It’s late February and smelt are in season! My local grocery sells them through March and they are getting them out of Canada. They claim that these have not been frozen. I have been getting some weekly and they always smell and taste very fresh. Smelt are a very underrated and under utilized food source. Smelt are abundant and low in toxins. In some areas of the Great Lakes they have become invasive. Being fatty and small, smelt make a nice finger food. They are easy to cook and just as nutritious as other small fish like sardines and anchovies. Although they come from the grocery with the heads off, it is even better to leave the heads on if you catch them yourself or get them heads on. Eating the entire fish (aka, nose to tail) provides the most nutrition.
I used to catch the Pacific version when I lived in the Northwest US. We would net a large bucket full and freeze them and have a several months supply. My favorite cooking method is to cold smoke them first with a smoking tube, then lightly dust with seasoned sorghum flour and pan fry in avocado oil. Here is my quick and easy method. The smoking step is of course optional.
Pan Fried Smelt
- 2 T avocado oil
- 1/3 cup sweet sorghum flour for dredging
- .5 t fine sea salt
- .5 t fresh ground black pepper
- .5 t garlic powder
- 1 pound fresh smelts Cleaned and patted dry with paper towels
- Combine dry ingredients in a container that has a lid. Cover with lid and shake to combine.
- Add the desired amount of smelt to container, replace cover and shake vigorously until all fish are covered in the flour mixture.
- Fry in hot oil for about 2 minutes per side or until desired crispness. Remove fish from pan and allow to drain.
- Serve with a salad or any preferred vegetable dish. Entire smelt can be eaten or easily peel out the backbone if desired.
- If you smoked the smelt, they will be dry on the outside and you will need to add some avocado oil to the fish so the flour mixture will have something to stick to.