Growing up, we always ate small fish with their tiny bones intact. According to traditional wisdom in much of Asia, obtaining calcium from eating fish bones was better than getting calcium from milk. So kids were always given dried fish or grilled fish – small fish with bones tender enough to eat.
When we travel, I try to get Magnus to sample as many different kinds of foods as possible. Many times he will take a bite and then refuse to eat more – which can be challenging, but the most important thing is for him to experience, see and taste a variety of foods, and with time and exposure, I think – I believe – he will grow to like them. He loved these red mullets and mini octopus that were cooked in frittura in a restaurant overlooking the sea in Anacapri. So did his best friends who were all eating the mullets, octopus, pasta al zucchini, pasta bottarga, and mozzarella. Very simple with light crispy batter, sprinkled with sea salt and a dash of lemon.
In the U.S., it is difficult to get these small breeds in a mainstream fish store. Even in speciality stores, unless you request it, most places don’t carry them. You can serve small filets of fish in a crispy batter, or rings of calamari or small octopus legs. And if you happen to travel near the sea, see if you can get the fishmonger to give you some small fish for frying, or ask your favorite seafood restaurant to make your child a special batch of fried fish.
Here is a simple tempura-batter version of fried fish and octopus below with flaxseeds and spelt flour. This batter recipe is great for all kinds of seafood, fish and vegetables. I use ice cubes and sparkling water for extra crispy and light batter.
Fried Red Mullets or Mini Octopus
One pound small red mullets (or any kind of small fish to fry) or small octopus
¼ cup ground flaxseeds
¼ cup cornstarch
¼ cup spelt flour or whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs whites
1/2 c. very cold water or sparkling water (Perrier or Badoit) – you can add ice cubes to make the batter extra crisp
Beat eggs whites until foamy but not stiff, about 2 minutes, add water or sparkling water, then add the dry ingredients, mixing well to make sure there are no lumps. Heat a pot of canola oil. Salt the fish, then dip into the batter. Fry in the oil until golden, about 3-4 minutes, then put on top of a paper towel to drain excess fat/oil. Sprinkle with salt and serve.