Smelt season is traditionally fairly short around here (it’s always been sort of an annual event amongst Chicago area fishing enthusiasts), But in the past few years it’s been possible to get fresh smelts most seasons courtesy of Canadian and other fresh clear waters. What are smelts? Thanks for playing!
Smelts are small silvery fish (larger than anchovies and sardines, however) that can be eaten whole, bones and all. The flesh is delicate and even a bit sweet. Because you eat the bones, smelt are full of calcium, in addition to being rich in Omega-3 fats. They are healthy and delicious—fishy finger food. In my opinion, the smaller the smelts, the better. Larger smelts have bigger bones; more difficult to eat, and a pain in the neck if you have to remove the bones from every little fish.
Smelts are best pan or French fried, although you can bake them as well with decent, and pretty crispy, results. My favorite smelt recipe is combines the yeasty taste of beer, the nuttiness of sesame seeds and the sweetness of batter made with Bisquick baking mix. I use Bisquick Light to avoid the extra fat and calories—and I cook the smelts up in olive oil, which is both rich and healthier than many other types of fats. The smelts come out crisp on the outside and tender inside. I usually cook up about a pound and a quarter for my family of four (assuring some leftovers for the next day).
1 pound cleaned, headless fresh smelts
3 to 4 tablespoon Bisquick Light baking mix
1 cup Bisquick Light baking mix
¼ cup sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup beer
- Heat olive oil in a large heavy skillet.
- Lightly coat the smelts with 3 to 4 tablespoons of the Bisquick Light.
- Mix 1 cup Bisquick Light, egg, salt, and beer until smooth.
- Drop smelts into batter to coat well, letting excess drip into bowl.
- Fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes on each side
- Drain and serve hot.
- Makes 3 to 4 servings.
I have also used this same recipe in the oven, making sure the pan is coated with an olive oil cooking spray to make sure the smelts don’t stick. This is a good alternative if you want to further cut down on fat and save calories.