A few weeks ago, Publix had smelt on sale for $4.99/lb. I will be honest with you. I had never heard of smelt. But, as always, loyal blog readers, I was ready to take one for the team. The taste was on par with sardines. These little fish are "fishy," but not overwhelmingly so. And, for reference sake, a pound of these are a LOT of smelt! Each little fish was between 2 - 3 inches long, so plan accordingly.
And here's a quick lesson on smelts from Wikipedia:
Smelts are a family of small fish, the Osmeridae, found in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. They are also known as freshwater smelts or typical smelts to distinguish them from the related Argentinidae, Bathylagidae, and Retropinnidae.
Some smelt species are common in the North American Great Lakes, and in the lakes and seas of the northern part of Europe, where they run in large schools along the saltwater coastline during spring migration to their spawning streams. In some western parts of the United States, smelt populations have greatly declined in recent decades, leading to their protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Delta smelt, Hypomesus transpacificus, found in the Sacramento Delta of California, and the Columbia River smelt, Eulachon, are both protected from harvest.
Some species of smelts are among the few fish that sportsmen have been allowed to net, using hand-held dip nets, either along the coastline or in streams. Some sportsmen also ice fish for smelt. They are often fried and eaten whole.
Here are the little beauties before cooking. They're only a few inches long and are fried and eaten whole. You could coat them with cornmeal, seasoned flour, or a boxed fry mix which is what I did with Zatarain's fish fry. They fry in minutes so have everything ready before you start frying.
1 lb. fresh smelt
1 cup Zatarain's fish fry
2 cups vegetable oil
Place smelt in a colander and rinse with cool water. Strain and pat dry with paper towels.
Pour Zatarain's fish fry in a gallon sized Ziploc bag. Add half the smelt into the bag and seal to close. Shake the bag to completely coat the smelt.
In a large, cast iron skillet, heat oil over high heat until oil shimmers. Carefully add the prepared smelts into the oil a few at a time.
Reduce heat to medium-high and when the fish are browned, remove from oil with a slotted metal spatula. Place them in a single layer on a paper towel-lined plate. Continue with the remaining smelt until all are cooked.
Serve immediately with lemon wedges, tartar sauce, and/or ketchup!