My first trip to Spain was in 2005. My family, including then-boyfriend E, traveled across el charco (the pond) to take a cruise around the Mediterranean. We spent the days leading to and after the cruise in Barcelona and Madrid. My sister had already lived in Spain for a summer, so she was well versed in the art of enjoying cañas (small draft beers) and tapas. I tasted my first boquerones in vinegar, marinated white anchovies, in Barcelona under her tutelage. Did she create a monster! As soon as we made it back to the ship from the shore excursions, Eduardo and I would make a beeline to the tapas buffet and load up our plates with tasty marinated vegetables and ridiculous amounts of boquerones. When we visit the Spanish/Cuban panaderías in the island, we sometimes order some. They are definitely a treat: an order usually costs at least $1.00 per little fish. I know now why!
I bought a bag of frozen boquerones at the supermarket a few weeks ago. Instead of having “white anchovy” as the translation in the bag, it said “smelt”. Smelt is another small, oily fish species that looks like a small salmon. Its texture and taste make them good substitute for white anchovies in this and other recipes. Like most oily fish, they are packed with Omega 3s and since their soft bones (espinas) are also edible, they are also high in calcium. That’s more reason to love this very Mediterranean ceviche!
It took me nearly an hour to remove the fins, split, remove the spine and skin a pound of smelt. Some of the little fish were a breeze to get through, but for others… I second guessed my effort. After finishing the grunt work, I gave the boquerones a quick rinse, placed on a glass bowl, and covered in regular white vinegar. I added about an extra inch of olive oil, a few peppercorns, a shake or two of salt, and about a tablespoon of chopped garlic scapes (ajetes). The covered fish bowl cured in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, I reserved the vinegary oil that floated to the top of the bowl, and drained the smelt. I placed the marinated boquerones in a fresh bowl, added the vinegary oil, and topped off with enough olive oil to cover them. They kept this way in the refrigerator for a few days.
As with most tapas, the natural companion for these boquerones is a loaf of crusty bread to sop up the vinegary oil. And chilled sangría or tinto de verano. And maybe a few more tapas!