Lightly coated in a seasoned flour mixture and gently cooked, these pan fried smelt come together quickly and are 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 guys today – pan fried smelt.
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 & 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 smelt 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 smelt –
What Are Smelt?
Smelt are a small fish (approximately 6 inches or so in length) with a silvery/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.
Smelt are easy to prepare, tasty, low in mercury and packed with goodness!
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, are 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 rolling in 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 smelt, 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 smelt (if not already done so by removing their heads and entrails. Then, rise well with fresh water and pat dry.
- Combine flour with cornmeal, salt, pepper, onion powder, paprika and cayenne.
- Pour the flour mixture into a bag.
- Add a few smelt to the flour mixture, close bag and shake to coat, shaking off excess flour. Continue until all smelt are well coated.
- Lay your dredged smelt on a plate while you are doing your batches.
- Heat some oil in a cast iron skillet and fry smelts (fry in batches).
- Turn to cook other side.
- Drain smelt of excess grease on a paper towel lined plate.
- Enjoy the fried smelt with a sprinkle of fresh parsley, grated lemon and serve with plenty of lemon wedges.
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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/discard. Clean/rinse well/pat dry before using.
After the smelt 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 smelt 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.
Enjoy Smelt With –
- Definitely lots of lemon wedges. Fish and lemon are a match made in heaven, if you ask me!
- Grate your lemon before cutting and sprinkle the zest over the crispy smelt
- A sprinkling of freshly chopped parsley, dill, minced chives or green onion, chili flakes, or fresh chili are yummy garnishes.
- Cocktail sauce
- Tartar sauce
- Hot sauce
- Or enjoy with a side, like garlicky green beans, a simple green salad or crispy potato wedges.
Hope you love this smelt recipe as much as we do!
Until next time, take care and chit chat again soon,
Did you try this fried smelt recipe? That’s awesome! Love it if you left a comment and rating below. Many thanks!
Pan Fried Smelt (easy and delicious!)
- 3/4 pound smelt , cleaned (about 12 ounces or 340 grams or 16 smelt)
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour (approximately)
- 3 tablespoons cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
- 4 to 5 tablespoons vegetable or avocado oil (for frying)
- lemon (to serve with)
- chopped fresh parsley (garnish, optional)
- Remove entrails/heads from smelt if not already done so. Rinse well under cold water and pat dry of excess moisture.
- Combine flour with cornmeal, salt, pepper, onion powder, paprika, and cayenne. Place in a bag.
- Taking a few smelt at a time, place in flour mixture. Close bag and shake to coat smelt. Gently shake off excess flour. Continue until all smelt are flour coated.
- In a cast iron skillet on medium heat add enough oil to coat bottom of pan (a couple of tablespoons per batch is usally good). Add smelt (cook in batches). Cook about 3 minutes per side until golden brown, crispy and cooked through. Drain on a paper towel lined plate. Continue with remaining smelt/batches.
- Sprinkle over a little more salt, lemon zest and fresh parsley, if desired. Serve with lemon wedges. Enjoy immediately. Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as a main with a side.