The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Smelt, Anyone?

February 25th, 2014 · 4 Comments · Posted in Recipes


One of the great features of the Cambridge Food Co-Op is the weekly deliveries of fresh seafood from Boston. Members receive an e-mail listing numerous choices, we place our order and by Thursday afternoon–usually–the fish has been wrapped in individualized packages and is waiting for pickup in the co-op’s walk-in fridge. Haddock, cod and shrimp make regular appearances. But we also see monk fish, arctic char, tuna, swordfish and sometimes even squid.

This week I noticed something I’d never seen before: smelt. Smelt are a small fish that proliferate in fresh and salt water around the world. Put on this earth apparently as food for bigger fish, smelt also have a following among humans, especially in places like Lake Michigan. Pam, the woman who processes the fish that come into the co-op, explained that smelt are also a local favorite, especially for ice fishing on Lake Champlain to the north of us forming part of the border between New York and Vermont.

Smelt are small enough that you eat them bones-in. They come gutted, with the heads removed, and like to be dredged in seasoned flour and fried. Nobody will hold it against you if you eat them like French fries–with your fingers–bones and all.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program lists smelt from the Great Lakes as a “good alternative” to more threatened species, one step down from “excellent choice.”

Last night I made smelt for the first time. For dredging, I mixed 1 cup corn meal with 1/2 cup flour and seasoned it with salt, garlic salt and a bit of Old Bay. In batches, I dredged the smelt in the corn meal mix and fried them in our home-style deep fat fryer. They don’t take more than a minute or so to cook, or about the time it takes to drop some more smelt into the dredging mix and toss them around to coat.

Remove the cooked smelt to a baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain. Serve with wedges of lemon and your favorite dipping sauce. I used my daughter’s famous remoulade.

Bon appetit!

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