Lightly coated in a seasoned flour mixture and gently cooked, this pan-fried smelt recipe comes together quickly and is so delicious as an appetizer or main with your favourite side. Don’t forget a squeeze of lemon when enjoying!
Sharing a special recipe with you all today. It’s pan-fried smelt and it’s delicious!
I just love the vast variety of seafood we have here in Newfoundland (and this smelt recipe is no exception. Some of my favourite recipes using Newfoundland and Labrador seafood are salt cod fish cakes, baked arctic char and cod au gratin.
My parents love being outside during the winter months and spend a lot of time snowmobiling and ice fishing. These smelts were fished from the cold waters of Labrador and were given to me. How cool is that?
Smelt freeze really well. Pretty much as soon as they were caught, they were cleaned and frozen. I just thawed in my refrigerator and used in this recipe. Talk about fresh!
So, suffice to say, this recipe (and main ingredient) is extra special to me!
A picture my parents snapped of the smelts:
What Are Smelt?
Smelt is a small fish (approximately 6 inches or so in length) with a silvery or slightly green-ish exterior and white flesh inside. Here in Canada, they are quite common in the North Atlantic ocean, where they are a popular food source for other fish species, like salmon.
Aside from being easy to prepare and tasty, smelt are low in mercury and have lots of other benefits.
Here in the waters of the island portion of the province (Newfoundland), we have fish that are quite similar to smelt called “capelin.”
Capelin, actually, is part of the smelt family. In the middle of summer, if you go on the shores, you can actually see the capelin rolling in on the beach rocks. They’re trying to get away from whales (who enjoy them as a food source). It’s quite the sight to see, I tell ya!
This is a picture shot by my parents of the capelin washing ashore at Bellevue Beach, Newfoundland one summer:
I grew up eating smoked capelin. Quite tasty as well! I remember my grandfather would dry them outside in the sun where they were in season. Such lovely memories.
So, when I was given these smelts, I was quite the happy lady!!
How To Cook Smelt
Full details on how to cook smelt are in the recipe card below, but here are the basics:
- Clean your smelts (if not already done so by removing their heads and entrails. Then rinse well with fresh water and pat dry.
- In a dish, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, salt, black pepper, onion powder, paprika and cayenne pepper. Transfer the flour mixture to a food-safe plastic bag.
- Add a few smelt to the flour mixture, close the bag and shake to coat. Once coated, remove and shake off excess flour. Continue until all smelts are well coated.
- Place the flour dredged smelts onto a plate as you are dredging them.
- Heat some vegetable oil or avocado oil in a cast-iron skillet and cook smelts on both sides (cook in batches).
- Drain smelts of excess grease on a paper towel-lined plate. Serve the fried smelts with a sprinkle of fresh parsley, grated lemon and serve with plenty of lemon wedges.
Can I Eat the Whole Fish?
Because smelt are small, some people eat the whole cleaned fish, including head, skin, fins and bones.
I prefer to remove the head and entrails (of course).
To remove entrails, make a slice down the bottom portion (belly) of the smelt from the head area to just before the tail and remove and discard. Clean, rinse well and pat dry before using.
After the smelts are cooked, I also like to remove the centre bone when eating. It’s a matter of personal preference, really.
What Do Smelt Taste Like?
A tiny bit oily, with a delicate flesh, smelt are kinda trout-like in flavour and are pretty darn delicious!
Will There Be a Fishy Smell When Cooked?
Taste-wise, not so much. I mean, of course, they are fish, but I would say that they make more of a fishy smell in your home than anything.
If you have the opportunity to do so, I would recommend cooking the smelts outside, like on your barbecue’s side burner.
If you don’t have a BBQ, though, you can definitely cook inside. I would recommend having your overhead fan going.
What To Enjoy With Smelt
- Lemon wedges
- Grated lemon zest over top is delicious (grate your lemon before cutting)
- Chili flakes, fresh chili, or fresh herbs (like chopped parsley, dill, minced chives or green onion)
- Cocktail sauce
- Tartar sauce
- Hot sauce
- Green beans
- Green salad
- Crispy potato wedges
If you try this fried smelt recipe, be sure to leave a comment below!
Pan Fried Smelt Recipe
- ¾ pound smelt, cleaned (about 16 smelt)
- ½ cup all-purpose flour, approximately
- 3 tablespoons cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon salt, plus more for sprinkling over cooked smelts if desired
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 4 to 5 tablespoons vegetable oil or avocado oil, for frying
Servings Suggestions (optional)
- Lemon wedges
- Chopped fresh parsley
- Remove entrails and heads from smelts (if not already done so). Rinse well under cold water and pat dry of excess moisture with paper towels.
- In a food-safe plastic bag, combine flour with cornmeal, salt, black pepper, onion powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper.
- Taking a few smelts at a time, place in flour mixture. Close bag and shake to coat smelt. Remove, smelts and gently shake off excess flour. Continue until all smelts are coated in the flour mixture.
- To cook smelts, in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat, add enough vegetable oil or avocado oil to coat the bottom of the pan (about 2 tablespoons per batch is usually good).
- Once the oil is hot, add ½ of the smelts (cook in batches). Cook smelts for 3 minutes on one side.
- Flip smelts to the other side and continue to cook for another 3 minutes or until smelts are until golden brown and crispy on the outside and cooked through. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate or on a cooling rack set over a baking sheet. Sprinkle over a little more salt, if desired.
- Repeat process to cook remaining smelts.
- Once all smelts are cooked, transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle over some fresh parsley to taste and serve with lemon wedges (if desired). Enjoy! Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as a main with a side.
A note on times provided: appliances vary, any prep and/or cook times provided are estimates only.
Tried this recipe?
If you do make this recipe, thank you!! It would mean so much if you could leave a comment below. Love to know how you enjoyed it, and it helps other readers too!