If you have been reading the past few weeks, I’ve been posting a lot of green papaya recipes. My beautiful tree broke in half under the weight of 30 or so green fruit and I had to get creative. Luckily, a seedling sprouted under the mother plant just after we pulled it out of the ground. With any luck, I’ll have more fruit from this prolific tree in a few months.
Green papaya is much more versatile than I thought, lending itself to savory dishes and cooking well, with a texture similar to a firm sweet potato. So far, I’ve roasted papaya and curried papaya and now I’ve fried it. Fried green papaya is my favorite preparation so far. It’s fun, unique and delicious. Served with a smoked paprika, cilantro remoulade, it’s a tropical spin on Southern favorite: fried green tomatoes.
It took a little experimentation to get this one right. Green papayas are too firm and need to be blanched before you fry them. I also tried green papayas at different levels of ripeness. The completely white ones (white flesh, white seeds) were good, but lacked any flavor. I found the best ones to fry were just blushing on the inside, with gray seeds. They stayed firm, and the sweetness intensified just enough.
To choose a papaya perfect for frying, the outside should be green, with a touch of yellow near the stem end. Peel of the skin with a vegetable peeler. At this point, you can slice ½” — 1’ rounds, or cut in half lengthwise, to make approximately ½” — 1’ thick sticks. Remove the seeds before you move onto the next step.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Yield: Serves 4
Papaya recipe adapted from Best Fried Green Tomatoes.
Bring a pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the cut papaya to the water. Cover and cook until just tender, about 5-8 minutes. Remove the papaya from the pot and cool under cold water.
Whisk together eggs and milk in a shallow bowl. Place the flour onto a plate, season with salt and pepper. Mix together cornmeal, breadcrumbs and Cajun seasoning on another plate or shallow bowl. Line up your mixtures in order: flour, eggs and cornmeal/breadcrumbs.
Dip the papaya in the flour until coated. Dip the papaya in the egg mixture, then into the cornmeal mixture, turning to coat. It helps to use separate hands for this, one for wet, one for dry. Place each coated piece aside, sprinkled with some extra cornmeal.
Using a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. There should be about ½” of oil in the pan. Fry the papaya in batches, 3-5 minutes per side until golden brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels. Serve with smoked paprika, cilantro remoulade.
In a small bowl, mix together all of the ingredients. Allow to chill in the refrigerator 1 hour for the flavors to meld.
Most of the people I know have never seen a smelt, much less know what one is. I live in Miami, FL., and smelts are found in the Northern oceans. I may have come across one in a Greek restaurant, but never in a fish market. For some reason, small fish like sprats, smelts and sardines are popular all over the world, except the States.
If you see them on the menu or in the market, don’t pass up the lowly smelt. You can eat the whole fish – bones and all. They are crunchy goodness…sweet and light and not as fishy as a sardine. Larger smelt can be butterflied and fried.
I’m lucky to live near an amazing gourmet Russian market. It’s like an amusement park for foodies. It has whole walls of truffles; freezers full of caviar and foie gras. I’m not even exaggerating. They even raise their own sturgeon somewhere upstate.
Deep in their frozen fish section, I found some six-packs of little smelts. I bought two, because I love the idea of having a backup six-pack of frozen little fishes in the freezer. I cooked them up a few days later, with a side of fennel apple slaw and buttered dill potatoes.
They were easy to clean and easy to cook. A quick dredge in seasoned flour, and a few minutes in hot peanut oil resulted in a delicious meal. If you want a thicker crust, dip your smelts in an egg/milk mixture after the first dredge in flour; then coat them in another layer of flour before frying.
Yield: 2 servings
Heat your oil in a heavy pan. I used one about the width to hold two fish side by side. You want about 1½ inches of oil in the pan.
Clean sprats by cutting a small slit up the belly from the tail to the head. If you find some clumps of orange stuff in there, that’s the roe. Remove it from the cavity and you can eat it. I battered and fried mine along with the fish.
Now run your finger inside the cavity towards the head to remove the guts. Just yank them out quickly and you’re done. Remove the heads if you prefer them that way. Rinse the fish.
Season your flour with salt and pepper. Dredge fish in the flour. I test my oil to see if it’s hot enough by dropping in a dash of flour. If it sizzles right away, it’s ready.
Now add your smelts to the pan and fry about 2 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels. Season with a sprinkle of salt and serve right away.