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.
- peanut or vegetable oil
- 4 sprats
- ½ cup flour
- salt & pepper
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.