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Fried Smelt!!!

I am looking for a nice recipe for fried smelt. How to prepare the fish, best batter, best way to enjoy. Let me know

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  1. My Sicilian MIL used to make smelts for my kids when they were in the highchair, but she didn't fry them. She boned and filleted them then made little foil packets and baked them w/oiive oil.

    The kids loved them, wouldn't touch them now if you paid them.

    1. Simpler is better in this case. Take the smelt, gut them and rinse them, dry them, toss with plain all purpose flour, fry (sorry, I don't know an exact temp) and then salt as soon as they come out of the oil. Eat alongside a nice cold beer and maybe a salad.

      1 Reply
      1. re: icey

        I really like using some chickpea flour for breading fish. You can combine it with plain wheat flour if you wish.

      2. dredge them seasoned flour and saute in olive oil is how I like them, although my kid made some a few months ago with a light tempura batter that were really good.

        1. Do you eat bones and all? Can you buy them pre-boned?

          13 Replies
          1. re: sjomansbiff

            Boning would be a terrible waste of time. The one smelt-fest (hooligan, actually, since this was in Alaska) I got to be part of was like this - Part 1: gut and behead about a gallon of the rascals (hand-caught that morning in a gunny sack); Part 2, watch friend's wife dump them by the double handful onto a tray with about an inch of seasoned flour, then into a big wire strainer to sift the excess flour back, then into a skillet of hot fat; Part 3, eat. So good, crunchy and sinfully rich. Since this was a Church of Christ crowd, we had to forego the beer, but iced tea works OK.

            1. re: Will Owen

              Don't know if they're still doing it, but when I was a kid, smelt would swarm up the rivers and streams in the Columbia basin in late winter. Guys would get out their dipping nets and long rubber boots for this annual event and bring home the bounty. We women and kids would use kitchen shears to lop off the heads, ciip off the fins and cut open the belly. Then scoop out the innards and toss into a big pot of cold water until ready to fry.

              The got shaken in bags containing flour, salt and pepper, then into the frying pan. Really good! We wouldn't think of messing around with any menu fanciness.

              1. re: Sharuf

                So, just to clarify...you eat the bones and all?

                1. re: bear

                  We ate Columbia river smelt. I gutted them then I ate them bones and all. Cutting off the head is optional.

                  1. re: bear

                    No bones. We would take the edge of the fork and swoosh it down one side of the fish, lifting off the meat as a filet. After eating that, we would lift out the bones in one piece and discard. Then eat the other boned half of the fish. We'd keep this up for the dozen or so fish each person got.

                    1. re: Sharuf

                      That's how we used to eat bluegill, but the only smelt skeletons I've encountered were as easy to get through as Wheat Chex - and a whole lot easier than anchovy bones! I suppose if you had some big ones it might be a different story.

                    1. re: TroyTempest

                      They are a pretty smooth fish and don't have the hard scales that other fish have so there is no need for scaling. And yes, you do eat the bones, but you can only really see the spine but it is quite soft and pliable and therefore is not like eating a real fish bone. You just need to cut off the head (my preference), gut, rinse out, and fry.

                      They are low maintenance and delicious

                      1. re: icey

                        So just to clarify, once and for all. Just like sardines, you eat the bones and all.

                        1. re: crt

                          The little smelt can be eaten whole, but I didn't like eating the backbones of the big smelt (anything over 6 inches). I went fishing with a boyfriend once and caught several fish about 14 inches long and he told me they were smelt, but the smelt I caught with my dad were never over 7 inches long. Are there different kinds of smelt, or do they just grow bigger in the bay than in the estuary? I think the smaller ones tasted better.

                      2. re: Sharuf

                        They run the same way in Cook Inlet, and people park along the side of the road and wade down into the grey glacial-silt mud with gunny sacks, washtubs, colanders, nets, whatever, and scoop'em out.

                        1. re: Sharuf

                          Years ago, I went smelting a few times in the spring in rivers that run into Lake Superior. It was quite a tradition. When the smelt were running, word would go out and people would congregate at the river banks with wader boots and nets and big plastic buckets. Everyone would sweep the rivers with the nets and bring up netfuls of smelt. There were bonfires and much drinking of beer. Very festive.I learned a valuable lesson the first time I did this: never buy used waders. There is a reason they are being sold. There is nothing like standing in a freezing cold river with leaky waders with cold river water up to mid-thigh so that you stop feeling your legs. After that: brand new waders.

                          After being up all night smelting, there was something surreal about cleaning bucketsful of them, just gutting them, really, with a finger or thumb. And they were cooked simply, just dredged in seasoned flour and panfried. So good.

                          The smelt runs used to be a rite of spring around here. The smelt runs have been much much lower these days.

                    2. When I was a kid, we used to catch smelt (at least that's what the old fishermen told us they were) off of the San Francisco piers near the Ferry Building. We just removed the heads, pulled out the entrails, washed 'em and dipped 'em in seasoned flour, the fried 'em crisp. I don't recall doing any bone removal.
                      I understand that "smelt" is a family of small silver skinned fish that may include several varieties. But I'm no expert on seafood.
                      I'm wondering if they might not be very good rolled in fine seasoned bread crumbs and served with a tomato based sauce with lots of garlic.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: todao

                        I think they would probably be good presented any edible way. Those little gems are just flat good. The thing is not to overwork the dish, but I like your idea a lot. Especially the last three words...

                      2. I adore fried smelts, and make them two ways: dredged in seasoned cornmeal and shallow-fried in vegetable oil; or dipped in a thin batter (1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup cold milk, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, a little salt, a little sugar, and some chile flakes) and deep-fried in hot (375 or 400°F) vegetable oil until very brown, 1 to 2 minutes.

                        Yes: cut off the head, gut, fry, and eat, including bones and tail, which get nice and crunchy. No scaling, of course.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Liana Krissoff

                          I am with you with adding cornmeal, though I like to combine it with flour or cornstarch for crunch.

                        2. when we do these on Christmas eve I'm pretty sure my dad buys them already prepped (which basically just means decapitated). The we just dredge them in flour, egg, breadcrumbs and deep fry. You can eat them whole and they are fantastic.

                          1. My dad would buy these too, small fish gutted and cleaned. He would eat the bones or some of them. I remember his "batter" as being a mix of flour and cornmeal, and about a trillion seasonings. I have the list somewhere. But it had garlic powder, salt, pepper, cayenne, turmeric, paprika, dry mustard. That's all I can remember. Actually it was quite good for fried food.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: chef chicklet

                              I just bought a bunch of smelt from the local Mitsuwa....lightly floured them and into the pan for crispy frying. AMAZING. Eat them whole with the heads and bones...friggin delicious. These were all stuffed with roe too - that's my favorite part! (Along with the head)

                              As far as the "batter," I prefer something simple, light, and crispy. Corn starch, rice flour, or regular flour.

                            2. I see this is an old discussion, but I can't let it go by without commenting. No, you do not eat the bones -- that is unpleasant. We ate fried smelt a lot when I was a kid, and I loved them. Still do. You buy them gutted and headless, coat them in seasoned flour (with paprika, of course, as per my Hungarian roots) and fry until crisp. Then, before eating each one, you push open the steamy hot smelt (butterfly it or open it like a book), grab the top end of the spine and pull -- the spine and fine bones just lift out in one piece. Fried smelt are a delicious, hands-on meal.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: thefarelady

                                we ate them as thefarelady described: heads off and gutted, and the center bone lifted out after frying - my mom would add them to a frypan with tons of chopped onions cooked to just before burnt - she'd dredge them in seasoned flour (salt, pepper, garlic powder,, paprika), clear the onions to the side of the frying pan, add more oil and make sure it was smoking hot, and throw the suckers in. I loved them.

                              2. My mother would cut heads off, gut them splitting down belly, put fish eggs back into females, roll in flour with salt and pepper, then pan fry in a little vegetable oil. These are delicious! Serve with french fries and ketchup, if you like them. Open up and remove backbone if you don't like eating them.

                                1. This thread just doesn't quite for us smelt lovers.

                                  I once read a recipe off the bag of frozen smelts. I wish that I could remember for certain but, because it was so different and so good, I will do my best to relay.

                                  I believe you would thaw them out and open them up (butterfly) so that you can lay them on a roasting pan. Sprinkle a little oil on each. Drizzle some lemon on top and I believe just salt and pepper. I properly added a sprinkle of tarragon each also. them remained a bit more tender this way and real tasty.
                                  The recipe wan't on the last bag of smelt that I bought. I think that it was from a pretty popular fish supplier, maybe Great Northern?, so please keep an eye out for it. I someone is lucky enough to find it, I sure that you will post as there are only so many smelt lovers around and read this post.
                                  Otherwise, seasoned flour and fried with tater sauce.

                                  1. This thread just doesn't quite for us smelt lovers.

                                    I once read a recipe off the bag of frozen smelts. I wish that I could remember for certain but, because it was so different and so good, I will do my best to relay.

                                    I believe you would thaw them out and open them up (butterfly) so that you can lay them on a roasting pan. Sprinkle a little oil on each. Drizzle some lemon on top and I believe just salt and pepper. I properly added a sprinkle of tarragon each also. them remained a bit more tender this way and real tasty.
                                    The recipe wan't on the last bag of smelt that I bought. I think that it was from a pretty popular fish supplier, maybe Great Northern?, so please keep an eye out for it. I someone is lucky enough to find it, I sure that you will post as there are only so many smelt lovers around and read this post.
                                    Otherwise, seasoned flour and fried with tater sauce.

                                    1. Your supposed to eat the bones, there great for calcium.