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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Pan Fried Smelt

I am an avid fisherman or should that be fisherwoman.  My husband does not fish and really doesn't like a fresh catch on the boat but a couple of times a year I persuade him with an AutoTrader and a couple of drinks/snacks so I can get to the bigger catch.  Other than that I have to resort to fishing from shore.  Now, I do not use a net unless trying to land a fish but when it comes to smelting, the only way to go is via a fishing net.   Smelt is a very small, about the size of your pointer finger, fresh water fish usually caught off the shores of Lake Erie here but can be found throughout any of the Great Lakes.   I have some rather unpleasant memories of smelt.  A very generous person gave my Mom a whole bushel full of smelt so we got to clean them and all I can say is YUK!  Don't get me wrong as I don't mind cleaning my catch but smelt are tedious at best to clean. 

cleaned fresh smelt
Smelt are seldom found in the grocery stores and when they are available the price is rather high.  Sobey's has them on occasion priced at about $15.50 per kilogram.  A better price can be found at the fisheries along Lake Erie and in Erieau, Ontario.  The price is lower if you clean them yourself. 

I bought a 0.288 kg package of cleaned smelt (pictured) for $4.44.  This was enough smelt for two with a little left over.  Towards the centre is the head of a smelt so you have an idea of what they look like.  Usually when you buy cleaned smelt there are no heads but one occasionally slips through.  Smelt is best lightly coated then pan fried.  Cleaned smelt should be rinsed then patted almost dry before coating.

pan fried smelt dinner
I made a simple coating of flour, cornstarch, paprika, salt and pepper to toss the smelt in.   Smelt cooks rather quickly because of it's small size making it ideal for those meals where shorter prep times are required.  Fry until the coating is a golden brown.   Avoid stirring but rather use a flipper to gently turn the smelt to prevent them from breaking up.  I served the smelt with mixed vegetables and roasted mini potatoes with garlic and shallots.  It was a simple, easy to prepare yet delicious home cooked meal.  This meal from start to finish took about 30 minutes but it could have been shorted by serving another side besides the roasted mini potatoes.  Plain or wild rice would go nicely as a side as a substitute for the potatoes.

smelt backbone
All fish have bones but some are more problematic than others.  Smelt have a small backbone that unlike canned salmon does not soften much with cooking.  The backbone is edible and a good source of calcium.  However, this backbone can be problematic for children causing a choking risk and some simply prefer not to eat it.  The backbone will pull away freely from the cooked smelt.  I recommend removing the backbone after the smelt is cooked before serving it to children.  Children can be quite curious so this presents a wonderful learning moment to see what the backbone looks like, touch it and understand why they shouldn't eat it until they are older.  The backbone is not as fragile as it looks so you can rinse it off, allow to air dry then your child could take it to school for show and tell.

1 food lovers commented:

LindaG said...

I remember my dad going with some of his work buddies and bringing back a cooler full and you're right. They are a pain to clean, but for a once a year delicacy they are so worth it!

I pay any price here now, when I can find them - and that isn't often any more.
Someone needs to do something to make that fishery grow again.

So glad you found some (I'd have bought dozens at that price myself) and shared them with us. :-)