Growing up, my grandmother used to make us a big mess of smelts, and as I recall, they were just about the best thing I'd ever eaten. It's not just the wonderful, fishy taste, but the whole experience of ripping the backbone out of the cripsy-on-the-outside-yet-tender-on-the-inside flesh and then devouring the little fishies in a bite or two - it's very satisfying and appeals to the inner savage.
I hadn't really thought about smelts much in the intervening 30 years and stopped short when I saw them in the fish case at the grocery store the other day. I bought a pound of the dressed smelts on total impulse, driven by childhood memory of weekends at my grandparents' house. It's interesting how inextricably food, smells and tastes can be bound with memory. When I was cooking the smelts yesterday, I had very clear visions of my grandparents' kitchen and dining room, almost as if I had been there just recently instead of decades ago. It was as comforting as it was delicious.
But careful, have the windows open and a fan running, or your house will smell like a Friday Night All-You-Can-Eat Fish Fry!
Crispy, Pan-Fried Smelts
- 1/2 lb. dressed smelts
- canola oil
- 1/2 cup flour
- Pour a goodly amount of canola pil into a heavy-duty skillet. I like my cast-iron skillet for this job. I pour in enough oil so that the bottom is fully coated with a thick layer, maybe 1/8 in. of oil.
- Mix flour and a pinch of salt in a large Ziplock bag.
- Toss the smelts into the bag and shake until they are totally coated.
- Heat the oil over medium heat. Once it starts to shimmer, carefully lay down each smelt.
- Fry for about 3 minutes, and then carefully turn them over - tongs are great for this job.
- Let them cook on the other side another 3 minutes.
- Serve with a bit more salt and that's it.