Whenever I see tiny fish like whitebait or sardines, I think of the fresh smelt my father used to fry.  I don’t know where he bought them but there was a season and he would come home with large sacks of unfrozen, small, whole smelts that he fried “hard” so that you could eat the head, bones and all without a squeamish pang.  Lovely.


I found these smelt at the Super Duper Market and even though they were frozen, headed and gutted, I couldn’t resist.  No they didn’t have that just-out-of-the-water fresh taste, but I could taste the memory.


Instead of reaching for a jar, I prepared some easy tartar sauce to combat any frozen, cardboard, fishy taste these smelt might have.  After all, Pennsylvania is landlocked and these fish had to travel.  Bummer that I couldn’t find the French cornichons but substituted with small dills.  This worked out okay but, if you can find them, use the cornichons.


Most of my fresh potted herbs have suffered from the cooler weather and are stone cold dead.  I still have parsley, oregano and a little thyme.  I used them for the buttery herb and chilli topping, but dill in place of the oregano is perfection.  I had some chillies in the fridge and used them until I was satisfied 🙂


A song in memory of my father.

Deep Fried Smelt

2 lbs fresh or frozen smelt, headed and gutted or not

1 cup flour

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 tsp smoked paprika

Peanut oil for deep frying

2 cloves garlic, slivered

1 or 2 colorful chillies or to taste, seeded and sliced

2 tbsp butter

1 handful each; dill(oregano), parsley and thyme, chopped

Mix the flour, bread crumbs, salt, pepper and paprika together in a plastic/paper bag. Toss in a handful of the smelt at a time, coating well.  Fry in the peanut oil until golden brown and crispy.

Melt the butter in a small skillet, then add the garlic and chillies, sauteing until aromatic. Remove from the flame, stir in the herbs, then pour over the fried fish.






About cookinginsens

An American living in Burgundy, France
This entry was posted in American, Appetizer, Cooking, fish, Food and Wine, Recipes and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Smelt

  1. deedle2038 says:

    even while I’m laid up sick here and unable to eat, this looks fantastic. and the story is lovely. thank you for this.

  2. jz says:

    fried smelts are a tradition in this city! and i get great cornichons here for a very good price…so strange!

    • I probably haven’t looked in the right place for the cornichons but I’m going to find them soon because I do use them a lot and dills don’t seem to be a good substitute.

  3. Mad Dog says:

    I don’t think I’ve seen smelt here, but I like the sound of your recipe, especially with Sriracha…
    I’ll have to look out for something similar tomorrow 😉

  4. AnotherDish says:

    Great presentation, and your recipe seems delicious, Rosemary! I have yet to use smelt, but this recipe is on my list.

  5. trixpin says:

    I’ve never eaten smelt but I do love sardines and pilchards. I’ve never deep fried them and I really should as these look delicious! And I should make tartar sauce more often because the shop bought ones are so often disappointing.

  6. Lovely memories, great song and beautiful fish – rather like what we call “boquerones” in Spain.

  7. Karen says:

    This is a dish my husband would enjoy…he loves smelts.

  8. ChgoJohn says:

    This post brought back so many wonderful memories. There is a creek that runs north of my family’s property in Michigan. It empties into Lake Huron and during the full moon of May, weather dependent, the smelt “run”. We’d grab lanterns and nets, scooping them out of the water and filling our buckets. You don’t know fresh fish until you’ve eaten it within hours of capturing it. 🙂

  9. I love any little fish that can be fried crisp and eaten whole. You’re making me seriously hungry right here 🙂

  10. sakinah30 says:

    Reblogged this on Cappuccino.

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