespoons of the stock or water and stir to make a smooth paste. Add the remaining stock and/or water and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly so no lumps form. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring often, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. In a bowl, beat together the eggs and lemon juice until quite frothy. Whisk in a little of the hot stock to temper the eggs, then gradually stir the eggs into the liquid remaining in the pan. Simmer over very low heat, stirring often, until the sauce thickens, just a few minutes. Remove from the heat and season with salt. Transfer to a bowl and cover to keep warm, or let cool and serve cold.
Place the fish fillets or boned smelts on a plate, sprinkle with salt, cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Spread the flour on a plate and season with salt, pepper, and the paprika, if using. Beat the eggs in a wide, shallow bowl. Pour vegetable oil to a depth of 2 inches into a deep sauté pan and heat to 375 degrees F on a deep-frying thermometer. Working in batches, dip the fish fillets or smelts into the eggs and then into the flour and slip them into the hot oil. Fry, turning once, until golden and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes total for the fillets and a little less for the smelts. Using a slotted spatula, transfer to paper towels to drain briefly. Keep warm until all the fish is fried.
Arrange the fish on a platter and serve piping hot. Pass the sauce at the table.
© 2000 Joyce Goldstein. All rights reserved.