Saturday, February 23, 2013

Smelt in your mouth

All photographs ©2013, Lori Korleski Richardson
Smelts are funny little fishes, not regularly found even in fish markets. But they were for sale, and at a good price, last week at one of my regular grocery stores, and I couldn't resist buying a half pound of those silvery little devils.

These smelts were from Canada, where they have been traditionally an important winter catch in the salt water mouths of rivers. According to Wikipedia, fishermen would go to customary locations over the ice using horses and sleighs. Smelt taken out of the cold salt water were much preferred to those taken in warm water. The smelts did not command a high price on the market, but provided a useful supplemental income. The smelts were "flash frozen" simply by leaving them on the ice and then sold to fish buyers.

Washed smelts drying on a dish towel.
My dad, who grew up in Wisconsin and would go ice fishing for fun, used to bring home smelts a few times a year to cook. He'd shake a whole bunch of them in a bag of flour, seasoned with salt and pepper, then into the pan they'd go for just a few minutes until they were golden, then out they'd come, sizzling and delicious.

But these were on the larger end of smelt scale, about scampi size, so I thought I'd give them a nice breading, with just their tail fins hanging out.

If they haven't been cleaned, do not despair. They are very easy to clean, since all you do is chop their heads off, slit open their tiny bellies and remove all their innards with a sweep of your fingernail. The bones dissolve as you fry them.

Wash and dry the fish. Next, season to taste. I used Mas Guapo, which is a Charlottesville-made concoction similar to Lawry's seasoning salt or McCormick's Season All, only with less sugar and more spice.

Beat an egg well, and put it in a pie plate. In another pie plate, put about 4 ounces of panko bread crumbs. Dip the seasoned smelts first in the egg, then in the crumbs to cover. Set on a cookie sheet. Dry for at least 30 minutes.

Smelt, dipped in egg, then in panko bread crumbs.
Heat about a 1/4 inch of canola oil in a large cast-iron skillet on medium heat until it is slightly smoking. Add the smelts, one at a time, leaving a little space between them. Cook until golden brown on the first side, flip and cook until golden brown on the other. Drain on paper towels and keep warm until they are all cooked.

I served them with a bowl of Progresso potato-bacon soup and a salad of romaine, orange bell pepper, grape tomato halves, goat cheese and slivered almonds, with a bowl of mixed canned fruit (apricots, pear and mandarin oranges) and vanilla yogurt for dessert. We were able to eat about half the smelts.

The next morning, we had the rest with eggs over easy, broiled tomatoes and a slice of toast. Two very good meals from those little silvery fish.

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